S-E-X Tips For Screenwriters: Creating The Outstanding Query Letter

Query Letter QuandryDear Dr. Paige Turner,

With several completed pieces of material polished and ready to go out into the world, suddenly I’m faced with a terrifying new writing challenge – the query letter. While I’ve worked to master my craft, this bizarre half man-half beast hybrid of letter writing/sales pitch/self-promotion leaves me baffled, and, to be honest, a little bit queasy.

Many folks – fellow writers and pros alike – think queries are a complete and utter waste of time. But how else am I going to contact people who could get my work out there?

I want my letter to stand out, but while there are piles of books on writing in every medium imaginable, the scoop on queries falls short. I’m panicking at the thought that no one will every read my story!

Help Paige!

Standing Out

 

Dearest Stan,

First things first. You do not want your query letter to “stand out.” Trust me, in the olden days of paper, one misguided fellow sent theirs out on neon lime green paper. It stood out all right. And looked fabulous as it flew through the air, toward the “circular file.”

Professionalism counts. Imagine opening your MasterCard bill and reading:

“Dude, can’t believe how super much you owe. But its all, cool. Everyone at Office thinks your buying some grate stuff.”

Sloppy, awkward, typo-ridden, confusing, query letters?

Dime a dozen.

Perfectly written, leanly and effectively pitching the story queries?

Priceless.

We used to have a Wall of Shame in our copy room for query letters so bad they were too good not to share. A project about the mystical powers of Jesus’ foreskin was a longtime favorite. Trust me, you don’t want to be on anyone’s Wall of Shame, whether it’s for your wacky idea or your poor letter writing.

Create An Outstanding Query Letter

The following examples of “What Not To Do” are from honest to goodness query letters. Terrifying typos are just as they appeared. Details have been changed to protect the hopelessly uninformed.

Don’t make it obvious you’re randomly throwing your script up against the wall to see if it sticks.

  • Dear Sir/Madam,
  • Dear Development Exec,
  • To whom it may concern:

Don’t try to be cute ; >-)

About me? I’m a Bling Award semi-finalist, top three in Pitch-a-Palooza and placed top sixteen in Scriptalicious. Plus, my mom thinks I’m keen. My hat is green. I make origami. There is a little man who lives on my knee. His name is Ernie. I like linguini.

No need to get personal.

I took some time off to raise a family and am back in the game.

Please don’t beg.

  • Take a chance and read my screenplay, please?
  • Do you have half an hour to go around the world on a fast read, Action / Adventure?

“Write what you know” is an adage not a selling point.

Many of the comical scenes in this movie were inspired by real true life experiences which were past onto me and are original, which I endeavored to incorporate into the script.

Don’t gush.

A battle of the ages – humanity, mystery and intrigue, danger, love and romance, a fight for justice, humor and adventure. DEADLY FIRES – it keeps viewers burning.

Don’t waste my time.

I appreciate your consideration of this query and know your time is valuable and in short supply, so I won’t take up any more of it. As a writer I’ve placed in the Right Writer, Scriptaholic, Pitch Perfect and many other competitions over the past 9 years. Should you wish to read the script, I’d be happy to send it over. I have more in this genre as well.

Thank you for your time.

Don’t tell us how to market the movie.

Here’s the poster: “Even Satan has to sleep!”

Don’t forget you’re writing a query letter not hiring a consultant.

I would love to send you this script and get your feedback.

Don’t include details that make no sense unless we’ve already read your material.

He and the tribe must do battle with a NamaDavian named Malidabe.

Don’t toss in other projects.

I also have a high concept Romantic Comedy that I’m in the middle of doing a re-write on.

And it’s not even ready to read!

Don’t compare except for tone.

My script set in India will make serious bucks:

Monsoon Wedding, Budget $7,000,000. Box Office Gross $30,757,356.

Slumdog Millionaire, Budget $15,100,000. Box Office Gross $377,741,293.

Don’t claim it’s a franchise.

Later they discover it was Bruce’s wife, who both comes out from their cave with Guns shooting them setting up anger and revenge for “Born to Die #2”. The scene ends with Matt, Ben, Sly, and Will in the air, frozen scene. Writen across the scene “Continued on the Tennis Court”

THE END.

Don’t stand so close to me.

I’d like to send you my script, “Vagina Radio.” It’s gritty, quirky and surprisingly sweet. It will make you feel a little better about life. Plus, the word “Vagina” is in the title, and almost everyone likes vaginas, or owns one.

Don’t pitch (or write) something you clearly don’t have the rights to!

In this spin-off to Fox’s hugely successful series…

Don’t needlessly embarrass yourself.

Im a self taught screenwriter.

Clearly.

I swear to Writing God William Goldman, every single Wall of Shame worthy example above was drawn from a REAL LIFE QUERY LETTER.

Try to remember that a query letter is a writing sample too. If you can’t get your idea across cleanly, clearly and typo-free, we don’t hold much hope for the one hundred-plus pages you’re angling to send our way.

So, dear Stan, I’m going to suggest that you strive for Outstanding over Standing Out, for all the right reasons.

Happy Querying!

xoox, Paige

 

 

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