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Tips on Marketing

Here are a few basic tips on marketing your script, query letters and other things:

First, if a script is a first draft and the writer is not a produced writer, unbelievably skilled and talented and no writing peers have critiqued the script, the odds are extremely great that the script needs several re-writes. If a script has typos, grammatical errors, is not properly formatted and bound, don't waste time and money trying to sell it.

Anybody can come up with a good idea for a story. Producers are looking for writers who can take an idea and transform it into a well-written script. From the producer's point of view, there are too many scripts by writers who know how to spell check, have a proper command of the language and have properly formatted and bound scripts to waste their time on a writer who doesn't.

Writing is an art form just like dancing, acting, painting and sculpting. It takes study and practice. One wouldn't expect to get a job doing data entry without knowing how to type.

Once the script is up to snuff, it is time to market it.

For the query letter, the key is to keep it simple, clear and concise.

A query letter contains three things:
1) Your full contact info, including email address.
2) An introduction.
3) Your logline and/or synopsis.

Development people want a story they can produce. They do not want a full page of introduction and for the most part, they do not care where a writer learned to write or that the person is a working actor, turned writer. They just want to know what the story is about.

Useful information for someone in development would be whether or not the writer is represented, has optioned or sold scripts or has had something produced.

A query letter could be a simple as this: "I have a script I think you might be interested in and it is based on a true story. Following is the pitch for it:" The pitch/logline is a short paragraph and below it there is another paragraph, which says, "I also have other scripts which you might be interested in. Attached is a one-page synopsis for…... Feel free to contact me if you are interested." If the script is award winning or received good coverage, you can write that in another sentence in the first paragraph. A month or so later, if you haven't gotten any kind of response, write another query letter, with an additional sentence: "I wrote you about a month ago and have another script that I think you might be interested in."
If you have a dozen scripts, you can include a couple of pitches per query letter. If you have a total of three scripts and include all three in the first query letter, you have just shot your wad and now need to come up with a very clever and justified reason to write another letter the following month. Perhaps you can pitch an idea for a script. Just realize that ideas cannot be copyrighted, but since you haven't written the script, you haven't lost much if the idea is stolen.

Theft of ideas is part of the industry, but it is not common. If you can't stand the idea of someone stealing your idea or a movie being produced which is similar to your script, don't market it or tell anyone about it. This is the only 100% guarantee that your script won't get stolen. However, do also keep in mind that many thousands of scripts are written every year in the US alone. And who knows how many ideas and synopses have been thought of or written in addition. Unless an idea is unique, the odds of someone else not having written a similar story are remote.

A writer needs to get his/her script read by dozens of qualified producers if he/she expects to get it sold and produced. A script can't be purchased if it hasn't been read by the right needy producer at the right time. Keep your script a secret and a secret is all that it will ever be.

All writers have two jobs: writing a good script and marketing it.

The essence of marketing is making a service or product known to the people who want it.

There are several basic steps to marketing: 1) Knowing your market. 2) Coming up with an effective plan to reach that market. 3) Implementing that plan.

In terms of writing a script there are several markets, which can be broken down to many sub-markets: Independent films, studio films, TV, cable, direct to video, etc. To know which is which, read the trade papers and watch the movies coming out of these markets. With all personal aspirations aside, try to figure out where your script can most easily be sold. Selling a script is hard enough without trying to sell it to a market that isn't interested.

To market a script, first find out how much work is involved or how much effort you will need to exert. You may come up with a perfect strategy but if you don't do enough of it, you won't succeed.

Look at what other un-produced writers are doing to get their scripts sold. From this, you should learn one thing: if you do the exact same amount of marketing and use the same marketing plan, your odds of getting a script sold will be the same as theirs.

As a general rule, a writer who expects to be successful should do 5 -10 times or more marketing, on a weekly basis, as the average un-produced writer.

Most any decent sales book will tell you that a salesperson should have and consistently work 5 different sources for getting prospects. The Internet currently counts as one source. If you are represented, that counts as another source. You need 3-4 more sources.

These other sources come from networking groups, sending out query letters from directories to producers and reps, attending pitch sessions, script analysis, contests and festivals, film schools, writing seminars, etc. (10-25% of the people attending writing seminars are people who work in the industry.) If you are going to go the contest route, submit to more than one contest.

A note on script coverage:
Script coverage is a marketing tool. It is NOT development or analysis (at least, not at first). A writer has a 1%-5% chance of getting a 'consider' or 'recommend' from a script coverage service. If the writer gets a 'recommend' or 'consider' the writer now has a 2-3% chance of that script coverage service being able to help the writer sell/option their script, make a deal or get representation. A writer will benefit more from script analysis or development than from coverage because, with script analysis, one can learn how to better one's scripts on the whole. If you are going to get script coverage or analysis, always do a due diligence.

What can you use for marketing? Anything! You just had one of your scripts optioned: you are starting another script, you just gained representation; you moved to LA; you moved out of LA; one of your shorts is being produced; you just received good coverage; your script made it past the first cut in a festival or contest competition, etc.

Once you have gained representation, in most cases your work is not done. I know writers who are represented by well-known companies. The first thing these writers will tell you is that you must continue marketing your script as if you weren't represented. Managers and reps are a tool to use in marketing. Do not stop networking and marketing your scripts, unless your rep specifically tells you not to market a specific script. You then market all of your other scripts that your rep is not handling or dealing with. However, you definitely should coordinate your marketing efforts with your agent or manager. Don't get in your rep's way and be sure you aren't submitting to producers your rep is submitting to, without approval. Once you get a rep, find out how you can help the rep and do what they need.

One final comment with regards to writing careers: This is a career just like anything else. Let's say you are making fifteen dollars an hour and someone says, "Come work for me and I'll pay you twenty dollars an hour". Are you going to say "NO!"? Of course not.

Take lightly the things you hear and read in the trade papers about writers getting 6 and 7 figures. For the most part these writers have already had extensive writing careers, having sold or optioned many a script or idea for much less (these writers who have just made their first 6-7 figure deal are often called 'newbies', but it doesn't mean they are new.). Why are they getting 6-7 figures now? They have a track record. Though the first time writer can sell his/her script for such a figure, the odds of this are so great as to not even be worth considering. It is always worth hoping for, but using this as your writing and income criteria is not practical and is more of a detriment than a help. If a producer wants you to write a spec, do it. If a producer wants to option a script for a dollar or six thousand dollars do it. If you can sell a short (or get it produced even if you aren't paid!) do it. If you can write for a series to be shown on public access, do it. If someone wants to produce your script with a $500,000 budget, direct to video movie, do it. Of course, before a writer writes on spec or options a script, following one's gut instinct and checking the producer out are always recommended.

Each and every time you take advantage of such an opportunity, you can use this success to further market your other scripts. When a script is optioned, one thing is almost certain: other producers, development people, distributors, financiers, actors and talent, will also now get to read your script. Even if the producer never produces that script, others read it and now know who you are. You never know where that big paying job will come from.

If all of your scripts are optioned, write some more. At the same time, continue to do everything you can to improve your craft. Actors are constantly doing things to improve their acting skill. So should writers.

Keep doing this and you have substantially increased the odds of getting the big bucks and seeing your script become the next blockbuster.

Written by: Jerrol LeBaron
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