Do Query Letters Work?

Plus: the CI Query Letter Template!

by Jim Cirile

Coverage, Ink

When someone opens a query email, you have ten seconds. You have to bring your “A” game and blow them away. The words you choose to paint a picture of both you and your idea are key.

A lot of writers will tell you that queries are a complete waste of time, no one ever reads them, etc. Know what I say?

THEY’RE WRONG.

Here are a few reasons why your query may not work:

           Clearly, this one’s a winner.

1) Your query is too freaking long. If you cannot write a concise query, everyone will assume you don’t have the goods yet.

2) Your query doesn’t present you and your project in a compelling manner.

3) Your concept is just not that interesting, fresh or original. There has to be something about it that makes them go, “Ooh!”

4) Your query is simply not well-written.

5) You’re querying someone too high up the food chain. Those people do not read queries; their clients come from referrals only. This includes most agents and high-level producers. Don’t waste your time.

Instead, focus on people who actually read and who still need to put feathers in their cap by finding and breaking new talent. That means managers, junior development execs, and assistants. Remember, in a year or two, those assistants will be agents, managers and development people, and most of them are already putting lists together. I was once hip-pocketed by a junior agent, and when he got promoted ten months later, I was signed.

Now I can prove to you that queries do work.

I was signed from one.

About six years ago, I was between managers. So I dropped a few queries through Virtual Pitchfest*. I was soon signed by Roar Management and subsequently by Gersh Agency. How did I accomplish this?

1) I pitched both myself and my project in a tight, sharp, compelling way. Three paragraphs:  a) Intro about me; b) my logline; c) Thanks for their time.

2) Every word in that query was well-chosen to reflect advanced wordsmithery, knowledge of the biz, and, crucially, respect for the reader’s time.

3) I used humor. I opened with a quick, snarky intro about myself, and I closed with a joke that hearkened back to the intro.

4) My logline: 50 precisely chosen words that conveyed a high-stakes, high-concept idea. I set up the protagonist, the premise, and then — cliffhanger. If you’re using more than a few sentences, you are DOA.

I’ve summarized all this into a handy-dandy query letter template below.

Look, the odds are certainly against you with any query. Probably less than 1%. Many people will never read them. But some will. Those people who do are looking to be blown away, to find something so bad-ass that they’re willing to take a flyer on it. You have to give it to them. If you are unable to do so, that’s on you. We’re writers. We’re supposed to be able to use language the way Severus Snape wields a frickin’ wand. Believe me, you can convey a LOT in a short query.  You can show someone that you’re a pro, a student of the game, that you know what they are looking for and you know how to give it to them.

Or not.

As for advice, as I said, I had luck with Virtual Pitchfest. However, that’s a pay service, and there’s nothing stopping you from targeting those same people (and others) yourself. With some digging, you should be able to find contact info for many companies. One indispensable resource is The Hollywood Screenwriting Directory, which at 25 bucks is way cheaper (and more useful) than an expensive IMDbPro subscription.

Then after carefully developing and honing your query and tightening it until it twangs like a bowstring, make up your hit list of prodcos that have done movies/pilots similar to your project, Sprinkle in a healthy dusting of management companies. And forget the damn agents – you generally only get one via an intro. Agents do not generally develop or break new writers — that’s a manager’s job.

Research your picks online and see what they’ve made the trades for. Don’t forget to congratulate them for anything cool they’ve done, especially if it’s something inside baseball which demonstrates you are a student of the biz, like, “Kick-ass job setting up that BASEketball reboot pilot at the CW — slick!” Then go for it and cross fingers. BTW, never query more than one person at a company.

Finally, before we get to the Query template, here’s a terrific article from our pals at Save the Cat! which should help you write a butt-stompin’ logline:

http://www.savethecat.com/tools/your-logline-template-for-each-save-the-cat-genre

Now go for it and make me proud!

*Coverage, Ink is not affiliated with Virtual Pitchfest and has no relationship with them in any way.

CI QUERY LETTER TEMPLATE

Paragraph 1. Introduce yourself in a fascinating way. What is the coolest or most unusual thing about you? Make yourself seem like someone they absolutely want to hang with or find out more about. Then ask if you can pitch them a script.

Paragraph 2. Logline. You can use up to three sentences. Make EACH WORD COUNT.

Paragraph 3. Conclude by asking if they would like a look. Then end with a callback to your first paragraph. For example, perhaps you said you just spent 6 months in Tibet studying with the Dalai Lama’s personal chef Floon Bingleflarb. So in paragraph 3 you’d callback to that with: “Thanks again for your time, and by the way, I have an awesome yak eyeball goulash recipe I’d love to whip out on you sometime.”

Get the idea? If you have any screenwriting accomplishments of note, you can mention them in paragraph 1, but mostly they’re looking for people with amazing life experience that they wouldn’t mind getting to know and working with.

 

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