Query Letters
What is a query letter and why should I write one?

Query Letters are one of the tried and true ways of getting your script read.  A query letter is like a cold call on paper.  Production companies and talent agencies are flooded with queries from writers on a daily basis but they are sometimes the only way to get your script read - particularly if you live outside of Southern California. 

You must put your best foot forward.  You have to gain the reader's attention immediately and entice them to want to read your material.  Typos, rambling, poor grammar, offering up too much detail, comparing your script to successful movies (our worse, unsuccessful ones) will get your letter tossed into the round file before the ink is dry from your printer. 

Your query letter represents you.  If your query letter is poorly written, the reader is likely to think: If he/she can't write a single compelling page...how good can their 120 page screenplay possibly be?

There's a right way and a wrong way to do a query letter.  Let's take a quick look at some examples:

Bad Query Letter Example
Good Query Letter Example

So what makes the "good" query letter good?

1. It is addressed to a specific and targeted person.

It is understood in Hollywood that you are blanketing the town with your query letter.  This is okay.
What is not okay is to address your query letter "To Whom It May Concern" or "Decision Maker" or "Anyone That Can Help Me". 

You must make sure that your letter or email is addressed to a single person, and the correct person at that company for the project you are pitching.  For instance, don't bother sending a query letter to the president of the company or even the vice president.  Don't send a query letter pitching a feature screenplay to a television agent, etc.  You are just wasting your time and postage.

Do your homework and send your query letter/email to the right person.  At a production company, the person you will likely want to target is the story editor, or an executive or assistant in the Development Department.  At a literary agency, you can send your letter to the agent or to their assistant if you call and get their name.  Do your research!  Midsize and large agencies are very specialized.  There are agents that only handle talent (actors), agents that handle above and below the line talent (directors as well as art directors and composers), and literary agents (writers).  But many agents or whole agencies specialize in specific types of writers, either TV or film.  Most agencies now also have agents who specialize in interactive and/or web content.  You need to make sure that your query letter gets to someone that represents the type of projects that you write.

2. It keeps to the query letter "formula."

The basic formula for writing a professional query letter is a five paragraph format.

The first paragraph states your intent.  You've just completed a new screenplay and you are seeking representation (agent query) or consideration for production (producer or studio query).

The second paragraph contains a few sentences that describe your story.  This should be longer than a logline but much shorter than a synopsis.  Here are a few ways to deal with this paragraph:

You can begin by posing an intriguing question: What if every woman in the world woke up one day only to find that every man in the world had died the previous night - except for one - and he is gay!  Then give the reader a few more sentences that describe the goal of the hero.  Can Tanya seduce Tim to save the human race?  Personalize your hero and give a few descriptive adjectives to plant an image of these characters.  This type of format works well if you have a very high-concept idea.

If your story is not a "high-concept" idea, you will have to setup your story description a bit differently.  You will need to use the few sentences at your disposal to describe the hero, the world he lives in, the villain or antagonistic forces he faces, and the central conflicts.  In most cases, this paragraph describes the first act of your screenplay.  A well written first act covers all of the items listed above.  Basically, the "who, what, where, and when."  The "how" represents the second act, and the "why" is revealed in the third act.   But you don't have time in a query letter to describe "how" the hero will try and reach his/her goal, and the "why" is something you want the reader to discover when they read your screenplay.  You don't want to reveal your twist ending in a query letter.  Your goal is to get the reader so hooked on your setup or your incredibly high-concept "why didn't I think of that"  premise that they have to immediately request to read your screenplay to find out what happens.

The third paragraph is where you provide some background information on yourself.  What makes you uniquely qualified to write this story?  Are you a graduate of USC film school?  Are you a published author and you are adapting your own book?  Have you won or placed highly in a screenplay contest?  Did you base this screenplay off your own off-Broadway play?  Is your screenplay the story about a dentist and you've been one for the last 20 years?  Is this a true story and you are one of the people who lived it?  Is this an adaptation of a published novel and you are working closely with the book's author?   If you have absolutely nothing you can think of to promote about yourself or your unique qualifications that ensure that your screenplay smacks of reality, you can omit this paragraph.

The fourth paragraph is the "call to action."  This should be a single sentence where you ask the reader to request your screenplay and how they can reach you.  Ideally you should include with your query letter a self-addressed stamped envelope or better still a self-addressed stamped postcard to make it as easy as possible for the reader to request your screenplay.  See further down in this article for some helpful tips and some free templates creating your own postcards. 

The fifth paragraph is where you thank the reader for their time and consideration.

3. A good query letter includes a self-addressed stamped postcard or envelope.

If you were an overworked producer or agent, particularly at a smaller company, would you take the time to type out a rejection or request letter to the hundreds of writers that query you every month? If the executive even likes idea, sometimes there is just not enough time in their day to pick up the phone and request a script.  Or perhaps they'd rather not deal with you on the phone since the script may not be any good - even if the idea is. 

They best way to get a response is to include a self-addressed postcard or envelope.  You take the burden of postage and time addressing an envelope and/or letter away from the executive.  We prefer the postcard method to an envelope.  The postcard saves the executive from having to write you a letter asking for your script or to send you a rejection letter...plus your postage cost for a postcard is less than for an envelope.

The postcard should have your name and address on one side and on the other list your screenplay's title and have a series of checkboxes to make it easy for the executive to request or reject your script.

Below are links to three documents that will  make it easy for you to format and create your own postcards:

- How to Create a Self-Addressed Postcard for your Query Letters (PDF)

- Frontside Postcard Template for Microsoft Word 
(click on the link to open up this template in Microsoft Word or right click and select "save as target" to download it)

- Backside Postcard Template for Microsoft Word
(click on the link to open up this template in Microsoft Word or right click and select "save as target" to download it)

So should you follow up on a query letter?

As a general rule - no.  You send them out and hope for the best.  You should always make a follow up call on your script submissions after a reasonable amount of time has past.  But not for a query letter.  If they don't call you or return your postcard they just may not be accepting new submissions right now, your project may not be what they are looking for, or maybe your query letter needs more work.

Are there alternatives to traditional paper mailed query letters?

Yes.  There are several email query services where you pay a fixed amount of money, create your query letter, and these companies will email it to producers, agents, and managers.  You can hit 1,000's of people in the same day!

The messages appear to come directly from you and not the email service company, so responses from these contacts will go directly to your personal email inbox.  Not bad.  These companies can't guarantee that the messages will get read, but they will get delivered.

Another approach to marketing your screenplays is a script placement service.  You can upload your synopsis and your screenplay to their website and let entertainment contacts search for scripts that meet their needs.  They track and let you know who reads your upload documents so you can gauge the site's effectiveness.

We recommend:

What if no one responds to my query letters?

Maybe your query letter isn't written effectively. 

StoryPros can help. 

For a minimal cost, we'll review your query letter and send you a corrected version.

If you really want the best possible chance at getting responses to your query letters, let StoryPros write one for you!  We'll read your screenplay and create a concise and compelling query letter that gets results.

Check out our Query Letter Review Service ($50) and a Query Letter Creation Service ($75).
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