I have received a ton of email lately about an important topic: the query letter.
Whether it’s an email query or an actual letter sent via snail mail, should we bother sending them, and what actually do we send when we do? Well, the short answer is “Yes!” you should definitely send these out. But what actually do we put into those communiques to elicit the best possible response?
One of my all-time favorite writers is Kathy Hepinstall, a successful novelist, and now a successful screenwriter with a very bright future. She wrote recently to offer her opinion on the subject:
“I think it’s extremely important how query letters are written. For example, when I was peddling my first novel, I sent around a query letter that began something like this:
I have written a literary novel, about 80,000 words, set in Louisiana in 1941, about a very peculiar bordello, run by men….(blah blah blah)
Not a bad query letter. I got 10 percent response. Then I really started thinking about query letters. They are really small pieces of advertising. As such, they must get the agent’s attention in the first sentence in the most compelling way possible, or you’ve lost them, because literary agents receive buckets full of query letters.
So I rewrote it. Second query letter began: What happens when a woman finds out her own rapist has been put in charge of her spiritual recovery?
Got triple the response rate from that query letter: 30 percent. From those responses, I sent my manuscript to a very respected agent, who sold my novel in three days. So that’s the advice I’d offer – make the query letter as compelling as you can in the very first sentence.”
Screenwriter Ben Frahm connected with his current representatives through email query; he got about 4 to 5 responses from over 100 he sent. It sounds like a small number, but he had a good hook. As a result of this and a lot of hard work, Ben sold Dr. Sensitive to Universal and Tom Shadyac last year in a spec sale.
Point is: it works. But I’d like to hear more tips from writers who’ve sent these email and letter queries out to the Hollywood community — and even agents, managers and producers who’ve received them — to learn what approach works best, and what actual words and sentences get the best results. Please chime in!
Looking forward to my Screenwriting Expo appearance next Friday morning at 11. It’s called “Supercharged!” and I am supercharging my speech as we speak. Have a great weekend everyone!