Look, I get it. It *should* be all about the writing, but newsflash: it’s NOT. You can fight this – and lose – or accept there are things you CAN do to ensure your screenplay has its best chance of getting READ.
Out here in the real world (rather than writers’ cosy nests of writing dreams and rainbows) real people have to comb through the gazillion submissions out there and rate them! And guess what: those real people have real lives and real problems that *may* just make it that little bit more difficult to appreciate the fact a writer’s sent some sort of witty, gimmicky or plain demanding submission. Capische?
So, here’s my top 10 of writers’ submissions strategies that put the INSANITY in the title of this column. These 10 things make me see with rage to the point I may just catapult screenplays OUT OF THE WINDOW ( … in 2003, anyway. These days I click on them and “move to trash,” not nearly as satisfying, admittedly. Le sigh).
1. Making it difficult for the admin. Repeat after me: there is NOT some kind of benevolent robot downloading and uploading your screenplay submissions. Even if there were, it would be able to understand your screwy submissions logic no better than I, a real flesh and blood person who is NOT YOU.
So, don’t make it difficult for me or any other admin out there. If you write using a pseudonym, submit with that pseudonym, not your real name AS WELL. Remember to include a title page. Put your contact details on that title page – and if you’re including one, your pitch doc. And for the love of all things holy, PLEASE name your submitted files with YOUR OWN NAME.
In other words, exhibit some common sense and don’t expect me or any other admin to magically guess a) who you are/how to respond to you, and b) what you’re submitting and why. SIMPLES.
2. A crappy page one. It comes down to this: readers read. This means, rightly or wrongly, they reckon they can “see” good writing NOT within ten pages, but ONE. So if yours doesn’t have a decent opener or looks like crap, they’re not going to engage. More: 7 Things Readers Can Tell About Your Script On Page One.
3. Not adhering to the submission guidelines. Here’s a scary number for you: I would venture at least 20-25% of writers in EVERY screenwriting contest, initiative or script call I have EVER organised or participated in (and there’s been a lot) screw up their chances by not adhering to the submission guidelines. That’s right – a QUARTER.
Yeah, yeah, the submission guidelines are boring. Guess what: they’re boring to write as well. But at least read them, yeah? That way, when you don’t adhere to them either, you won’t be surprised to not get anywhere with your submission.
4. Asking questions covered in the FAQs. See 1 and 2 on this list. 1.) because the writer who does this is using up the admin’s time that could be put to better use combing through the (hopefully sensible) submissions; 2.) because said writer is one of that QUARTER revealing themselves to be unprofessional.
5. Following up too quickly. YEP, you should always follow up on your submission … Except when you’re being insanely quick! I’ll never forget one writer who submitted a two-line pitch for my consideration at approximately 10AM one morning … Then followed up just under one hour later, with a rather rude and demanding email.
“Sorry, I haven’t had time to consider it yet.” I wrote back, not unreasonably. I did, after all, have lots of other work to do and this particular initiative was on my own time.
“In the time it took to write your reply email you could have told me whether you liked the idea or not,” the writer shot back.
I left it, thinking it was naiveté, but at 10AM the following morning, there was another follow-up email. The day after: another. And the day after that … For me, it actually became a game. I would eagerly log in and check my emails, wondering how long it would take before the writer gave up.
Guess what: it took 37 working days (the writer left out weekends, which was “thoughtful”, Arf!). In the end, I never wrote back and never told the writer my opinion of the pitch.
7. Asking obvious questions. As anyone who reads Bang2write regularly knows, I have absolutely no problem with writers asking me questions. I even invite questions via email, Twitter and Ask.Fm. But writers really need to ask themselves if their question is truly “valid” and not totally obvious, so as to not waste admins’ time. Here are the top three obvious questions I get, every single time I run a contest, initiative or script call:
- Is the title page counted in the final page count?
- Do I need to name every single page of my screenplay?
- Will I get disqualified if I go under or over the specified page count by **just a teensy bit** (i.e. if one or two lines “falls off” the page and onto the next one)?
The answer to all of these 3 questions is a very big, very fat NO. This is obvious. Instead of worrying about trivial things like this, concentrate on making your STORY shine instead. The readers will thank you for it. Honest, guv!
8. Not using industry standard spec script format. What’s “industry standard spec script format”?? Answer: Courier 12 point, normal margins, the best spelling, grammar and punctuation you can muster. That’s it. No variations. Yes, yes I know Final Draft has all kinds of lovely templates. Ignore them, even for TV Pilots and Sitcoms and NEVER EVER “invent your own”! Stick to industry standard and you cannot go wrong. Seriously. Download a 1 Page Spec Script Format Ref Guide (PDF).
9. Being Bizarre. There are three main bizarre approaches I find I get that very, very rarely work:
i) Comedy. Okay, your Mum, your friends and that mad bloke down the pub thinks you’re funny, but are you on paper? Be honest with yourself. Also, never underestimate the fact the average reader has seen just about every writing or writers’ bio-related joke 25 times, MINIMUM.
ii) Gimmicks. Along with the bagfuls of sweets, copious CDs, DVDs, MP3s and even boxes of tea bags I’ve received over the years with submissions, I’ve had all sorts of other madness, including pitch doc jigsaws and mouse mats; mocked up magazine interviews with main characters; and just recently writers have started to include “links to follow online” to find SECRET WEBSITES and social media accounts to continue the story “off the page.” Please, please don’t.
iii) Needy. I don’t want your life story. I just want your submission. More: 3 Tips To Get Your Work Solicited Via Email – And Not Blow It.
10. Not taking rejection well. Remember this: whomever you’re abusing today, may be further up the ladder tomorrow. So think very carefully before firing insults off into cyberspace, including social media, even if you’re not talking directly TO the person who rejected you … There are eyes everywhere now. Oh and another thing: the better you take rejection? Not only the more you’ll learn, the more opportunities you will get. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve got MORE pages requested off the back of rejections … Think about it.
Good luck with your projects!