Screenwriting Query Letters And The Great Query Letter Hoax

Screenwriting query letters are thought to be a way to sell a screenplay, get a Hollywood literary agent, and otherwise help you become a screenwriter.

Unfortunately, screenwriting query letters can do serious damage to your career.

Luckily, there is a MUCH better way to break in as a screenwriter.

Screenwriting Query Letters – Overview

Let’s talk about when screenwriting query letters work, when they don’t, and what to do instead.

Overall, the argument in favor of the screenwriting query letter goes like this:

  • It has worked for me and/or
  • It has worked for writers I know.

Fair enough. But the question is this:

What does it mean for screenplay query letters to “work”?

When Do Screenwriting Query Letters “Work”?

The fact is that screenplay query letters can:

  • Generate a response from a low-level producer
  • Eventually result in making a small sale or small option

Screenwriting query letters can help you make a small amount of money.

However, there’s a serious problem with this kind of success.

Querying Holds You Back

If you only learn one thing from this post, learn this:

Writers who use screenwriting query letters typically don’t become full-time screenwriters.

WARNING: What I’m about to say is not fair – but it does represent my best understanding of how Hollywood works. Please keep in mind that I am trying to help you become a successful professional screenwriter.

Screenwriting Query Letters = Your Material Isn’t Good Enough

screenplay query letters show you are a rookie writerTo decision-makers, screenwriting query letters are a red flag.

Top agents, managers, directors, producers, and stars believe that writers who write great material get noticed, and people who have been noticed can get meetings. Therefore, to decision-makers, screenwriting query letters are used only by rookies who haven’t written something good enough (yet).

Again, as I said, this is not fair.

But when you send screenwriting query letters, it means your material isn’t top quality.

Screenwriting Query Letters = You Don’t “Get It”

To decision-makers, screenwriting query letters mean that you don’t understand Hollywood.

This is because Hollywood is a relationship business and screenwriting is a collaborative art.

As a screenwriter, you have to be able to:

  • Develop relationships with people inside the business.
  • Generate meetings with decision-makers.
  • Handle yourself in those high-stakes meetings.
  • Collaborate with directors, stars, and producers.

Being able to generate a real meeting demonstrates that you “get it.”

If you can’t get a meeting, you’re probably not ready for the Big Leagues.

Screenwriting Query Letters = No Agent

The kind of sales that result from query letters are small.

These deals are too small for writers to support themselves writing full-time.

These deals are also too small to attract the interest of an agent.

In broad strokes, without an agent:

  • You don’t get the opportunity for multiple sales.
  • You don’t get to receive paid assignments.
  • You can’t make a living as a full-time screenwriter.

Because you don’t have an agent, you have to keep writing queries.

Screenwriting Query Letters Beget Screenwriting Query Letters

Writing screenplay query letters is a way to keep writing query letters and have a part-time screenwriting career.

For some people, that’s great. Not everyone wants to quit their job and write full-time.

But if you want to be a full-time, professional screenwriter, writing queries hurts your chances to being seen as a top professional who can write big movies.

This brings me to a question I was asked by a number of people.

What About Websites That Require A Screenplay Query Letter Such As: Ink Tip, Virtual Pitchfest, International Screenwriters Association, or Screenwriting Staffing?

I’m familiar with these sites and each has success stories.

But rarely are these the kind of success stories that I’d like for you to have.

My concern is that screenplay query letters are represented as a way to help writers break into the Big Leagues, and in my experience, that’s not true.

The kind of deals that make it possible for you to be a full-time professional writer are:

  • Purchased for a lot of money
  • By a small number of buyers
  • Who only want to deal with writers who can get meetings via referral

$150K is a common entry-level deal for a screenwriter, and producers are unlikely to spend $150K on an unknown writer who contacted them from a query.

Screenplay Query Letters Are Bulk Mail

screenplay query letters get thrown awayBulk mail does work a very small percentage of the time.

For example, car dealerships often use bulk mail because if they send out 10,000 postcards and one person buys a car, it makes financial sense.

But there are way more potential buyers for cars than there are potential buyers for screenplays.

Your Screenplay Is Like A Rare Porsche

Your screenplay is like an extremely rare luxury vehicle, like a Porsche 911R.

There are a small number of people who can afford this kind of high-end car.

The number is even smaller for producers who would be interested in buying your script.

There may be ~25-50 producers who actually get movies made who are a good fit for your project.

You don’t use a bulk mail approach when there are few buyers for an extremely expensive item.

screenwriter Craig Maizin

“My whole problem with query letters is that they’re kind of self-selecting. The people that answer query letters are precisely the people that you don’t want answering your query letter.” –Craig Mazin, Identity Thief, The Hangover

Hollywood Producers With Purchasing Power Are Not Reading Your Query

Here are excerpts from just a few of the emails I have received in the last six months:

  • “I have listed my script on a bunch of the biggest listing and query services and even though it shows that people clicked, I didn’t get any inquiries. This is getting really expensive!”
  • “I have tried every email and fax blast service to post loglines or send query letters.  I find that most of the time they are discarded.”
  • “I have contacted 148 producers with my query letter. Two people said they would read it. I haven’t heard back.”
  • “I researched and sent out 600 query letters and got a manager, but the manager works out of a strip mall in the Valley and doesn’t seem to have any connections to be able to get my script read.”
  • “I have taken three different classes in writing query letters. I am really good at it. But I have been sending them out for the last decade, I’m sure I’ve sent at least 1000, but I just can’t get seem to sell one of my scripts. What am I doing wrong?”

Beginning Vs. Full-Time Screenwriters

Let’s say I am a beginning gardener (which, in fact, I am).

I have taken a couple classes, read some books, and I’m growing a few things.

But, if I decided that I loved gardening so much that I wanted to pursue it as my profession, I would understand that I need to acquire some new skills.

Gardening Is Not The Same As Farming

If I’m serious about becoming a professional farmer or a full-time landscape architect, the mindset, tools, and techniques required to do it for a living are going to be different.

This is kind of obvious, but I use this example because I think the world of hobbyist gardening vs. professional farming is much more clearly delineated than Hollywood screenwriting.

A class I took in growing tomatoes in containers improved my gardening skills, but the teacher didn’t promise that this was the ticket to a full-time career as a farmer or landscape architect.

Screenwriting query letters are not professional

This is the hoax — that if you send out a screenwriting query letter to producers, you will be perceived as a legit professional and be able to connect with established producers, get your script purchased, get in the WGA, and make a lot of money.

But that’s not the case – just like my container of happy cherry tomatoes are not going to make me a living as a farmer.

Professional Results Require New Strategies

When I signed up for the Master Gardener’s program, one of the first lessons was,

“Only observe your land – and don’t try to grow anything – for the first year.”

I nearly laughed out loud.

But that was the lesson. Not to do anything for the first year except observe; note the light, the shade, the seasons.

After all, asparagus takes three years to come to fruition. To grow it properly, you’ve got to plant it in the right place, and apparently that takes a year to figure out.

And what if you want to plant an apple tree? It’s a long time between planting the seedling and eating the apple.

The difference between hobbyist gardening and full-time professional farming is stark.

Screenwriting query letters do not help your career

Screenwriting is like that, too.

Screenwriting Query Letters Do Work .00001% Of The Time

In rare instances, a query letter will get the attention of a legitimate decision-maker.

But this is a very low-percentage event.

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 aspiring actor, and you went online to find out how to get cast in bigger and better roles, 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….”

So, what can you do?

screenwriting query letters: I will not write screenplay query letters

What’s Better Than Query Letters?

Make connections in person.

In other words, you have to build your network of relationships.

There are no shortcuts to writing something great and there are no shortcuts to getting your work into the right hands.

The fact is that “the business” is not fair.

Hollywood is an unfair business where personal referrals and recommendations are the currency of the realm.

Therefore, the strategies to get your scripts read, noticed, purchased, and produced are based primarily on developing personal relationships.

Here’s screenwriter John August:

John August square“Where it really comes down to is a push versus pull. And query letters are a way of like pushing your script out into the world and saying like, “Hey, please look at this thing.”

And maybe that’s effective sometimes, but everyone I know who’s gotten agents or gotten managers it’s been a pull situation where that agent or manager has asked to read something because someone else has said, ‘This is really good,’ or they found this through a competition, they somehow came up across this writer, this idea, and they wanted to read it. And most the people I know who’ve gotten representation recently, it’s been that situation.

John August (Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory)

When you build your network instead of sending screenwriting query letters, you can succeed.

Networking is smarter than screenplay query letter writingYou meet other people who are building their networks.

You build relationships with people who are as talented and as driven as you are.

And then, when you write something great, the right doors can open quickly.

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Discussion About Screenwriting Query Letters And The Great Query Letter Hoax

  1. Dobes

    I agree that making contacts is better than querying. But for those of us who don’t live in a film center and can’t move, sometimes querying is the only way. I did, for instance, query an independent producer who had produced a film similar to mine. The first time, I got no response. Then my script went to the Nicholl semifinals, and I queried again. This time his reader read it and liked it and passed it on – and he called. It’s been a long road, but he’s stuck with me and the script, and filming starts in a couple of months.

    I would say that blanket queries probably rarely get very far, but targeting a screenplay to a particular producer may occasionally get results if you have no other way to get in the mix.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Dobes, and congrats on making it to the semifinals.

  2. Sergio Kopelev

    Preach it :). I’ve tried some query letters and posting my stuff on the “web-sites” (Black List and Inktip) but other than some correspondence with folks who I did not care for, the results were as you described. Then again, it’s possible that the screenplays weren’t very good. I am anything if not self aware :).

    As far as this blog post. Spot on!!! If I could only put your advice into practice then we’d be somewhere… Have a great day. I look forward to meeting you one day. Thank you.

  3. LAWRENCE

    USEFUL INFORMATION, TRULY A TIME SAVER, STRAIGHT TO THE POINT…

  4. Bryan

    Great information which can be used across any industry (i.e., putting your resume into the hand of a hiring manager).

    Good luck to all screenwriters!

  5. Barbie

    Hi Stephanie
    Have you heard of stage 32?
    Is it worth paying money to pitch to television executives on this site?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Barbie,

      Yes, I am a member of Stage 32 and it’s a great site. Pitchfests can be a way to terrific way to practice presenting your ideas. If you do well pitching to Stage 32’s Happy Writer’s Online Pitchfest, that positive feedback can be motivating. Even with the best pitchfests (and Stage 32 is reputable and well-run), the odds of selling a project based on meeting via a pitchfest are much lower than if you are introduced to the decision-maker by personal recommendation or can have an in-person meeting. Most people who listen to pitches at pitchfests do not have the power to purchase projects.

      • Stacy Langton

        Yes, an introduction or personal recommendation is best. But, how do you get one? Every project needs a cheerleader. Executives (sadly, it seems) don’t really want to read anything themselves. They want someone they know to tell them a script is good without having to read it themselves. I think this is where those who are listening at those pitchfests may have some power. If they like it, they become the “cheerleader” for your project and sell it to their boss. They want to be the hero and find something good to move themselves up the ladder.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Getting a recommendation starts with building a network one person at a time. I cover lots of networking strategies and tips in my book. Yes, it’s true that the person hearing an idea at a pitchfest needs a great project to move their career forward and would want to be a cheerleader for your project. The issue is just that most executives are much more inclined to follow a recommendation from an agent, producer, or executive with whom they have worked in the past, rather than their assistant or junior executive who hasn’t produced any films yet. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the odds are lower than when your project is introduced from a personal recommendation.

  6. Jeremy

    Query letters do not work. Once in a great while, maybe they do. But as a career strategy, they equate to “go over to Redmond, stop by Microsoft, drop off a resume, and then go home and wait.” Nope. You’re not working at Microsoft. Ever.

  7. Leesa

    This is right on the money. Really good advice all around.

    Thanks!

  8. Bradford Richardson

    FANTASTIC blog post. Direct and authoritative.

    Query letters are easy to throw away, but an 8-minute face-to-face pitch offers the chance to respond to story questions.

    For the past ten months I’ve been SKYPE pitching, and submitting Query Letters from my home in Philadelphia via Joey Tuccio’s, HAPPY WRITERS, Online Pitch Session. https://www.stage32.com/happy-writers/pitch-sessions

    I’ve gotten more script requests in the past ten months than over the past ten years.

    Stephanie, thanks to your advice on preparing to be “In The Room,” I’ve gotten really good at my Skype pitch social skills. I get one request out of every three Skype pitches.

    It’s true, my written pitches are less successful. One request out of three letters.

    Joey’s guests are Development Executives and Producers from the top feature film & TV production companies. Plus he’s has guests from the top Agencies and Management firms.

    Each guest participates in 14, face-to-face SKYPE pitches which are each 8 minutes long.
    Plus each guest agrees to review 14 Query Letter pitches. The Skype Pitch session sell-out fast.

    YOU ARE THE BEST!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Really appreciate you sharing your first-hand experience, Bradford. Congrats on the successful pitches!

  9. Eric Kinloch

    Great read, I need to work on my networking skills lol

  10. John W. Bosley

    Here’s my two cents. Based on what I’ve read of countless biographies of the successful filmmakers, writer, producers, etc (even those in just the regular business world) it is all about recommendations and connections. Every time. Spielberg meets executive producers at Universal and his career moves forward (because they like him and his work) Lucas meets Coppola and they hit it off. Robert Rodriguez meets a guy while editing who introduces him to an agent who reps him. I think the frustrating part is “how do you meet the right people?”. I came to the conclusion that it’s just like “how to write a great script or produce a great movie”. -Breaking it down to manageable chunks and allow a certain amount of fate and timing to play out. For instance if I want to make movie A, but it’s too big and I look at doing movie B, but I figure out even that one is too big for the contacts I have. So I go after movie D which barely costs anything but is possible. Then work my local connections. Make something worthy of some respect. Treat people the way you want to be treat, show you’re likable and compatible. Then use that project and those connections to connect with more people. It takes a lot of time developing your portfolio of finished projects and contacts. But eventually your long term building of smaller projects and contacts builds up until you make those eventual connections that make movie A, B, or C. That’s my two cents. Connect with those you can connect with. Show value. Get along and be likeable, build from there. The problem with the film business is it’s sold on a “get rich quick” hype. Like a gold rush. People think everything is some sort of overnight success. It’s not. Some snake oil salesmen sells a bunch of people on the secret to success and are willing to pay for that success. But at the end it’s just snake oil.

  11. Darren

    Do you think the site Virtual Pitchfest is effective? It involves sending query letters that executives read. The website lists several success stories.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, I’ve seen the site Virtual Pitchfest, and David is a nice guy. In my opinion, this can be good practice but sending query letters is a low percentage choice when compared with developing relationships in person.

      To be really direct, you have to imagine the kind of producer, actor, director, executive with whom you’d like to meet. Imagine that they have a decision to make: “Do I want to take 15 minutes to meet with a writer who has been recommended to me by someone I trust, or do I want to review 100 emails from strangers?” My point is that to succeed as a writer, you need to be in the first category – because the people who review and respond to cold queries are the people who typically don’t have the option (or the power) to meet with writers in person.

  12. Rachael Oehring

    What wonderful information. When you’re wondering what that next step is, it’s hard to hear that it just comes down to hard work and connections, but it’s definitely what I needed to hear. Next stop, LA, I guess?

    -Rachael

  13. Ben

    I’ve gotten work and built many connection through query letters. I get around a 5% response rate from my queries.

    Perhaps the better topic would be, “How can we improve our query letters so they get positive responses?”

    • Stephanie Palmer

      That’s great, Ben. It sounds like you’ve gotten in the door – now I would recommend leveraging those personal connections as a better strategy than sending query letters to cold contacts.

  14. Laree

    Hi Stephanie,

    Just to be clear, know how much I love reading your blogs so this is not a dish on you, just a different opinion….:)

    I’ve seen too much success from my peers who have sent succinct, well written query letters to producers and managers to classify them as a hoax.

    I think it’s a great tool and if done well, respectfully and submitted to producers and managers that are a good fit for your project it could possibly lead to some great relationships and opportunities. I know it has for many of my fellow writers.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your comment, Laree. I wonder if the letters your peers are sending are a) sent to one person only, b) specifically customized for that person, and c) if there are any mutual friends or relationships in common. For example, if a query letter starts with, “Our mutual friend (___) recommended I get in touch,” that’s not a classic query letter, that’s a letter with a referral – an important distinction.

      • Laree'

        Hi Stephanie,
        No, these were not referrals from friends these were very short query letters sent after researching producers that might be a great fit for the project. Several people in the group received 10 to 15 script request, many ended up with writing assignments and some with actual deals.

        I think there’s still a lot of value in sending a good query letter if you take the time and care to make it amazing and send it to the right people.

        At least this is what I’ve been witnessing the past two years in my network.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks for sharing, Larre.

        Anytime a writer actually gets paid, I’m happy. If the writers in your group who have gotten deals would be willing to share their experience, I’d love to learn more (have them email me at spalmer (at) goodinaroom-com-goodinaroom-com.goodinaroom.com). In the 18 years I have been working in script purchasing and development, I have never seen a WGA deal or an agent at a major agency find a project or client from a query letter.

        Yes, it may be possible to make a sale of some kind to the sort of producer who reads query letters, and in the short term, it can great to get the validation and a little compensation. But if a writer sells a script to someone who can’t actually get a movie made or for an insufficient amount of money to interest managers and agents, the journey can stop there.

        In contrast, if you sell your script to an established producer, that is likely to get you repped, which gets you real meetings, generates buzz and heat, and gives you the potential for multiple sales for increasingly large sums of money. That’s how you launch a career and make your living as a professional writer.

        Yes, query letters do work .00001% of the time, but developing and leveraging personal relationships is a higher percentage choice with more potential upside.

  15. Chanel Turner

    I’d like to see an actual video of a successful pitch being done. I’m a visual learner.

  16. Deborah Goodwin

    Really essential wake up advice, Stephanie! The business of writing is difficult enough without the hype and wrong-headed approaches advocated mainly by folks trying to take advantage of less experienced and vulnerable writers (usually at the start of their efforts to break in). For many reasons, the entertainment industry is a breeding ground of delusion. The biggest one, as you point out in your post, is that there exists a short-cut or formula or magic bullet to breaking in. When the answer is quite simply work at it– keep at it– get better at it. What you are providing, are proven methods and reliable sources of information. That’s invaluable to the seasoned and starting writers whom you are reaching. I commend you!

  17. Eric Joyce

    Stephanie,
    Stand up for what you believe even though you may stand alone. You’re sure doing it, while everyone else is trying to sell the quick way into Hollywood, you’re selling the truth. It is beautiful what you are doing even though you may be lonely. I write many things, from Poetry to children’s books that I have on Amazon, to screenplays to stage plays. I write and then I read my work and am drawn into the movie that I have created. If I don’t like the way it ends, I just change the ending and read it again. One of my children reads my books and one brings them for me to read to them. There is a satisfaction that cannot be purchased or sold.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Eric. My husband and I also write children’s books for our son and there is a big satisfaction there.

  18. Irene

    Wow, there’s so much valuable info in this post, I know I’m going to have to re-read it a few times. I hope there’s plans on the horizon for another book, Stephanie! 🙂

    Querying has always had a kind of lottery ticket mentality to me, and it reminds me a lot of the stuff that Ramit Sethi covers in his dream job course. Namely, the first thing he does is expose why the way people usually go about it gets them nowhere. The next thing he does is metaphorically beat you senseless with the idea that having a strategy behind everything you do in your search is way more valuable than employing common knowledge. I’m getting the same impression here – the strategy you recommend steers us away from the pitfalls that might ensnare less serious writers.

    I have two questions, though, that I hope to gain more insight on:
    – You completely explain why a query letter wouldn’t help a screenwriter, but why would it work for a novelist?

    – Could making a short film possibly hurt my aspiration to become a screenwriter? Not that the grand total of that two short films I could easily make would score me some sweet directing jobs, but would I run the risk of looking unfocused in my goals?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Irene. Yes, I’m aware of Ramit and his work and we’re in total agreement here. To answer your questions, the reason it can work for novelists is because the publishing industry is a) set up for this situation, and it is understood that assistants and junior editors read queries, b) while screenwriters really need to be able to be a part of a collaborative effort to make a movie, this is not true for novelists as that art is more of a “solo” effort. To take this a step further, at the point that an executive likes a script for a movie, there are a thousand moving pieces, significant budgets, and tons of people to coordinate. At the point an editor likes a manuscript, they can buy it and print it much more quickly, easily, and inexpensively (by comparison).

      To answer your second question, making a short film only hurts your chances to become a screenwriter if the film isn’t good. That said, while making a short is more of the path to becoming a director or writer-director, the experience of doing it would be so valuable to you that I would highly recommend it. You’ll learn a ton about writing when you actually have to direct what you write, you’ll develop relationships, and the worst case scenario is that the film doesn’t end up being so great – so you don’t need to promote it. But you’ll get a great education that you can’t get in any other way.

      • Irene

        Awesome – thank you!

        I hadn’t really considered that in making a short film, I have more to gain than I have to lose. Time to figure out the video settings on my camera!

        I asked about novelists because I started my writing life in fiction. I will still write my novels, but for now, I am having too much fun with screenwriting to dilute my focus much. It’s helpful to keep in mind that a screenplay is just one of many moving pieces in a very expensive machine.

      • RAJ ABHISHEK SINGH

        HI DEAR —

        Please talk with me

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Thanks for the comment! If you’re looking for something specific, please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.

  19. Kelly mayo

    Yup…as i suspected…Good old American Know Who strikes again. Not terribly surprised.

  20. Maya Contreras

    Another fantastic post Stephanie. Thanks for all of the valuable information. p.s. I bought ‘Good in a Room’ for my Kindle. Read it cover to cover. Brilliant. Best- Maya

  21. Tina T

    Definite truth! I was suckered into writing query letters when I was first starting. When I didn’t get responses, I moved on. Networking and working in the industry are yielding much better results.

    Great article

  22. Jon Miles

    If I wanted to make it Bollywood, sending an email to them would be pretty useless. Alas it’s part of the opportunity ideal that americans believe in. That hopeful moment like so many pennies in a well. Pitching people you know and work with is hard. Someone you don’t know – wow. Relationships trump chance. Ms Stephanie teaches that over and over and over. Buy Good in a Room and her course. It’s worth every single penny times a thousand. Repeat, every penny.

  23. Holli Castillo

    I agree completely with this. Querying did get my novels published, but I’ve made better contacts in my screenwriting career by (1) producing my own short film for a film festival and (2) having a really outgoing husband who is an actor willing to network on the sets. We live in New Orleans where a lot is going on right now in film and t.v., and I’ve made connections with producers who will pitch my ideas to bigger producers or to networks for my t.v. work by being involved in the industry down here however I can. I entered a few contests with a t.v. pilot my husband and I wrote and when we pitched it to a producer, that didn’t hurt, and he’s putting a package together now to pitch it to a network.

  24. Pertinax

    On the bright of this issue….and yes, yes, it is quite insensitve and selfish of me to say so…it seems query letters are a great way for filtering out some of the competition. At least, until now that this “secret” is out.

    But yeah, you’re right, it did seem a bit off that it’d take far more than a couple of query letters to get someone’s attention.

    That said, I’d say thanks to you for writing this post, but I’m still feeling a little too selfish for me to say so.

    Nonetheless, cheers to all of the advice that you provide Stephanie.

  25. Daz Kaye

    OHHHH how refreshing to see my experiences presented in your words! Constantly improving my skills and knowledge in almost every aspect of our industry over the past 13 years, I fully support every word of The Great Query Letter Hoax. Your understanding and knowledge of the challenges in this business are crucial to our survival. Bless you Stephanie, and thanks for sharing.

  26. Raymond Hughes

    I’ve been down the query letter path, sending out hundreds of them but to no avail.

  27. John-Arthur Ingram

    I was so relieved to read this. At first, I was prepared to read some shitty secret formula on writing query letters; which would have caused another unpleasant argument with myself. Those usually result in cuddling with a bottle of Jameson as I cry myself to sleep or toward a ledge.

    Then I read it and let out a deep sigh of relief. Thank you!

    I attempted the query letter path only twice; just to say I did. The whole process just feels disingenuous, impersonal, and invasive. And what’s more frustrating is that you have no idea why they don’t respond. The letter was too long? Too short? Weak synopsis? Not enough credits? Not what they’re looking for? Never got the letter? If they don’t respond at all, which they normally don’t, you have no idea why. Then you tell yourself, maybe they’re reading it now or about to and they’ll email me just when I’ve given up and forgotten about it. This way of thinking just leads to self-inflicted psychological abuse.

    You are so right to clarify the function of a query letter for books. It is a networking tool for the publishing industry not for the film/tv industry. We screenwriters can’t waste time relying on this tool/process.

    Anywhoo, thanks for talking me off the ledge. Haha.

  28. Jerold Dixon

    I have been mailing my one page logline/synopsis to film companies and getting no replies other than a few typed letters on their letterhead saying that they did not read it. So how do I get it in the hands of producers or assistants who will at least read the one page?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      As I describe in the post, query letter rarely work (as you’re finding out). Use the “build relationships” strategy I describe above and when you’re ready, consider my course. Getting “in the room” is actually quite complex but there is a proven strategy that does work.

  29. Ashley Scott Meyers

    I’ve had great success with query letters. Pretty much all my credits can be traced back to one. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0583488/

    And yes, I am one of the people who sells this service, too. So I might be biased but…

    This article got me thinking, do query letters work for other writers and if so, how often? On my podcast I’ve interviewed over 50 screenwriters in the last 2 years and 8 of them have found success with query letters, so I think it can work for others, too.

    You can find the entire analysis here:

    http://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/how-to-sell-your-screenplay/how-to-become-a-screenwriter/

  30. curt neilson

    Hi Stephanie! Thanks for the great site. As a SAG actor, I can say that it’s largely the same. For writing, if queries are a waste of time to WGA agents, why do they (about 25%) invite them? Are they the bottom-feeders who’ve never made a commercially successful film lol and need to meet more and get in the right rooms? Thank you

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I wouldn’t say bottom-feeders, but agents who are successful get more potential clients referred from trusted sources (agents, managers, producers, executives, friends, colleagues) than they can handle. They aren’t spending time going through stacks of letters from “un-vetted” (is that a word?) people who haven’t been filtered in any way.

  31. Terrence

    What a load of crap!
    If sending out queries was a waste of time then why does the Writer’s guild, who you and I would have to pay a percentage to if a script sells, list agencies on their site? I say to all of you aspiring scribes, keep pushing every avenue out there!
    I talked to several English Producers last year and they told me to list my script on the Black List because that’s where THEY go when they want material. And this came from THE PEOPLE YOU WANT READING YOUR STUFF!
    Dont get sucker punched by sites like this where they on one hand tell you query letters fail but spending money on pitch fest sites is the way to go. Wink wink.
    Scribes, keep up the good work. I’m sending out queries today!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Terrence,

      The point of this post is that agents do not find clients by query letters, even though this advice is espoused widely by others on the internet.

      After 15 years of working in Hollywood, I have not met anyone who has gotten representation based on a query letter, whereas I know hundreds who have found representation through personal recommendations and referrals.

      I do not know the specific percentage, but certainly fewer than 1% of writers who list scripts on the Black List find representation, though there are absolutely people who do and that is why I recommend it as an option for some writers to use in addition to the main strategy I recommend of networking, meeting people in person, and getting referrals.

      Good luck with your representation search!

  32. Steven Walters

    Hi Stephanie

    Do you have any opinion on Roadmap Writers? I did 2 pitches that passed, but as far as I know only a logline and synopsis are needed.

    Thank you
    Steven Walters

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I don’t have any experience with them, Steven. Any readers have experience they can share?

  33. Carol Mulholland

    “$150K is a common entry-level deal for a screenwriter, and producers are unlikely to spend $150K on an unknown writer who contacted them from a query.”
    Where did you come up with this figure? I’m being offered 65K on a $4million budget after 7 years of free rewrites and holding on till the producer became a director.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      $150K is an anecdotal number, based on the many client deals that I worked on and the scripts I purchased when I was at MGM. That may seem high because my experience is heavily weighted to studio films with budgets of $15M-$250M. Your numbers are in line with other projects I have worked on in the $2M-$5M budget range, however each deal is unique and I’m not an attorney or agent, so I want you to negotiate the best deal possible for your situation.

  34. Tyler

    Thank you for consistently providing your readers with in-depth blog posts. I come back to Good in the Room often and always when I’m curious about any aspect of screenwriting.

    I do have one question however. Why do management companies offer e-mail addresses to submit a screenplay query? For instance : Queries regarding screenplays for film and television are accepted via email only. Queries must include a logline of the material you’d like to submit in the body of the email – no attachments please. (I pulled that from the website of one of the biggest names in the literary management business.)

    If these same companies see and know that anyone taking this route is an amateur/untested writer, why do they even bother offering a way to submit material?

    Thank you for any insight you can give.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Tyler. Smart question and each company may have their own reasons. The main reason (in my opinion) is that companies don’t want to be perceived as being completely closed off. In addition, very occasionally something of interest may come through this channel so companies may be hoping to find a diamond in the rough. Finally, it’s an easy, free, low-risk way to train interns and assistants. If someone at the company does review the submissions (some do and some don’t), the first filtering is typically done by an intern or assistant and then the executive will be able to see if the assistant understands the difference between a cuckoo submission and one worth considering.

  35. Michael Stout

    Thanks for the brutally honest article, Stephanie. I’m an aspiring fiction writer, and in that world queries are SOP. But I had a feeling it wasn’t the same when it comes to screenplays. Appreciate the insights. Be well.

    mfstout

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Michael.

  36. Gary

    If you happen to land an agent, is it safe to say that you do not have to query?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Yes, that’s correct.

  37. Brett Herndon

    Thank you Stephanie for putting forth such valuable information about query letters. I have put away my roll of stamps. In 2005 I sent out 20 query letters on a screenplay and I at least got a read and nice critique on it. I have now written and finished a new screenplay in just six weeks. I feel it has a big “hook” which is so perfectly timely since our President decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. I oppose his decision greatly.

    My new screenplay has, within it, a feasible, technological solution to possibly slow and reverse global warming. The genre is Science fiction but it contains Science fact also. I wish I knew which producer or Agent to target to send a copy of my screenplay to. If this movie ever gets made, it will most definitely bolster the “resistance” of those like me who feel our future generations, and all living things here on Earth, are presently in dire straights.

    Thank you again for taking the time to give all of us aspiring screenplay writers such valuable insight.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      This is exactly the right question, Brett, but the answer isn’t easy or quick. It’s for exactly this reason that I created my course How To Get An Agent – which takes a step-by-step approach to identifying the right agents for your material. Also, your idea sounds timely and appealing – best of luck!

  38. Dan Fitzgerald

    I wouldn’t listen to a damn thing this site has to say.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for your feedback, Dan.

  39. simon Patrick O'Toole

    I recently started looking at screenwriting as a hobby , I had some ideas over the year knocking round in my head and only see recent releases these days whilst travelling on long-haul flights …. seems if it a Marvel Comic character, a sequel or remake of an earlier made movie, or something set in modern suburban USA full or teen angst or aspiration , then there does seem to be dearth of novel ideas for new movies, They even made a remake of the Magnificent 7 (which to be fair was bettre than the first ). My point is many people are pretty successful in their own careeres nd could probably make a fairly successful career in screenwriting too if the industry was geared too really look at new talent and ideas in the same way as scouting for new sports stars takes place. The general ethos seems to be once your “in” you do your best to drop the trap door on anyone following you

    • Stephanie Palmer

      In-flight movies are a particular market that focuses on tentpole films. You’re looking for art-house fare there and you won’t find it – but at a local theater, Netflix, or Amazon, there’s plenty of original work. Additionally, in my experience, people in Hollywood are always looking for new talent. For example, Netflix spent 6 Billion (that’s with a “B”) on content in 2016. They need new blood, and a lot of it. But they aren’t looking for hobbyists – they’re looking for professionals who are dedicated to the craft.

  40. Chuck Hustmyre

    While I agree with almost everything Stephanie said, she spends most of this article detailing the faults and shortcomings of query letters, and only about ten words explaining the better alternative, which can be summed up in just three: build personal relationships.

    How? you might ask. But this blog post is silent on that.

    Obviously, if you live in LA, you can make it a point to meet people in the movie business. Bars, gyms, restaurants, parties, social events — all are fertile ground for meeting people and building a network of personal contacts.

    But what if you don’t live in LA? Should you just give up? Maybe write a novel instead? Journal?

    I live in the “other” LA, as in Louisiana. And while I am certainly not even a B-list writer, I have written two Lionsgate movies and have five other scripts under contract. My pay — and again, almost everything in this post is spot-on — is nowhere near enough to attract a major agent or manager, but I am selling scripts, getting scripts optioned, and making money, and my pay rate is edging up. No one is ever going to confuse my paycheck with Brian Helgeland or Tony Gilroy, but I hope to keep moving in a positive direction.

    And how did I do it? By sending out query letters, hundreds of them.

    The four scripts I’ve sold and the ones I’ve optioned have all been a result of sending out queries.

    For me, living in Louisiana, I have used queries to not only sell and option scripts but to build my own network in the only way available to me: by email and telephone. When someone answers my query, I put their name and contact information in an Excel spreadsheet and I send them a query for my next script, and the next.

    I’m a low- to mid-budget screenwriter who will never be an A-lister and will probably never even write a real studio movie, but for me query letters are my main tool to sell scripts and to build a network.

    Query letters work for me.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Chuck – thanks so much for adding your personal experience to this discussion. I appreciate it. You are making a Hollywood career happen in Louisiana and that’s awesome – and rare. And with respect, for many writers who want the chance to work with an agent at a major agency and write studio films, when trying to make that first sale, in my opinion building personal relationships is a higher percentage choice. You’re correct that I didn’t cover that subject in this post, though I do in other posts, my book, and courses.

  41. David Gurney

    If what you’re saying about query letters is true, then there wouldn’t be a lot big companies on Virtual Pitch Fest taking pitches, and nobody using VPF would have any success. Therefore, I will refer you to the following URL: https://virtualpitchfest.com/the-vpf-hotlist/success-stories/
    The assertion that writers who send out queries haven’t written great material is not entirely true either. I had a production company read and consider a screenplay that I pitched with a query letter; although it was a pass they said it was a good strong read, and felt it would find a place. I currently have several managers, a network, and production companies looking at my screenplays and TV pilot as a result of query pitch letters. Query pitch letters are not my only method of marketing.
    Screenwriting competitions are a waste of time and money for all but .1% of writers who enter them. The majority of writers who become successful working scribes don’t break through with screenwriting competitions. Yes, referrals are the best way to get noticed and develop relationships in the industry, but for people who don’t live in L.A. and can’t move at any given time, query letters should be considered an option in a writer’s marketing arsenal. As an aside, it’s unfortunate that interns (many of whom are underqualified) are reading scripts. Having said this, Stephanie, are you still doing consultations? You could give referrals to writers who write top-notch scripts. Peace out.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      David – you make a good point, and I want to be very clear here: it depends on how you define success. If you think that the kind of success you see on the page you cite works for you, then great.

      Personally, as I look over the first 20 items on the list, I see one deal that would have made Variety (it was with Amblin). The rest could be legit, but they are with companies who are unlikely to have paid the WGA minimum, and therefore the writers who made those deals are unlikely to be creating full-time screenwriting careers.

      My interest and focus is in helping writers to become full-time screenwriters. That means working with top agents and managers, meeting producers and executives from established companies, and making deals that are at least for the WGA minimum.

      Your point about what writers do outside LA is well-taken and it is a complex topic, but it is possible to develop relationships and have your material percolate up the chain of command via referral – and in my opinion this is a higher percentage strategy to become a full-time pro screenwriter.

  42. Tom Fearnley

    Would it be possible for you to read my screenplay and tell me what you think?

    This article is THE best one I’ve read on query letters.

    I’ve sent out over a hundred query letters to screenwriting agents/managers and to film production companies. 99% of the time I get no reply and when I do it’s that they aren’t accepting new clients or screenplays.

    Thanks,

    Tom.

  43. Kryz

    Thanks for another great article Stephanie.
    Like many others, I gave the whole query letter thing a shot. I didn’t take me long to realise that, for such a ridiculously slim chance of making a connection, it seems an extremely uneconomical use of time and effort. Sure, if I happen to find a producer or agent I feel is a great fit, yeah I might give it another one-off shot, but otherwise I could waste my whole career chasing these ghosts.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks so much, Kryz. Glad this was helpful to you!

  44. Eun-Kyung Jun

    Stephanie, I always appreciate your articles. But I have found quite a bit of success through sites like Screenwriting Staffing and Ink Tip (not ISA, Virtual Pitchfest, or Stage 32). By success I mean sales and paid jobs. These were are facilitated through query letters.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Congrats!

  45. Wayne Hazle

    After years away from the biz I am back to my great love of screenwriting. Many moons ago I sent dozens of query letters to agents. Got a few reads and some passes. Now I am thinking of running the gauntlet again. This article is great. I do remember sending queries directly to production companies to no avail.

    My weakest area has been making those personal connections. I know I need to focus this time up. But is it really not worth it trying to get an agent … WHILE I try to work on getting out there and meeting people?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Wayne,

      From my experience, I would focus on getting your project out there and meeting people.

  46. Anne

    I don’t use query letters as a rule, but what if production companies have downloaded two of your screenplays, several times actually. Would it be appropriate to send a note a month or more after the download?
    Thanks,
    Anne

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Anne – From my experience, if they’ve read the material and like it, they will reach out to you. If you haven’t heard from them, it means that they’ve either passed on the script or haven’t read it. More often than not, production companies have deep backlogs of scripts that need to be read and always prioritize higher profile scripts first. If you know of a specific contact at the production company, then a note checking in after a month or so would be appropriate. However, if you don’t know anyone, then I would avoid emailing them about the script.

  47. Zach X

    I recently read about calling over the phone to pitch scripts to agents/production companies. Is this a viable option? Also, Is there even a chance of a producer letting you direct your own screenplay?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Zach – Great questions! I would recommend against calling agents or production companies as often their offices are flooded with calls and the assistants answering the phones have been likely trained to automatically announce that they don’t accept non-solicited material. Instead, I would recommend querying through email.

      Regarding your second question… If you don’t have previous credits, the chances of getting to direct your own screenplay is incredibly slim. The best chance to do that is to raise the money yourself and/or find investors with confidence in you as a first time director. The likelihood of this working also has a lot do with with your script’s budget.

  48. Johnathan Burns

    I agree even though I live in Australia and it’s most unlikely to build a network which might lead to a lead! I have begun writing directly to Actors and Actresses with role descriptions which suit them and have had one response…that’s not bad considering a ZERO % interest from query letters.

    The one thing I am learning in this process is PATIENCE.

    INSERT: ‘PATIENCE’ !

    I just need to find a way to ‘bump into’ producers, actors etc. when they are in Australia to build my network. If you guys think it’s a tough gig in the US or even in LA, try being a scriptwriter here in Australia where it’s ‘Drama, drama, drama!’

    One day my work will get noticed. Because it’s worth it I will keep writing and some day you may be watching my features on the big screen!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks for the comment, John. Hope to see your work on the big screen too!

  49. Gary Bates

    Book to screen. ‘Jack the Ripper and Probable Cause’

  50. Robin

    I’ve been in the motion picture and television industry as a Location Manager since 1991 (graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Radio-TV-Film from Northwestern University in 1987 and produced music videos and documentaries before working on major motion pictures and tv series). Made a lot of contacts, read a lot of scripts and started writing on my own. A good friend of my is now a Sr. VP of a very well known studio. The first piece of advice she gave me is “please, get a literary agent…by the time projects get to my team and to my desk, they’ve been pitched by an agent. Otherwise, I’d just take your script to my team and push it through the process. That’s not how it works in Hollywood.” By the time I’m on a project as a Location Manager, I sometimes don’t even have a director attached…just a script (spec script) and a producer. Many times it’s not even greenlit. As a first time writer, finding representation with a literary agent is difficult even when you have connections. Any advice? Seeing a lot of conflicting advice from different people as I search through different sites.

  51. Charlie

    Stephanie — I have sold a couple of options on the same screenplay in the past though it did not get made. It has been quite a while since I pursued it and my agent at the time retired. Any suggestions how best to pursue a new agent in this scenario?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Charlie – Great question! The market has changed a lot, but there are a lot of various new/creative ways to pursue representation. Please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance.