Like coming to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed

You and I are kindred spirits, Mr. Blaine
Kindred spirits you and I, Mr. Blaine

I really, really, REALLY do not like making mistakes, especially when it comes to things related/connected to screenwriting, and even more so when it comes to trying to get a career going.

This time around, it’s regarding query letters. Even though a majority are now done via email, for the sake of the discussion, they’ll still be referred to as ‘letters’.

Query letters are a tricky beast. Getting them just right takes an inordinate amount of effort. Some might even say just as much as goes into your script.

I actually don’t mind researching appropriate recipients, or spending the time crafting the letter (which also includes getting feedback on it from those who know more about it than I – a hearty thanks to those who’ve offered their invaluable insight & suggestions!).

What really gets my goat is when I learn, usually after the fact, that I’ve done something that can only be classified as straight-up stupid, or at least counterproductive.

And it all stems from one small, seemingly insignificant thing: what goes in the subject line.

Turns out – not so insignificant. The subject line is your one shot to grab their interest and get them to keep reading. But what should it be? There are several schools of thought about this, but more on that in a second.

I couldn’t tell you where I read it, but the advice (from an “expert”, mind you) I’d heard recommended listing the title, followed by the word ‘query’.

Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Apparently including the ‘q’-word is just one big kiss of death. It screams out “Amateur!” and pretty much guarantees your email will probably be deleted without even being read.

So don’t do it! Avoid at all costs!

What should you use? As stated above, several options.

-Just the title

-Title and genre

-A noteworthy contest award (e.g. “2015 Nicholl semifinalist”)

-The hook of your story. Keep it brief!

-“THIS meets THAT” (Opinions are mixed on this. Some writers have said they use it, but a few consultants say not to.)

-Referred by _____

The floor is open to other suggestions.

As for me, lesson learned as I gear up to re-send all those emails in the coming weeks. A weighty project, but whatever it takes. I’m leaning towards just the title or the hook.

Bogie said it best

I’ve talked about this before, but recent events have warranted a revisiting of the topic.

When I connect with somebody or somebody connects with me on social media, I thank them and ask how their latest project is coming along. I ask because I actually am interested, and just think it’s cool to hear about what other people are working on.

There are several types of responses:

1. They describe what they’re working on, and end by asking me the same question. This happens the most frequently, which is great. It actually feels like a conversation, and I’ve made some great connections this way.

2. The cut-and-paste boilerplate response that reads exactly like one. “Thanks! Check out my video/like my Facebook page/donate to my Kickstarter, etc.” While I can understand this approach, it comes across as “I’m only connecting with you to get promote myself/my stuff”. I’ve never clicked through, and suspect a lot of others don’t either.

-An exception to this has been the rare combination of the above two. Someone described their project, included a link, and asked about me. The fact that they apparently made the extra effort to do a little of everything, without overdoing it, actually made me interested in checking out their link (which I did).

3. No response whatsoever. Perhaps you’ve not exactly grasped the concept that ‘social media’ includes ‘social’, as in ‘interacting with others’? Will I ever ever hear from you? It makes no difference to me that you dropped the ball on this, but if you’re not going to follow through on your end, then why bother doing this at all?

On that note…

3a. After sending my standard initial response, and getting no response, once in a while I’ll receive something like this (as I did earlier this week) from someone who’d asked me to connect several months ago: “Hey how’s it going? I’m what you call fresh meat to the industry so maybe you can help me”

My wise friend Bob sums it up quite nicely here, but I’d like to add my two cents.

You came to me, remember? Apparently not.

I responded, because I like to be polite in this scenario.

Then it was your turn, but you didn’t do anything. Now you’re back after a prolonged period of time with a very straightforward “I know we’ve never interacted before, but this is what you could do for me”.

I could, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna. (I’d be astonished if this person got even one response saying “Sure!”)

I hate to break this to you, but your networking skills suck. I’m more than happy to help somebody out if/when I can, but you have to earn it first. Popping out of my distant past with a generic plea for help isn’t going to do it.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into building and maintaining my network of friends and trusted colleagues, and many of them have done the exact same thing.

Why haven’t you?