Welcome to “Ask the Coach.” As a writing coach, I answer questions from writers about making the work of writing happen, tackling craft, business, and personal questions along the way. (Got a question you’d like answered? Check out the details at the end of the article about how to submit one.)
Today’s question is about finding the right read for your script:
“Hi, I'd like your advice on how to select a reader who will give you a fair evaluation. I've had my script ‘read’ several times by Pros who didn't really enjoy the Fantasy genre. At least, that's what seemed obvious to me from their comments. For example, one tried to talk me into writing a murder mystery using the bones of my story instead.
“Should I use a service like IMDB PRO for leads of studios who produce fantasy movies? My story falls into the Field of Dreams, Big, Groundhog Day type stories, each using a fantasy element. I feel that you have to like the genre first to give a fair evaluation. I know I wouldn't be able to give the same respect to a war movie…”
I feel you on this one. As a sci-fi writer, I want someone who understands my genre expectations to give me feedback on my script, and someone who genuinely loves and appreciates the genre as well. I’m reading your question to mean you’re looking for a professional reader to hire for script notes, not for coverage, and not for a studio executive to query, however, given that you’re mentioning IMDB Pro, let’s look at that too.
In terms of hiring a professional for script notes, I recommend seeking out someone who offers professional script notes and who specializes in speculative fiction genres, ideally fantasy in particular. Many readers list their preferred genres in their bios; this should be a relatively simple undertaking. A good search engine and a little time reviewing the reviewers will help you pick out readers with fantasy listed among their favorite genres.
At the same time, however, while it is valuable to have a reader who understands the genre conventions and expectations, your script should still transcend genre and be transparent and legible enough to any reader to be able to understand its story, structure, character, and intent, and to appreciate your voice, tone, and writing; if you’re repeatedly getting notes indicating otherwise, it’s worth evaluating the “notes beneath the note.” The core of a story is the story itself, without what my colleague Jeff Lyons calls the “whistles and bells” of genre (and other details). Some script coverage companies prefer not to assign readers based on genre because they’re focused on the story, first and foremost, and rightly so. (Coverage is a different service than script notes — coverage is for studio execs, notes are for writers.)
Studying notes that don’t resonate for you doesn’t require implementing the exact suggestions a reader makes, but rather seeking to understand why the reader might be giving the note in the first place. There’s a strong likelihood that this professional, experienced reader is picking up on something that’s not working. As a writer, it’s your job to aim to understand what that might be, then decide how (or if) to address it.
Think of it this way: If your story is delivering on your concept and genre strongly enough, a reader will be less likely to find issues with it or the genre. If there are underdeveloped aspects of your story, character issues, a lack of originality, gaps in the fulfillment of genre expectations, or other story issues, there’s an opening for someone to suggest something different. In other words, given the notes you’re getting, there’s a chance your script has areas to strengthen and tighten for maximum effect, genre aside.
As for finding studio executives to query, yes, searching IMDB Pro for industry professionals who’ve worked on comparable films is an excellent place to start. You may start with querying the smaller producers first and then work your way up the chain. Hal & Cheryl Croasmun at ScreenwritingU have excellent courses to help with upping your marketing game, including using IMDB Pro and other ways to get your script into the right hands: their Master Screenwriter Certificate (Phase 4) and “Get Your Scripts To Power Players” courses, both of which offer their up-to-date and recommended methods for script marketing.
You may also want to check out these two courses at Script University (the company connected to Script Magazine): Demystifying the Script Submission Process, which includes a section on how to research the right company for your screenplay, and Pitch Like a Professional, which includes ways to identify agents, producers, managers, actors, directors, and other entertainment professionals looking for scripts like yours.
That’s a Wrap
As a writer, you play a number of roles in making your script the best it can be. You’ll aim to deliver as fully on your concept as you can, leaving no stone unturned with your script development, writing, and storytelling. You’ll strive to get your script into the hands of readers who can give you the most useful, constructive feedback by searching for readers who understand the genre expectations you’re writing in but who also are excellent with story in general. You’ll work to understand and implement notes you receive, remembering to look for the “note beneath the note” when the dots don’t connect for you in an obvious way. You’ll research and submit to the industry pros and execs who are already successful with — and love — stories like yours. And hopefully, you’ll enjoy the heck out of it along the way.
Thanks for submitting your question!
Submit your question to be answered anonymously via my online form here or send an email directly to email@example.com. Look for answers to selected questions in my monthly “Ask the Coach” column on the third Thursday of the month. And reach out to me on Twitter to share your thoughts: @JennaAvery.