5 Tips on Effectively Submitting Queries from the NewsletterWritten by: Jared Wynn
Published: Oct 8, 2014
A brief clarification of terms mentioned in the article:
Weekly newsletters – InkTip sends two different versions of newsletters to writers every week: the Preferred Newsletter and the Free Newsletter.
Call-out for scripts – also known as leads, these opportunities to pitch or submit queries are included in every weekly newsletter.
Mandate – the requirements a producer has to meet for a particular project. Mandates can be broad or narrow. This depends on numerous factors ranging from the available budget to the locations secured for a shoot. InkTip works with producers to turn their mandates into leads so that writers can submit queries appropriately.
One question I see a lot here at InkTip is: What can I do to raise the effectiveness of my pitches through the weekly newsletter?
Let’s step back and get a little bit of perspective. When producers put out calls for scripts in our weekly newsletters to writers, they’re usually doing one of two things: 1) looking for a needle in a haystack (like a script about horse racing in Dubai, or a writer with an understanding of the colloquial dialects spoken in the Northern Rockies between 1870 and 1890 – these are real mandates from real leads we’ve posted here at InkTip) or 2) they’re being very choosey. And you can often tell whether a producer is going to get just a few or a lot of pitches by how common or obscure their mandate is. If they’re looking for something really rare (such as horse racing stories set in Dubai) and you happen to have one – cool! On the other hand, if they’re looking for all types of thrillers (a very broad mandate), they’ve probably already gone through a lot of scripts while hoping to see and consider quite a lot more. But this is also very much a good thing if you happen to have the right script – and if you pitch it the right way.
Summary on the above: if a producer’s mandate in the newsletter sounds very narrow, then it’s because they really do have strict requirements based on what they need at the time. If their mandate is very broad, then they have most likely already read a lot of scripts in that genre and still haven’t found the right one, thus the need to put a call out in the newsletter for more scripts.
Your goal at this point is to stand out from the pack without stepping outside the box in order to avoid having your pitch fall into the dreaded “pass pile.” Realize that most producers look for story first, and anything that seems to detract from story – like an overly-long or complicated pitch, titles or loglines written in ALL CAPS, or anything else which isn’t story – is just as likely to send the pitch to the pass pile as a vague pitch or a statement like “please just read the script and read my mind” would. I’ve asked hundreds of producers how they read pitches, and they all pretty much respond with the same methods, along with their likes and dislikes. I’ve taken my conversations with them and created these 5 tips that will make your submission queries much more effective:
- Submit through the appropriate channels. Producers’ careers are made and unmade according to their ability to stay organized while wearing a lot of different hats. So when they put a call out in the newsletter, they’re expecting to log into their InkTip accounts, see some pitches, request some scripts, and then get back to doing whatever else they have on their plate that day – like filing paperwork, scheduling auditions, scouting locations, drawing up budgets, etc. When – instead of seeing pitches in his/her InkTip account – a producer gets an email pitch while in the middle of a phone call, a production meeting, handling nineteen alpha personalities on set, etc., he or she is more likely to just delete the email than read it – and if they start getting bombarded with a lot of email pitches the same week InkTip puts a call out for them, they’re less likely to use InkTip again. So this is actually a double-edged sword; you’re not only losing an opportunity with that producer, you’re also risking losing a lot of other opportunities down the road. Emailing these producers instead of pitching through InkTip ruins opportunities not only for you but for all writers on InkTip. So, we ask producers to forward us email pitches they receive. The exception is when a producer has specifically stated in the newsletter that they prefer email pitches.
- Follow directions. Every lead contains directions on what to pitch – and implicitly on what not to pitch. The absolute worst mistake writers make is by pitching something that doesn’t fit the parameters of the lead – and I’m not just talking about writers pitching rom-coms to producers seeking thrillers. I’m talking about the “easily adapted to fit” ideas, like when a writer pitches a male-driven action-thriller to a producer seeking thrillers with a female lead because “you can just change the character’s name from Steve to Nancy, right?” Well… it’s a little harder than that, but more to the point, when you pitch something they’re not looking for, the subtext in your pitch says, “I’m too inconsiderate to be bothered with your needs, so you shouldn’t bother considering my script.” And producers are very good at finding and reading this sort of subtext. The bottom line: don’t go outside the directions – submit only what they have stated they are looking for as that is just basic respect of peoples’ time.
- Include a synopsis and resume. We actually have some writers who submit nothing more than a logline with the expectation that they’ll receive the same consideration as writers who took an extra thirty seconds on the submission page to copy and paste their synopsis into the text box before sending. This is bewildering; it’s like a job applicant showing up for an interview without a resume, or a loan applicant showing up at the bank without a shirt. And speaking of resumes, everything that goes into your resume should answer the question, “Why is this person the right writer for this project?” Unrelated hobbies, jobs and interests don’t go here. Contest placements, previous options and hires, and your background as a writer, do. Even if you don’t have any contest wins or options to mention, a general statement like “I started writing at an early age, I specialize in this genre, and have other writing samples available upon request” is a thousand times better than nothing.
- Use brevity! This is an area where less really is more. In fact, this rule applies not only to the initial pitch but to every subsequent follow-up and email exchange with that producer. A rule of thumb I’ve learned over the years is this: always start as briefly and to-the-point as possible, and then always keep subsequent communications shorter than the producers’. It’s a matter of understanding the difference between the manager and the managed. When you’re the boss, you might explain something nineteen different ways and then restate it at regular intervals to make sure you’re getting what you want out of your employee. (At least, you might when Jerrol is your boss and I’m your employee.) When you’re the employee, just say, “we need more post-it notes.”
- Don’t step outside the box! It’s always a good idea to think outside the box, but when you’re pitching producers, nine times out of eight you are pitching someone whose feet are firmly planted inside that box just by virtue of the fact that they’re looking for something specific and clearly defined. In fact, as far as producers are concerned, “mandate” might as well be a synonym for “box.” So when writing a logline, make sure it’s industry standard, don’t separate your premise from your pitch (i.e. don’t write, “What would you do if you found out your dad was a spy?” before writing the actual logline), use character and location descriptions instead of proper nouns, and whatever you do, DON’T SHOUT! Formatting tricks for emphasis (caps, italics, etc.) do indeed make your pitch stand out – but not in a good way. Similarly, synopses should be half a page to one page at the most (note from InkTip: 250-400 words works well), and they should be broken into paragraphs that convey the acts and beats in your story. A single paragraph or three pages of dense description just won’t get read. (For more on writing the synopsis, click here.)
Here’s an example of a bad pitch:
“LOGLINE: This is a fast-paced thriller about ROXY RADOST a porn star with daddy issues who meets her real dad CLIVE SNERFENDURGLE only to finds out that her dad is a shady government operative with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) who runs a porn studio, as a cover story, and, to launder money he gets from arms merchents in Guatemala while selling tainted crack on the streets of SAN JOSE, which is basically the armpit of Northern CALI, where her boyfriend, an addict, is about to relapse.”
How many mistakes did you count in that? I counted:
- It announces itself as a logline (it is never, ever necessary to include the word “logline” in a logline)
- It states the genre (producers should be able to tell it’s a thriller from the story itself)
- It gives a description of the story (if it is indeed “fast-paced,” a producer should be able to tell this from the “ticking time bomb” element in the story and from brevity in the pitch)
- It employs proper nouns (a producer might not like the name of your character, or might already have a location in mind)
- It uses ALL CAPS (this is fine when introducing characters in the script, but it’s jarring in a logline)
- It contains a parenthetical description for a common term (and even if it weren’t a common term, the risk of being condescending just isn’t worth taking)
- It has all sorts of grammar and punctuation problems (not enough commas in the right places, too many commas in the wrong places, misspellings, etc. etc. etc.)
Now ponder a couple of questions:
When you read that logline, was it fun or funny?
If you had a bunch of loglines in front of you, would that one stand out in a good way?
Here’s how that pitch should look if it’s going to have a shot at being considered:
“A porn star with daddy issues learns that her real father is a spy who is running the porn studio as a cover for a money laundering operation in order to sell tainted drugs to addicts – like her boyfriend.”
Was that easier to read? Do you think you could make it even shorter?
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.