Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sample Query Letter (Really)

It occurs to me that perhaps the basic text of a query may be of interest to folks who aren't familiar with Hollywood business correspondence. Feel free to cut-paste and freestyle your asses off with this one.

The letter should start like this:

Your Name
City, State[2 spaces] zip code


[ten spaces]

City, State[2 spaces] zip code


Now, this part is important, use the agent’s first name but put a colon so you look like you have some sense.  Most agents are only functionally literate anyway, but you are a writer, so look like one and use a bit of proper grammar here.  In Hollywood, it’s more jarring to read one’s last name in correspondence than it is offensive that a stranger would call you by your first name.  I’ve met folks all the way up the corporate ladder and Alan Horn is Alan, Mike Eisner is Mike, Amy Pascal is Amy and …well, you get the picture.  

Dear [Agent's first name]:

OK, as previously mentioned, the best query letter results from personal contact.  That can mean a cold call to the agency -- you pick an agent, call the agency sounding officious and ask to speak with the agent's assistant (bonus points if you can get the receptionist to tell you the assistant's name before you ring through, so you can really sound like you are doing big things) -- or going to a screenwriting conference and speaking with the agent (however briefly) so that you can say something like:

Dear [assistant’s name]:
Per our conversation [last week, on date], I’m writing to request a release form for my acting reel/screenplay/directing sample -- [blah blah blah title] --

If you can’t get through, chicken out, or otherwise decide that life’s not worth the pain of humiliation, then you can send a more general query:

I’d like to submit my [insert whatever you’re submitting, script, reel, film], [insert title here] to you for general representation.  [insert snappy evocative logline].

[3 line blurb about your life experience, schooling, awards, festivals anything that makes you sound like you might be interesting in a room]

I appreciate your time regarding this matter.  In order to facilitate my search for representation, I have included a SASE for your release form as well as a prepaid postcard should you not be accepting submissions at this time.  

Best regards,

[your name and signature]
Your email
your phone no.

enclosure: SASE

The temptation will be great to do a little diary entry/autobiography here.


Agents have zero time.  Zero.  They are all inches away from a nervous breakdown.  Increasingly they are relying on small boutique management companies to do the work of sussing out and developing new writers.  When you approach one, your query should be as professional, succinct and evocative as possible.  Your goal is to get a release form and a read.  The cold calls can save you from spending postage on agents that aren’t looking for new clients.  It’s painful, but a necessary evil.

I, personally, had my assistant respond to any postcards with checkmarks that were pre-paid because I could just yell out my answer.  We tossed submissions that came unsolicited, and sent a pass letter to all the queries, usually within 3 months.  Sometimes longer, but I liked to shovel things out of my inbox as frequently as possible.

Most writers really can’t write query letters so don’t get low self-esteem over it. Hire somebody to help you. This isn’t college, no one is going to bust you for cribbing.  Find a publicist, marketing, sales or advertising copywriter to pull together a package for you.  Be smart about it – meaning don’t go rushing off and spend $2,000.  But, this is your career.  You have to get work.  You get work with an agent.  Don’t bust your head open doing something you’re not good at.  Happy querying….


wcdixon said...

You know - I didn't actually read this post 'with attention', as it were...but it really is money.

Read kids! Read and learn!
Diva rules.

wcdixon said...

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Hoping you are wheeling and dealing and all is well...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting the actual format and structure of a query letter. I've actually worked in Hollywood for several years alongside many top names, and never once had the chance to see this part of the process.

Now that I've separated to work my own projects, I feel like I'm suddenly behind the curve.

Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this - it's very helpful. Quick question, if you have an agent's email, is an email query acceptable or should you write a letter by mail instead?

The Film Diva said...

@Anonymous 1:34pm -- Yes, if you have an email knock yourself out. But, remember email is much easier for an agent/asst. to shovel in to the trash.... I like to send physical mail, altho it's bulky and expensive, just because the asst. has something they can put in a stack and in front of your target, you don't have to rely on them printing summarizing for you. But, you also have to live with your results so make yourself happy.