5 Things You Can Do to Help Sell Your Scripts in 2014
Editor’s Note: We originally ran this article earlier in 2014. We’ve updated this article based on your responses.
A writer asked me a very specific question the other day, and it was the best question I think I've heard from a writer in all my time here at InkTip. She asked: "Is there anything I can do to guarantee I'll sell one of my scripts this year?”
And the answer is…no. Sorry.
BUT… I can think of five things you can do to dramatically increase the probability of selling your scripts. In fact, these are five very specific things you can and should be doing regardless of where you're at in your writing career – and if you're already an optioned or produced writer, chances are you're already doing most or all of these:
- Write a LOT. This may sound like the old "write for an hour or two a day every day” rule, but like a runny nose, it's not. I know a lot of successful writers personally and they all seem to have two things in common: they do write every day , but they're also constantly writing or developing more than one story at a time. What this means is, when they hit that writer's block on one project, they set it aside and work on something else, knowing they'll always come back to the other one with a clearer head and perspective. And as a result, they spend less time getting bogged down and more time getting words on the page.
- READ a lot. You may already know this, but if you don't, I've got a real shocker for you: Some writers don't even read scripts! And it shows in their writing; in fact, if you've ever worked in development, you can probably pick out the un-read writer by the end of the first page. Which is good news for you as a writer, because a bit of reading in your writing routine can really make your work stand out.
- Write a THIRD draft . The common wisdom in Hollywood is that no script is ever really ready to go, but some are more ready than others. And… those are the ones producers tend to pick up! Producers are loathe to read a script twice, so don't send out a rough draft, don't send out a first draft, and don't even send out a second draft. Rewrite and refine and polish that thing till it shines like a diamond so producers won't treat it like a lump of coal.
- Learn ALL the formulas. Or at least learn as many as you can. There are broad structural formulas like this beat sheet. And there are genre-specific formulas like the fish-out-of-water formula that works so well in comedy, or the rock-and-a-hard-place formula in thrillers where the protagonist has to find the killer before the killer finds her. Then there are budgetary formulas, like the single pivotal character in a single location so they can cast an A-lister in a role that shoots out in a week formula that is favored by low-to-mid budget producers (think Halle Berry in "The Call” or Colin Farrell in "Phone Booth”). Now I know some writers hate the word "formula,” but that's like a hammer hating the word "nail.” Bottom line: formulas are powerful writing tools, and when you have more tools to choose from, you're going to build a better script.
- Change your PITCH. This doesn't apply to all writers, just 99.99% of them. OK, maybe that's a bit hyperbolic, but here's a rule of thumb: if you aren't changing up and testing new loglines every once in a while then you need to start doing so yesterday. What you're going to find is that some loglines work better than others. And oddly enough, sometimes producers will read a logline and pass on it, then read a completely different logline for the same script two months later and then decide to read the script after all. So the goal isn't to change your logline till you find the magic one, it's just to keep changing your logline. But still, do try and find that magic logline.
And finally, we asked thousands of writers for suggestions for a 6th tip and got quite a few responses. I can’t include all of them here, but I did pull a few worthy of sharing:
- Read your script dialogue out loud. Let some others read it out loud to you. See if it flows easily, sounds realistic, and fits the character. What looks good to the eyes, doesn’t always sound good to the ears. –Dorothy
- So many writers only write with their HEART. The most creative work comes from passion and inspiration, but not the best work…Write your first draft with your heart. But after that, start thinking and applying theory to your script. This is where you start to be critical. This way, you get the best of both worlds. The best of work comes from a writer when he/she is not too close to it. You become objective. Put it down for days, weeks, or months if needed, but it takes a certain amount of "distance" to really critique your own work. That's how you write with your head. –Kevin
- Actually get the script out. I know that sounds obvious. But you'd be amazed at how many writers sit on their work. They believe it isn't good enough or take a few rejections as an omen that they aren't worthy if success. Whatever the reason, the script stays computer bound. –Cheri
- The 3rd draft rule? I should use that rule, because I'm currently working on my 53rd draft. I rewrite so many drafts that they read like entirely different scripts on the same subject. Rewriting too much is a curse on the writer and the script…it's like an unstoppable addiction and its fuel is the belief that "it can always be better." –Joe
- Get feedback from other writers, especially professionals! – Catherine
- Try to make as many connections as possible; you never who knows who’s who in the industry – and in my experience, it’s the old "not what you know but who." – Gary
- I would add: Find one friend in the biz and nurture that contact. And I don't mean send them your script or pitch your projects to them, but learn from them. That contact can turn into two until you've networked a good situation for one of your stories. – Mark
- Thanks for a really inspirational email. Big congratulations to Jared. The beat sheet in particular is really interesting and helpful. I once beat out a script following Blake Snyder’s scheme- it made it much more focused (it was really sad he died so young) – Ian
- Conquer your ego-generated pride -- this is vital in order to be able to honestly evaluate your scripts and associated marketing/promotional efforts. If your ego is too strong, you'll be unable to accept constructive, potentially helpful criticism from others plus you won't be able to spot weaknesses/errors when editing your material because your ego will blind you to anything that may make you look bad. – Lee
- Most of all…Believe in yourself. –V. Taylor
- The sixth thing is to put your script on InkTip. – Abdelouahab
Jared Wynn has interviewed thousands of producers, agents and managers about what they're looking for in a script or writer, and he knows a lot about how to successfully market a screenplay.