There are some basic similarities in writing queries for screenplays and novels, but there are also some fundamental differences. You need to figure out who to query and how to tailor your query letter for a literary agent, Hollywood agent, producer, or publisher.
Literary Agents: A literary agent, or perhaps an assistant, generally reads every query that arrives in their mailbox or inbox.
Find Agents here
Hollywood Agents: If your hair catches fire, a Hollywood agent will not pour their Evian water on your head without first checking your pockets to see if you already have a screenplay deal on the table. That may be a slight exaggeration. Slight. Hollywood agents are, as a rule, not interested in new writers. Even if they will consider newbies, they are usually referred by other industry professionals who can vouch for them.
Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) Agent List Good luck….
You cannot get a producer to read your screenplay without an agent and you cannot get an agent unless you have signed a deal with a producer. That’s the conventional, “Catch 22” mentality in Hollywood. Except it’s not entirely true.
Hollywood Producers – You *can* get a producer to read your screenplay. It’s just a lot harder when you don’t have a Hollywood agent to submit your work on your behalf. If you write a well-composed query letter that clearly outlines the script you are trying to sell, you may get a producer, or an assistant, to read your screenplay. Please do not delude yourself into thinking you can get Jerry Bruckheimer or Steven Spielberg to read your script. Be reasonable. Send only to producers who are willing to read unsolicited queries or at least do not have a stated policy of no unsolicited queries. I’ve gotten two of my screenplays optioned this way.
Book Publishers – For your novel, you can try to send query letters to publishing companies directly but it is likely a waste of time. If you go to their website for their submission policy (and shame, shame, on you if don’t do this first!) you can find out whether or not the publisher is willing to look at material from unagented writers. More and more, publishers have stopped accepting unsolicited submissions and instead will work only through trusted agents. Your querying time is likely much better spent trying to land an agent than going to the publisher directly.
**As a general rule – If you’re shopping a screenplay, query producers. If you’re shopping a novel or nonfiction book, query literary agents.**
Tips for Queries for Both Screenplays and Novels
* Get to the main idea of your story quickly. You can even dive right into it in the first paragraph before you introduce yourself. You are trying to convince the reader that your story will SELL. Grab their interest right away. Describe in clear, powerful language who your main characters are and what they are battling. What do they want? What is the story about? Where is the conflict?
* Query only one project at a time. If you’ve written other books or screenplays, you can mention them in your brief bio paragraph but don’t talk them up here. You’re trying to sell your current project.
* Just describe the story itself, don’t praise it. You may think your story is “hilarious, entertaining, action-packed, or a tearjerker,” but that’s up to the reader to decide. If it’s not clear from your brief synopsis that your novel or screenplay is a comedy or a heavy drama, your query letter – or worse, your story – is not ready for submission.
* Include a brief biography of yourself. If you’ve won writing awards or placed in contests, mention those accomplishments here. If you are a professional writer as a day job (journalist, copywriter, technical writer), then say so. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have any writing credentials yet. If your story grabs the reader’s interest, you will get a request to read your manuscript or screenplay. If you have experience or a special background that qualifies you to write this particular story, describe it. If you wrote a story about World War II, then it’s relevant to explain that your grandparents were concentration camp survivors. If you’re an attorney and you’ve written a legal thriller, it can only help to mention your day job.
Tips for Book Queries
* Write a professional query letter that shows that you take your career seriously. Unless they have specifically stated that they do not accept unsolicited query letters or will only consider submissions by referral only, they will read your query letter. No need to dress it up to grab their attention. Make your story grab their attention.
* You can be creative, within reason. Some choose to write some or all of the query letter in their character’s voice. Do this only if you can do this effectively.
* If you’re querying about a novel, include the word count.
* You can mention whether or not a completed manuscript is ready for review. If it’s a nonfiction book, normally you prepare only a proposal and not the whole book. For a novel, you should have a complete manuscript ready to go.
Some suggest you just ignore all the rules
Tips for Screenplay Queries
* Write a logline. This is usually a one or two sentence description of your story. The logline is in addition to the brief synopsis of your story that you will include (just like in a fiction query).
* Be creative. Unlike literary agents, Hollywood agents and producers don’t necessarily read query letters. You need to make your letter stand out. If you’re marketing a comedy, feel free to make your query letter humorous. I put warning labels on the outside of my query letter and I submit a pre-rejected postcard where people can circle the reason they’re brushing me off (and a place where they can circle YES, I want to read your screenplay). Several producers told me it was the best query they’d ever received. Another producer called me to request the screenplay instead of sending back my rejection postcard because she thought it was clever and wanted to keep it! It’s tough out there in Hollywood – you’re at the bottom of the barrel if you don’t live in L.A. like me and don’t know anyone out there. You’ve got to work to be noticed. But it can be done. Show off your writing ability any way you can.
* Be original, but not gimmicky. Using colored paper, drawings, writing your query letter in crayon just for funsies is amateur and foolish.
For both novel and screenplay query letters, it all really comes down to the story. If your story is compelling and fresh with characters an audience can really care about, people will want to read it. As you review your query letter, ask yourself – can I sell this story? That’s exactly what any producer, publisher, or agent will be thinking. Make sure the answer is YES.