The Great Query Letter Hoax

And now a moment of truth for all new (and not so new) TV and film writers. Something you’ve never been told – unless you’ve talked to our Beloved Leader, Larry B, or read…this:

the executive sweet

by Stephanie Palmer

Let’s say you plan to write a query letter to get a screenplay agent. Here’s my advice – don’t. Query letters can work for novels but NOT for screenplays. The notion that you can get a screenplay agent, find a producer, sell a screenplay, or launch your career with a query letter is a hoax.

LET’S GET REAL ABOUT QUERY LETTERS

There are two fundamental skills required to be a professional screenwriter.

  • You have to write a bunch of awesome stuff (you know that)
  • You have to get your awesome stuff to the right people (you also know this)

What you may not know is that getting your stuff to the right people is ALMOST AS DIFFICULT as writing it in the first place. There are no shortcuts to writing something great and there are no shortcuts to getting your work into the right hands. But that’s the great query letter hoax – that you’ll write a cold letter or email, someone powerful will read it, you’ll skip to the front of the line, and your ideas will be considered before the writers who “get in the room” through their personal relationships.

YOU’VE BEEN TOLD TO WRITE QUERY LETTERS

There are a lot of aspiring screenwriters who don’t have any Hollywood connections and don’t know how to develop them. They write a screenplay and want to sell it, so they get online and find an “expert.”

The expert says something like: “All you have to do is get a list of everyone in Hollywood and send them a query letter and PRESTO – you can achieve your dreams! Oh, and by the way, for a small fee you can blast my personal list….” This is bad information – and that’s not your fault.

QUERY LETTERS DO WORK .00001% OF THE TIME

The “experts” will tell you that query letters have worked. And in rare instances, they do. Actors have been discovered waiting in line at Starbucks. That doesn’t mean aspiring thespians should get coffee over and over again all day long. But suppose you were an actor, and you went online to find out how to get noticed, and a bunch of “experts” were saying things like:

“The secret to launching your acting career is simple – COFFEE. Do you know how many actors have been discovered at Starbucks? For a small fee you can have my personal list of the best coffee shops to get noticed and the right coffee drinks to order….” Again, receiving bad information is not your fault.

QUERY LETTERS ARE WEAK INTRODUCTIONS

Screenwriting is a collaborative medium. This makes it different from writing a novel. Novelists are solo artists. Screenwriters are team players. Your social graces, your personality, your ability to express yourself in person are all important aspects of becoming a working screenwriter.