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by Sheila Gallien

In theory, almost no one accepts unsolicited manuscripts. In reality? The marketplace is starving for material, and people are always looking. If you don't have a personal introduction, your way in is the query letter.

The first thing you should be sure of is that your script is ready. If you send a script in that is not ready for sale, you have just burned a bridge. If you're sure you're ready, be prepared to spend a lot of time on your letter. It will be almost as difficult to write as your script.

The next task is identifying the recipients: producers, directors, agents or studio executives for whom your work is appropriate. Use all your resources (and tricks) to compile this list. Don't try to establish a relationship over the phone. Just get the particulars: name, title and address.

Never send the script with the letter. This creates legal difficulties.

When it's time to write the letter, consider these goals:

Avoid the circular file. A busy assistant will open your letter and glance through it. It should be, first of all, perfect in every way. Perfectly addressed. Proper salutation. Fitting stationery. No typos. No misspellings. No grammatical mistakes. Check, double-check, triple-check the name and address. If it looks the least bit unprofessional, it will go in the trash.

Establish your credentials. Something makes you uniquely qualified to write this screenplay. It may be your schooling, your recent awards, your profession. Don't offer empty or vague qualifications. Your reader, if it is someone you actually want to do business with, will see right through them. (Examples are claims to unidentified prizes or praise from anonymous sources.) If you have no professional qualifications, use your life. A mother of four may be better qualified to write a family comedy than a 23-year-old graduate student. Say it sincerely, humbly, confidently, but say it.

Convince the reader that you can write. Do this in your own style and one that matches your screenplay. One example: replicating the tone of your screenplay. Regardless of style, your letter should be easy to read, lively, and sincere. And, if your script is a comedy, make the reader laugh.

Make it unique, but professional. Professionalism is valued over kitsch. You will hear stories of people who get through the door with outlandish capers, but these are more likely to harm you than help you. And, if you get through in this mode, you better knock 'em dead.

Pitch your script. Give an expanded log-line. Pitch it with passion. Give it relevance and vitality. Be very careful, however, when making assumptions about the marketplace. Even if you scour the trades, your readers know more than you do about the marketplace. They talk about it all day long. If you are certain that Planet of the Apes is being remade by Tim Burton, you should probably not pitch your version. And, if there is a glut of World War II movies, you better to be able to convince them why they should make yours. Short of that, go on the power of the material. Let them decide the marketplace. (They may be so impressed with your letter that they want to read your next script, even if this one has a competing project on the fast-track.)

Follow up. Say in your letter when you will call, and call. Always, always, always follow up when you say you will. This is your chance to begin a relationship. If you can't get through to anyone but an assistant, establish your relationship there. As assistant today is a studio head tomorrow. Just find your fans.

Good luck!

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