by Barri Evins
Your query letter gets a response! You’ve been waiting a long time for this day. What’s next? More waiting. How long can it possibly take to read one little script?
Try to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. The one with a plate piled sky high with reading.
When I was starting out as an agency assistant, writers would call to ask about the script they had submitted to my boss. Remember, this was in the old days when scripts were printed out on paper! I would politely ask the writer to hold – then head down to the shelf outside my boss’ office that held a stack of scripts she needed to read. Of course, scripts that were handed to her by one of the agency’s partners went straight to the top. Scripts referred by a development exec or a client were next. Those that managed to get in over the transom were stacked in the order they came in with the newest going on the bottom.
Back on the phone I’d say, You’re Number 18 down in the stack. It was a simple answer that both satisfied and illuminated.
Everyone working in the industry has a stack like this, even if today it’s an electronic one. So, how long should you wait before asking, “Hello, remember me? The writer whose script you asked for?” Four to eight weeks is a reasonable amount of time. Remember, anything else that comes in while your script is waiting to be read that is a higher priority goes on top.
You don’t want to be annoying, but it’s understandable that you want a response. According to my views on industry etiquette, you may send a brief, polite email after six weeks have passed. That six-week period should not be over the holidays; that time doesn’t count. If you don’t receive a reply, that’s it. Stop. Either youve been passed on or you’re simply never going to make it to the top of the stack. You’ve sent a pleasant reminder – hey it is harder to keep track now that we don’t have a physical stack to look at – but you don’t have any moves left.
But the person is passing! Chances are, you’re going to get a pass, even though we read your query and asked to see your script. We might have construed that it was more commercial than it turned out to be. The idea may not be well executed, meaning how the premise plays out, not the quality of the writing, which is actually less important than the idea. It may not have delivered what was implied in the query. Most scripts are passed on most of the time.
How do you turn a pass into a win? In this business, a little professionalism and common courtesy goes a long way. Thank you for your time and consideration. Yes, it’s actually that simple.
Think of the pass as an opportunity to build a relationship. That means reply to the pass like a grown up not, a pouty child or pushy person. These replies won me over: Thank you for your thoughtful response. Thank you so much, Ms. Evins for the prompt read and quick response. I truly appreciate you taking the time! Once again, we appreciate the courtesy shown us. You might add that you hope you can contact the exec in the future.
If I liked your writing, I am now twice as likely to be open to reading your work again.
Don’t go overboard! We now have a budding professional relationship. Use it, but please don’t abuse it. Don’t send two scripts when I’ve read the loglines and asked for one. When someone keeps trying to wring all they can out of me, reads, responses to loglines, questions on how to get into the industry or who else might want to read their work and more, I feel like raw meat in shark-infested waters.
Handle yourself like a professional, and you’ll be treated like one. Over the course of one day via social media, a recent screenwriting school graduate was able to impress me to the extent that he turned me around from politely declining to read his query letter and give him free feedback, as I can’t do work as a favor for one person when I charge others, though I would be happy to work with him if he was interested in hiring me – to becoming my intern. And as my intern, he’s had plenty of dull chores to do. And he’s had some amazing perks. Including me helping him rework on his query letter until it absolutely shone. And it got responses.