How to Write a Query Letter

Hot off the presses for spring 2013 is a brand-new edition of The Hollywood Screenwriting Directory, featuring more than 2,500 listings (up from last edition’s 1,500). You’ll also find updates on more than 40% of the contacts, including verified information, like phone numbers, and street and email addresses.

But as I often say, you only have one shot to make a first impression, so make sure your query letter is in tip-top shape before you send it! Below is an excerpt from the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory on ‘How to Write a Query Letter’ to help you.

And remember, in the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory, you can find even more step-by-step instructions for writing essential marketing pieces like treatments and loglines, plus illustrated samples to help you create a quality submission.

Read our tips below and take a shot at querying a Hollywood executive right from your own home. There’s no time like the present to take control over your career!

Now get reading and get writing!

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman
Editor ScriptMag

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How to Write a Query Letter

A query is a one-page, single-spaced letter that quickly tells who you are, what the work is, and why the work is appropriate for the market in question. Just as queries are used as the first means of contact for pitching magazine articles and novels, they work just the same for scripts.

A well-written query is broken down into three parts.

Part I: Your reason for contacting/script details

Before even looking at the few sentences describing your story, a producer wants to see two other things:

  1. What is it? State the title, genre, and whether it’s a full-length script or a shorter one.
  2. Why are you contacting this market/person in particular? There are thousands of individuals who receive scripts. Why have you chosen this person to review the material? Is it because you met them in person and they requested to see your work? Have they represented writers similar to you? Did you read that they were actively looking for zombie comedies? Spelling out your reason upfront shows that you’ve done your research, and that you’re a professional.

Part II: The Elevator Pitch

If you wrote the first paragraph correctly, you’ve got their attention, so pitch away. Explain what your story is in about 3-6 sentences. The point here is to intrigue and pique only. Don’t get into nitty-gritty details of any kind. Hesitate using a whole lot of character names or backstory. Don’t say how it ends or who dies during the climax or that the hero’s father betrays him in Act II. Introduce us to the main character and his situation, then get to the key part of the pitch: the conflict.

Try to include tidbits here and there that make your story unique. If it’s about a cop nearing retirement, that’s nothing new.  But if the story is about a retiring cop considering a sex change operation in his bid to completely start over, while the police union is threatening to take away his pension should he do this, then you’ve got something different that readers may want to see.

Part III: The Wrap-Up

Your pitch is complete. The last paragraph is where you get to talk about yourself and your accomplishments. If the script has won any awards or been a finalist in a prominent competition, this is the place to say so. Mention your writing credentials and experience. Obviously, any paid screenwriting experience is most valuable, but feel free to include other tidbits such as if you’re a magazine freelancer or a published novelist.

Sometimes, there won’t be much to say at the end of a query letter because the writer has no credits, no contacts and nothing to brag about. As your mother would tell you: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Keep the last section brief if you must, rather than going on and on about being an “active blogger” or having one poem published in your college literary magazine.

Following some information about you, it’s time to wrap up the query and propose sending more material. A simple way to do this is by saying “The script is complete. May I send you the treatment and full screenplay?”

If you send your query letter by mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope so your reader is able to respond without hesitation.

To ensure your query letter is in the best possible shape it can be before you mail it out to Hollywood A-listers, use our Screenplay Query Letter Critique service, so you can find out what works, what doesn’t, and how to fix it through an evaluation from the Industry experts at The Writers Store.

Want more great how-to articles, and complete contact details for the kind of A-listers that can take your screenplay from spec to sold? Get your copy of the spring 2013 Hollywood Screenwriters Directory today.

Spr_13_Hollywood.inddAt a Glance:

  • Specialized resource with over 2,500 Industry listings
  • Also includes manuals on format, query letters, treatments, and loglines
  • Provides screenwriting market intel you won’t find anywhere else

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “How to Write a Query Letter

  1. cphillips103

    Julie Gray wrote a nice article on ScriptMag.com (March 27, 2013) titled: Just Effing Ask Julie Gray: How NOT to Query Your Screenplay.

    She lays it out pretty much how I would write an email query. And to Chuck’s point, the logline is right after the customary personal intro (who I am, genre, title, and why I picked you to read this…). Logline should be short and sweet, 50-75 words. It’s followed up with a short call for action (please let me know if you want to learn more…) and then the signature block. Done.

    Don’t sandblast Producers and Agents like a robot. Make it personal, but short! A well targeted query will be read. Do the homework and seek the right people. Remember it is also an opportunity to start a new relationship. So follow up if they respond, even if it’s a pass.

    Producers and Agents will read short emails all day long. 1 pagers coming in from the cold will probably see the delete button pretty quickly. Unless of course your name is well known.

    -Christopher Phillips
    (I also ride a Harley like chuck)

  2. cphillips103

    This is all rather confusing. I know that traditional cold query letters through snail mail are very unsuccessful. Probably were never read. However, producers and agents appear to be open to short and simple email query letters with no attachments. It’s rather easy to quickly scan an email, especially with a blackberry or a smart phone.

    But there doesn’t seem to be a standard way to format it since email is rather new to people coming in from the cold.

    I just sent off a script to Austin Film Fest today. The synopsis was 50 words or less.
    Seems like there should similar query email standards, even if they were unwritten rules.

    Plain and simple. Nobody wants to read a long email, no matter how catchy the opening might be.

  3. derekshort

    Query letters don’t work. Also, the information in the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory is false. I mailed a letter to Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Creative Artists Agency, and someone else (I can’t remember). According to the “Directory”, Bruckheimer accepts unsolicited material from unrepresented writers, but they mailed back a letter that said the opposite, and so did CAA. My query letter was seeking an agent and trying to sell my 4 synopses (or at least 1). I bought the “Directory” and the “Rolodex” a lot cheaper ($25 I think) for my Amazon Kindle ebook reader, but it is sort of worthless.

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

      As you can see by Chuck’s comment above, query letters do in fact work. I’ve had options from them as well. Regarding the information in HSD, the new version that has just launched (and is mentioned above) has been meticulously updated. Regardless of updates, companies change rules all the time so nothing is perfect. The new directory has an over 1000 more contacts than the last one. Good luck to all who toss their hat in the ring of querying!

    2. ChuckHustmyre

      Derek, You’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re querying Jerry Bruckheimer and CAA. You will NEVER get an L.A.-based agent unless you have a big movie already produced. I have one Lionsgate movie produced and four going into production, with average budgets of $5m. And I can’t get agents to return an email.

      I’ve sold five scripts based on queries. But as Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I query low-to-medium-budget producers who make the kind of movies I write.

      Also, forgot selling a synopsis. That is basically nothing more than an idea, and ideas are worthless (unless you’re already an A-list writer). As an unknown writer, your only chance is selling, more likely optioning for peanuts, a well-executed screenplay that is based on a really neat concept. Then if the producer can get it funded, you get paid about five minutes before principal photography begins.

      You are not using the right strategy to sell your scripts. If you change strategy and tactics, you might land a sale.

      Good luck.

      1. fmateojr

        @ ChuckHustmyre, hey buddy thanks for the insight. I am currently trying to pitch a TV show. We have a deck, trailer and all sorts of other pieces of the package (detailed synopsis, episode breakdown, etc.) One thing we are lacking is a great query letter. Do you have any advice as to how best get this across or any templates you know of that I can see? Thanks again and best wishes!

    1. ChuckHustmyre

      Query everyone you possible can. I have sent thousands of queries. Most via email, but many by fax when I could not find an email address. IMDbPro is a great resource. Also, I use myfax.com for $10/month to send fax queries. I also sold a script using a query service.

  4. ChuckHustmyre

    I’ve sold five scripts — all based on query letters. This is some bad advice. Nowhere in this article on querying does it even mention including the logline or where it should go in your query.

    In the first paragraph of your query, this article recommends: title, genre, and whether the script is full length or a short? Seriously? You’re considering querying a short to producers? I think it’s safe to assume that just about everyone whom you query is looking for a full-length script.

    And why not include the logline right after the title?

    Then three to six sentences summarizing the story all the way down in the third paragraph? Really? Do you actually expect a producer to read down to paragraph number three to find even a hint of what the story is about?

    Again, the concept is king, so why not put it right up front?

    And instructions on snail mailing queries, with the added uselessness of instructing you to include an SASE so “your reader is able to respond without hesitation?” Am I living in an alternate universe? Has the U.S. Postal Service begun instant delivery? If a producer is interested in your script he or she will pick up the phone or send you an email. By the time the post office delivers your SASE, the executive who wanted to read your script has probably been fired.

    This advice seems pretty amateurish.

    1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

      Thanks for your comments, Chuck, and congratulations on your querying success. The truth is, there are as many ways to write a query letter as there are writers. No set rules, just guidelines of things people should consider putting in. When I write mine, I always put a bit of personality in them so the producers can see who I am, not just what my script is about.

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