Writing Query Letters That Work

You’re finally ready to submit your script to the theatre company of your dreams. So it’s time to throw your play in an envelope, address the envelope, wait in the endless line at the post office and away it goes. Right? Hold the phone.

So that means you’re going to be writing them a query letter and possibly sending them a synopsis and sample pages. A good letter can pave the way for a script request, whereas a bad letter can help short-circuit a perfectly good script.

If you’re writing a query, your goal is simple: convince them that they want to read your full script. NEVER do this by telling them how good your play is, or that it’s “hilarious” or “moving.” The script has to stand on its own, and praising your own work is a sure way not to ingratiate yourself with the literary office.

So if you shouldn’t tell them how good the script is, what should you write? I keep my query letters simple.

Opening Paragraph
Tell them that you’d like to submit your play, briefly describing it in a sentence or two, mentioning that you’ve also enclosed a synopsis, sample pages, etc. (per their guidelines). I usually like to reassure them that the play (assuming this is true) can be done with minimal technical hurdles

The “1A” Paragraph
I may follow the opening paragraph with a brief production/development (i.e. readings) history of the play. Depending on how long the first paragraph is, you can either squeeze this information in there, or take the cast size/technical info and put it in this “1A” paragraph. Shorter paragraphs are usually better and more likely to be read.

Second Paragraph
Give them a few sentences about you. I like to begin, “As for me…” Keep it factual, including a few resume highlights that seem relevant for this particular company (e.g. if I’m submitting to a company in Los Angeles, I may mention productions of my work by other LA companies). While some readers pay no attention to your credits, others are looking for companies or credentials that they recognize as a way of validating you. Never stretch the truth, as those things have a way of coming back at you.

Third Paragraph
I mention that I’ve enclosed a SASE or a postcard to facilitate a reply at their convenience. I prefer a postcard for query letters, because it means all they have to do is check “yes” and drop it in the mail: no time-consuming letters to write for the swamped lit office staff. I give them three boxes: “yes,” “yes, but please wait until such and such a date,” and “other,” with room for comments. Don’t give them an easy “no.” And never ask for your synopsis/sample pages back. It’s petty, and it’s cheaper to print out new pages. As I close the letter, I thank them and give them a way to reach me by phone and by email if they prefer, and that’s it.

Now it’s your turn!