What is the worst part of the screenwriting process for screenwriters? One word — marketing.
Sure, it's no easy task to develop a concept, write it, rewrite it, and get feedback and notes on it to perform yet another rewrite. But often the most mundane part of the overall process is coming up with a marketing strategy for submitting your screenplay to what seems like an endless ocean of potential suitors in the guise of managers, agents, producers, and development executives.
In short, it sucks, because you know that 99% of the time you're going to get rejected. And if you don't get an outright rejection, you're met with something even worse — silence. And why are busy industry producers and executives so hard to reach? Because there is no shortage of spec screenplays in Hollywood; everybody has a deep reading list that they need to get through. And most spec screenplays by amateurs aren't yet ready to be be produced, as they require in-depth development. Did you know that the average screenplay in Hollywood goes through 5-7 years of development before it makes it to the screen? This business takes patience and it's not for the faint of heart.
With that in mind, here are seven steps to submission strategy hacks to make the process easier. It may seem like basic internet sleuthing 101, but it can work!
1. Embrace IMDBPro
If you don't have it yet, sign up for it now. If you can't afford the year-long cost, go month-to-month. If you can't afford the month-to-month, set aside a month to take advantage of the 30-day free trial.
This is the key tool for your marketing plan, so find a way to get it or borrow a friend's subscription.
When you're signed on, what you want to do is look for movies that are similar to your scripts. Then simply find out who made them and click on their company pages to find email addresses (if available). You can also look up the writers who wrote those movies and find out who represents those writers. Then email away. Snail mail and fax numbers no longer work — cold calls will likely get you nowhere as well. So you want to find email addresses.
2. Figure Out Unlisted Email Addresses
So when you look up those email addresses on IMDBPro, you'll be disheartened to see that the perfect producer, development executive, manager, or agent for your project doesn't have their email listed. But there's a simple hack to finding them — or at least increasing your chances.
If the person is part of a company, look up the company page and then click on the Staff option. You will now see a list of staff members ranging from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. When you click on each staff member, their provided contact information will be present. The higher-ups often won't have email addresses provided (but some surprisingly do), but that doesn't mean you quit yet.
You click through each staff member until you find a company email address. This will offer you variables to use, as far as the formatting of those company emails.
If an assistant's company email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, use that format within the context of the contact you want to email. Thus, if Jane Smith is the executive that has no email address listed, try email@example.com.
Before you scoff and say that this never works, know that yours truly has performed this many times early on — with some great success.
Read ScreenCraft's Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts!
3. Take Your Time to Research
When screenwriters finish a script, they often want to rush to release it upon the world. Stop. Breathe. Relax.
A submission strategy is something that cannot be rushed. You have to take the time to do your research (see above). Give yourself a good chunk of time to do that necessary computer work and compile a long list of potentials before you send one single query out.
Create a contact list spreadsheet, complete with first name, last name, company name, and email address headings. When you have a substantial number of potential suitors, at least thirty to start, you're ready.
But make sure that you're not merely blanketing the industry with your submissions. These potentials need to be on that list for a reason, not just because they produce big movies or represent prominent writers. There has to be a connection between what they do and what you have to offer.
4. Map Out Your Own Networks
We've covered this in ScreenCraft's Maps Screenwriters Can Use to Build Their Industry Network, but can summarize here.
You need to map out, literally and figuratively, where you — the screenwriter — can go in your life to make the necessary relationships and connections that you need to make.
You start by mapping yourself and your personal contacts, no matter what degree of separation.
Then you map out your geographical connections.
And finally, you map out any industry connections you may have.
Any findings you have you add to that contact list spreadsheet.
5. Get Yourself on a Schedule
This is the thankless part where the submission process feels like a fruitless job. You need to get yourself on a specific schedule where you send out X amount of queries to X amount of potentials.
The key thing is to remember that the more times you step up to bat, the better the odds of you hitting it out of the park. You can't succeed if you don't try. And the more you try, the better the chances are of you connecting with someone that is ready, willing, and able to take a chance on you — at least by reading your script.
Your submission schedule will be much easier to manage if you stick to a pre-determined plan on the calendar, whether it's ten queries sent out per week, or more.
And go back to that contact list spreadsheet and add three headings — Date Submitted, Response, and Notes.
When you've submitted a query, enter the date. When you've received a response, date it and then enter the response in your notes.
Finally, if it's a rejection, highlight the row in red to denote that the contact has been exhausted. If they request the script, highlight it green to indicate some success.
You'll be surprised how fulfilling it is to see those few green highlights amongst the red.
6. Celebrate What You Can Control, Forget What You Can't
The goals you hit on your calendar, as far as how many queries you send out, is something that you personally have control over. You should celebrate those small victories with the understanding that most screenwriters don't put forth such necessary time and effort as you hopefully have.
And yes, this is a hack, because you do need some form of positive results in your life during this arduous process.
Don't wait to celebrate any script requests, because that is entirely out of your control. If you wait "by the phone" for someone to answer, you're looking at a dark and disappointing time because most won't. They may be too busy. They may not have responded to your concept. They may not have gotten the email yet. Their assistants may not have forwarded it to them. It's out of your control so no need to fret over elements that are out of your hand.
7. Study Your Rejection Emails and Any Negative Script Feedback and Notes
This is the part that you might not want to hear, but it's essential to your success. This hack will benefit you the most in the long run:
When you receive a rejection email response, you have essential information that can help you in future submissions. Study what they say. Pay attention to the reasons they may give for not requesting your screenplay. You may find vital information that you can apply to your next rounds of queries.
If you've succeeded in connecting with some contacts and they've requested a read and have given you notes or comments on the script, you can use that information to help decipher whether or not you need to rewrite the screenplay. You can even ask them if they can provide any specific coverage that was written. Not every company will release coverage, but you'd be surprised what they offer if you showcase that you're a writer that ready and willing to learn from their own mistakes.
Planning a marketing and submission strategy is no easy task — but it can be easier and more straightforward than you'd think.
Utilize IMDBPro any way you can. Try your best to figure out any elusive email addresses to the insiders you want to approach. Take your time to do the necessary research. Map out your own networks to find some personal connections to the industry. Get yourself on a schedule to stay motivated and productive. Don't forget to celebrate some personal victories and avoid wallowing in self-pity for things you can't control. And learn from any responses, notes, and feedback that you may get — they'll help you become a better writer.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies