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Wendy's LA4Hire: Screenwriting Tips on Query Letters... Are They Useful?

Producer Wendy Kram gives advice to screenwriters on writing query letters that will grab an executive's attention.

Producer Wendy Kram gives advice to screenwriters on writing query letters that will grab an executive's attention.

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The answer is “yes.” The reason some may say that they are not is because most are ill-conceived, but a good query letter can yield results. I myself as a producer have optioned projects based on query letters.

Tips for Good Query Letters:

  • Include any distinguishing factors about yourself that are relevant to your work and can make you stand out such as awards, degrees, published works, area of expertise relevant to your subject matter (journalist, police detective, psychologist, award-winning playwright, author of sci-fi fantasy or YA novels, and so on.)
  • Include a personal connection if applicable, such as a referral or perhaps a seminar you attended where the executive was a presenter or guest speaker. Warm referrals, especially referenced in the subject heading of your email, can make a difference and be the tipping point as to whether or not an executive or agent decides to open your email -- the first step to having them accept your query and agree to read your screenplay.
  • Make sure your tone is authentic and genuine, and you are not overselling. Overselling is a turn-off. A tip to sound authentic is to write in a manner that is respectful but also conversational and relaxed, as though you're filling a friend in on something you're excited about.
  • Assume the person you are writing to is intelligent and an expert in their field so that you are not "educating" him or her about the business they're in and why your genre or project is box office gold. Let him or her be the judge. If you can get them to read your script, the proof will be in the pudding. They will make their determination.based on their view of the quality of your work. Good concepts are a dime a dozen. Most studios and financiers don't fund projects based on good concepts alone. They either want a pre-established brand with a built-in audience such as a best-selling novel or comic book with an iconic super hero, or a script that leaps off the page in terms of originality and exceptional writing with respect to character, dialogue and plot. Good concepts that are well-executed are rare, and of great value. They will put you in demand. If you know ahead of time the above is what the executive is looking for, the objective in your query letter is to entice them to read your script, period. The rest is up to them to decide, based on whether or not they feel you've done a great job as a screenwriter and written an awesome script!
  • Don’t be phony or over-sell, such as:

“This is a great concept that will make a hundred million dollars at the box office!”

  • Let your executive decide if he or she is excited about your work and/or if your screenplay fits the company’s current mandate. If it doesn't but you've managed to impress the executive with your writing nonetheless, there's a good chance the executive will want to meet you and even hire you for other projects. Such a scenario is a great win that can open doors and parlay to other successes.
  • Communicate the premise of your movie in a concise and clear manner. Don't write 5 paragraphs in your email or go into personal details that are not relevant. Only include details that speak to distinguishing factors about yourself or project, as referenced in #1.
  • Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. A sloppily written email is a tell-tale sign there will be errors in your script. This first impression can result in the difference between an executive accepting your submission or dismissing it. If you don’t take pride in your work and care about your presentation, chances are we won't either.
  • Make sure you understand your buyers' needs, and that your project fits them. If a company only produces dark, edgy stuff and thrillers, don't send a query letter about a romantic comedy. You'll be wasting their time and yours. It's important to do your homework and target your submissions.
  • Create an enticing line in your subject heading. Since most query letters will be sent via email, it’s important to have a subject heading that grabs attention because you need to give your executive a strong reason to open your email. A few examples of effective, compelling subject headings --
  1. Award winning screenwriter with spec script based on a true story...
  2. Page finalist with spec true-crime thriller...
  3. Published author with action-adventure script...
  4. Screenwriters World Conference Follow-Up...
  5. Per our conversation at The Austin Film Festival...

Get More Advice from Wendy Kram in her Screenwriting University Tutorial - Marketing Your Film and TV Projects: Creating Loglines, One-Sheets & Query Letters for Executives

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