InkTip Advice: The Followup
All right, so you know your hook and you've got a couple good loglines. You can pitch a script in the time it takes to ride the elevator down to the lobby. You've got scripts on InkTip, you send pitches in the mail, and you attend industry events. You're good, you're getting your work out there, and people are asking to read your material. Congratulations, you're on the path to success.
So, what do you do now, sit back and wait for the offers to roll in?
Wouldn't it be great if the business actually worked that way?
Step into the producer's shoes for a minute here. Imagine that you just went through a thousand loglines, picked out a couple hundred synopses, and after weeks of working to find just one project, you've narrowed it down to maybe a dozen scripts. You're going to make an offer on one of them, and if the negotiation goes well, you're going to put those other scripts on a shelf and get to work on your hot new property. The question is, which do you pick first?
To answer that question, let's try a little character study on producers. They're people just like everyone else, right? So just like everyone else, when they walk into a shoe store, they're more likely to buy shoes if a friendly but relaxed salesperson offers assistance. They're probably going to say no thanks to the offer, but they're also probably going to look at the shoes more seriously now. Because shoes on a shelf don't have feelings, but when you have to say yes or no to a salesperson, you're at least going to take a more serious look at the products on display, right?
There are a lot of shoes out there, and there are a lot of shoppers looking at them, and those shoppers all have different tastes and preferences. But we can still predict what they're going to buy just by studying human nature. Shoppers are more likely to buy a pair of shoes that resemble a pair they saw on someone else recently, and they're more likely to buy if they think the shoes are on sale. More importantly, they're most likely to buy whichever pair they spent the most time looking at. So, fashion and price aside, if you can get them to spend more time looking at the shoes, you're going to make more sales. That's what the salespeople are trying to accomplish when you walk into their store, they're just trying to make you associate their product with friendly, polite people so you'll spend more time shopping. And while shoes and scripts are like apples and automobiles, the same principles apply to writers selling their scripts. Except instead of the friendly salesperson, your tool is your follow-up strategy.
Remember that following up isn't about pressuring someone in order to make a sale. You're following up for two reasons: first, so producers will actually read your script even though they have a hundred other scripts vying for their attention, and second, so they'll actually consider it. An effective follow-up strategy aims to accomplish both these things.
Here's an effective follow-up strategy, by the way:
1. Seed the followup. When they request the script, send it with a note suggesting you'd like to touch base in a week or so.
2. Keep your promise. Touch base in a week if you said you'd touch base in a week. If they say wait two weeks, wait two weeks. Don't push, but don't forget either.
3. Be gracious! If they reply to your first followup, they might say they haven't had time to read it or that it just isn't right for them at this point in time. Your goal is to build a relationship, and that all starts with recognizing and appreciating their time and courtesy, so either thank them for letting you know it's still on their desk or thank them for their courtesy.
4. Keep busy. They're looking at a lot of material, so if they say wait two weeks to follow up, or if they say they haven't read it yet, go pitch someone else, or write a new logline, or polish another script, or turn your phone off and take a road trip. There's nothing gracious about expecting them to consider your work on your schedule. They have other things to do, and so should you.
5. Keep the door open! Be as gentle in your followup as you hope they'll be in their replies. If they don't option the script you pitched, maybe they'll ask if you have any other scripts they can read.
You'll know you're going to succeed in this business if you pitch someone another script a year later and they remember you positively. Failure, on the other hand, is what happens when you write an angry email that gets forwarded around, resulting in you being branded as "hard to work with." This is a small "town," so when one door slams shut that echo you hear afterward is the sound of other doors closing in the distance. And yes, this actually happens.
Here are some common questions on following up:
Q: I sent the script then followed up a week later like I said I would, but I didn't get a reply. What do I do now?
A: Wait a couple weeks and follow up again. I'd ballpark a first followup after a week, a second followup within the month, and a third followup a couple/few months later.
Q: I've followed up three times now but they still haven't replied. How long should I wait before I follow up a fourth time?
A: Sorry, but you're done here. Eventually, no reply is just an impolite way of saying no thanks.
Q: Why don't some producers have the common courtesy to reply to a followup?
A: If you ask a hundred producers that question, most of them will reply with some anecdote about a writer who freaked them out by following up to often or too persistently. But it really isn't very hard to hit reply and paste a polite yet generic "no thank you" note into an email. It also isn't hard to be polite to waiters, or let someone into your lane on the freeway, or hold a door for the person behind you, or step off the curb and yield the sidewalk to someone in an obvious hurry. Unfortunately, not everyone is polite, and your resentment isn't going to change that fact. You can either dwell on it and be unhappy, or move forward and be successful.
Q: Do I follow up the same way on a script viewing that I do on a script request?
A: No, followups on a passive script viewing are less expected and aren't really followups as much as attempts at initiating a conversation. At InkTip, we only allow writers to followup on script viewings through formal snail mail query letters, and then only three weeks after the script has been read. That's because a snail mail query letter tells producers they're dealing with an experienced, professional writer, while an email out of the blue can actually be rather intrusive.
Q: So email doesn't work?
A: No, email just works better when the conversation is already underway, like when there's an existing email thread from an initial script request. Realize that producers get a lot more spam than junk mail, and people are less afraid of receiving infectious materials through the post office. So producers are more likely to open an envelope and read a piece of paper than they are to open an email.
Q: My logline got viewed a hundred and fifty times online before anyone even looked at the synopsis. Is that normal?
A: No, you really need to work on your logline.
Q: My synopsis got viewed a hundred and fifty times on InkTip before anyone even looked at the script. Is that normal?
A: No, you really need to work on your synopsis. I'll write that article in the coming weeks or months.
Q: I've had my script read by a hundred and fifty different producers, and no one's made an offer on it. Should I give up on this script?
A: You might actually want to hire a professional coverage service to answer that question. They can tell you what's wrong with a specific script where you're too emotionally invested to be objective, and if nothing's wrong with it, they can still share some insight into the marketability of the genre and characters.
Q: What works better, a logline and a passive script viewing on InkTip or a pitch resulting in a script request?
A: Assuming you have a good logline, putting a script on InkTip is way more effective because producers tend to look at material that is immediately available before requesting pitches. It's also much more cost effective because it takes less time, work and postage. Realize also that a lot of producers don't put calls out because they don't like dealing with followups in the first place. That said, you should cover as many bases as you can. Put a script on the site, pitch scripts online, attend live events, and if you're in a building on a studio lot, take the elevator.
Q: So what do you say in the actual followup email?
A: Ask if they've read your script, first and foremost. Mention any new developments in your career, like contest wins, options on other properties, new material you're working on, etc. And keep it to one paragraph! Remember what I said about brevity, as long emails often don't get read. There really isn't a formula here, you're just asking a yes or no question and "talking shop" in order to encourage a conversation instead of a mere yes or no reply. But I've seen some good followup emails in my days, and with the permission of writing partners Jason Ginsburg and Kevin Walsh, I'm going to show you an actual flawless followup email:
We just wanted to check in to see if you've had the chance to look at MERLIN AND ME.
Since our last contact, Kevin's short film A CUP OF TEA won Best Dark Comedy at Dragon*Con in Atlanta.
Also, Jason's feature script TICKET TO MARS was just named a top ten finalist in Creative Screenwriting Magazine's AAA Screenplay Contest. It's currently listed on InkTip, of course.
Together, we just put the polish on a FUTURAMA spec and are now shifting back into feature mode.
We hope you're enjoying MERLIN and we look forward to your thoughts.
Kevin and Jason
Jared Wynn has conducted thousands of interviews with producers, agents and managers, and he knows a lot about how to successfully market a screenplay.