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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can't Get Read? Yes You Can

I hear all the time from writers who say they can't get read, citing the "no unsolicited material" a lot of prodco and publishing websites carry as the reason. Sometimes they point out some agents will only consider referrals; other times they say independent producers won't read their work either. These writers cite their lives as the epitome of *that* old Catch 22 "no work without experience; no experience without any work."

First things first. Yes, some producers and companies will ignore your queries; some may even be rude to you. Some may even request your script, then never get back to you ever again, even if you follow up politely. It's the nature of scriptwriting; all of this has happened to me and more over the years. It shouldn't happen but it does.

But you CAN get read and it's easier than you think. It's ALL in the strength of your query - I know it sounds glib, but it's 100% true.

Now of course the argument is, "Ah, but you have an "identity", people know about you or Bang2write - AND you have an agent, it's EASIER for you."

Yes, having an "identity" and an agent now helps, I'm not going to lie about that. But I've been lucky enough to get read from the moment I started sending stuff out, yeeeeears ago, before I had even finished uni and was a completely green writer. Long before I had an agent or Bang2write even existed. Long before this blog started. Long before I had anything much of worth to offer, including the actual scripts themselves (and they were pretty terrible, LOL). I have a stack of rejection letters and printed-out emails dating back to the early noughties, in fact. From agents, producers, production companies, some publishers when I first tried a novel back in 2002 - some of them small, but some of them BIG - some of them had even said "no unsolicited material" on their websites, too.

And okay, things are a tad harder now than they were *back then* in terms of getting noticed. Someone starting out now has to contend with a WEALTH of knowledgeable peers thanks to all those screenwriting MAs. Plus the internet means the spec pile at least LOOKS better than it did in terms of format (if nothing else) than ten years ago. There are billions of blogs devoted to screenwriting, so it's harder to "stand out". The list of people with open door policies has shrunk; TV is now the Holy Grail of new screenwriters in particular, when only a short while ago it was all about film and even "art". Loads of things have changed.

But there are some things that NEVER change:

- Talent will out

- People ARE looking for good stories/scripts

- If you can't get in through a door, it's possible get in through a window

So if you *think* you can't get read?

Send Those Queries Anyway. Ashley Scott Myers has some really good advice on his blog this week: query everyone, anyway. What's the worst that can happen? Nothing. What's the best that happen? They might read your script. Sure, you might end up rejected but a read is a read - and the more people who read your work, the more people who know about you... and the more of an "identity" you forge! I think the more you spaghetti you throw at the wall, the more chance it will have of sticking - so always send multiple queries. Just yesterday, I sent out 12 in one morning; I've ended up with four requests for reads, plus two "thanks but no thanks". That's a return of half; I'm satisfied. If you get NO replies or bites, even to a large mail-out, as Ashley says: you need to think carefully about how *strong* your a) query is and/or b) whether the script's story itself is enough to pique others' interest.

Unsolicited Material Welcome! There are ALWAYS places a writer is welcome to send their work, unsolicited and it's just a question of tracking them down. Hayley McKenzie of Script Angel has compiled an entire list only recently, in fact: here it is. Yes, it's not a particularly huge list, but it's a GOOD START, even if it contains *the usual suspects* like Aunty. It's all very well discounting places like the BBC Writersroom, but can you afford to? I've always had excellent feedback from them in the very least and who knows - it could lead somewhere else in the long term. They offer fantastic schemes, too. Why not give it a shot? I've known professional writers send their work to the BBC Writersroom. Similarly, try and MEET as many producers as you can, especially in "real life", but online if you live in the middle of nowhere; don't discount anyone. You'd be surprised by how many producers *are* looking for scripts... if you just stopped going after those who will obviously be showered with them!

Go The DIY Route. If you *just can't* get excited about sending your work off - then don't. Make it yourself. There are loads of people out there, just itching to collaborate - hence the birth of Film Shorts Club on here. Trev Walsh of White Tiger Films has ALREADY produced Bang2writer Henry Fosdike's script, THE DECISION and another, Claire Yeowart's, JUMPERS, is in the pipeline. Not bad considering Film Shorts Club was only launched a few months ago. If shorts aren't your thing, then think about what is - you can do whatever you want. Yes, money is an issue - but when is it not? How can you create these things on a shoestring, like Suki Singh and Emulsion or Chris Jones and his features? Or how can you build web distribution into your business model, like Tim Clague and Mr Vista? At the moment, I'm seeking to adapt an old spec past its sell-by date into a graphic novel with a new company in Portsmouth. Who knows if it'll work out; maybe they won't even like it. But I figure: why not give it a go? Graphic novels are cool; the script could work well as one. Let's give it a try.

Publishing. Publishing is a little more difficult I think, especially without an agent on your side - but then, there's always been a DIY route to this, too - SELF PUBLISHING. The advent of the web means it's never been easier to get your content out there to people via the likes of blogs and websites, for starters - and said blogs and websites are known to lead to publishing deals. If you want to create paper copies of your work to sell, sites like MagCloud then are brilliant. Sarah Dobbs, one of the main organisers of Re/Action, created the magazine as a response to the androcentric, white, straight-orientated focus of mainstream film media. And it's brilliant! BUY IT (and not just 'cos I have an article in the next issue - join the Facebook page here). Similarly, novels and even textbooks can get self publishing deals too, that also lead on to mainstream publishing deals. When I was first an EFL teacher, I worked with a woman who had written a book about English phonemes and pronunciation for Oriental Language speakers and she did a limited print run of 1000 copies, which she sold on Ebay. It was a great book (I bought a copy) and she soon sold out, so ordered a further three runs. This was enough to persuade a European publishing company to publish the book on the continent and it's now made her squillions. All power to her, especially as ordering those initial print runs had meant she had got out a sizeable loan. She took a risk and was rewarded for it. For more on publishing and self publishing, follow the fabulous Bubblecow on Twitter.

So don't feel downhearted or disempowered; no one wants to keep you out. There's just LOADS of scripts and stuff doing the rounds and it's difficult to tell who is in for it the long haul. Instead of targeting all the *usual* routes or people then, sometimes it's wise to "move sideways" and think of alternative routes in. We hear a lot about "breaking in", as if this means having a door opened for you by luck or talent, when really this part - the "SELLING YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK" PART - is about sheer BLOODY-MINDEDNESS and persistence.


Query Letters

When Is A Rejection A Rejection If I haven't Heard Anything?

Blame It On The Reader?

I've Written A Script. Now What?


Tim Clague said...

All good advice. But I feel that writers who are completely fresh to directing should stay away from being a writer / director for their first films. It wouldn't be the best way to learn about either as you can't dissect where you went 'wrong'. I started by directing other people's ideas first.

Lucy V said...

Thanks Tim - yes, I've heard that from other directors too, though others have also said the best learning curve has been on their own work! Myself, I don't think I would ever direct - but producing has been a real eye opener (and I had written the first one). So... jury's out for me. Perhaps it depends on the person?? Argh, feels like a cop out... so probably true!

LizO said...

Thanks for the advice! I was just wondering how you get your script copyrighted, and whether it needs to be copyrighted when you send your script out?