From time to time someone will contact me through my website with a query of some kind. This is to say, these folks are asking for something. Reflecting on the past year, I have received more of these than ever. However, these messages are often vague, confusing, disruptive and abrupt. Usually, if a query has one of these traits, it has them all.
First off, I must state I welcome these and all queries. I say that not only as someone who has something to sell but helping others achieve is a part of my unwritten personal mission statement. What makes this process tedious for me is having to wade through and decipher cryptic messages from people I don’t know. I send many queries myself to others whose help I am soliciting to advance my projects so I thought a refresher might be good for all parties on how to approach a stranger from whom you are asking a favor.
Some recent queries I’ve gotten are from people interested in the topics my scripts cover. I’ve had a student request my Jersey Devil screenplay, a civil engineer in Ohio requested my Roebling play and a WWII historian from Ireland requested my Riding The Comet play. These tend to be the most well-formed requests. Possibly because these are folks are living in the “real world”, having jobs or educations that have learned them the art of communicating. In each case the parties first outlined who they were, how they heard about my work, why they found it interesting, what they were asking for and how they plan to use it. Thank you, your request is answered.
Unfortunately, requests take many bizarre forms. I had a writer (calling him that because he apparently ‘wrote’ something) wanting me to review his screenplay and give notes, feedback, etc. I didn’t know this person, I have no idea how he found me. Here’s the gist of his email to me:
Please review my script “Title Here”. I already have producers interested in it.
With script attached to the email.
I’ll ignore the obtrusive use of exclamation points and get right to my point. The brevity of this query gave me pause. I thought he was someone I had just forgotten. A disconnected former member of my writers group perhaps? I went through that mailing list—nope. I went through my Facebook contacts—nope. He was just a bold (and rude) guy who wanted a writer with more experience than him to review his script. My reply was something like this:
I would be happy to help you with your script. But since I don’t know you and you’re asking me to invest my valuable time, I request the amount of $50 to provide you with a comprehensive review and notes on your script.
He was not looking for that. He replied in the vein of:
Hey dude, I write from my heart and want others to also. I cannot pay that right now. I will just take it to the producers.
End of communication. To satisfy my curiosity as to any merit his script may have had. I read the first ten pages. It was terrible.
It is also not enough to mention a mutual friend. A recent query I received went like this:
I just wrote a screenplay. I am friends with (Mutual Friend). I’d like to send you a copy of my script.
I’m not kidding. That was it. Just what would you like me to do with this script, sir? And who ARE you?
Here’s a checklist I use and suggest others use it also:
- Who are you?
- How did you hear about me?
- Why do you think I can help you?
- What do you want exactly?
- How will you use what I give you?
- Also, be respectful of the other person’s time offering a form of compensation if appropriate.
Here’s a fictional query I’ve written to myself in the spirit of those I’d like to receive in the future:
I am a writer in Rhode Island. My friend follows your blog and recommended it to me. It is interesting to me to see you have written about a variety of subjects for both the stage and the movies.
I am reaching out to you because I have a stage play I wrote in college and I would like to adapt it into a feature screenplay. I was hoping you might be able to read it and offer feedback on the script but also what might need to be altered/enhanced to make this an exciting script for the big screen.
I understand your time is valuable and I am asking for a lot. I don’t have much to invest right now but I’d be able to possibly pay a small stipend if it will help.
Please contact me through email or call this number: (number here)
Remember, when you’re asking for something from someone it is best to consider all the points above. Oh, and be brief. Check your spelling and grammar. And don’t ever send something to anyone via email or otherwise without first getting their approval. If you can’t mark something “Requested Material” – don’t send it.
So I ask you, dear reader, am I being unreasonable? Do I appear unwilling to assist people because I prefer them to be clear and cordial? What do you think? What have been you experiences?
I should point out again this is intended as a guide for asking for someone’s help, assistance, mentoring, review of work, requesting a script, business/creative advice etc. Sending a “query letter” to pitch your script to an agent, manager, producer or director is a different animal. Here’s a good guide to that: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
Another point of clarification. I offer professional and creative advice to people all the time. I usually enjoy it. This is always free and comes with the proviso that I base all my advice solely on my personal experience. Your results may vary. I will read a script and offer feedback. I do this all the time for friends and members of my writers group. If you are from outside that circle however, I am going to ask for a small fee (about $50) to provide an overall summary and detailed page notes. All together you’ll get about 5-8 pages of review and notes. That’s a very good rate when you consider I will be investing 4-5 hours of my time in doing this.
- Reader Question: How do you know when your script is ready to send out? (gointothestory.blcklst.com)
- Reader Question: Now that I’ve written it, how do I go about selling it? (gointothestory.com)