Today, almost everyone is using e-mails, and e-mails have become a great way to open the doors to further communications. They are particularly useful if you are outside of the center of the industry, so it is difficult for you to meet people through personal contacts and networking events. If you have family, friends, or business associates already in the business, that is an ideal way to get in by using those contacts to make personal connections -- especially true in the film industry. But if you don't have those ins -- and don't have the time to come to a city to personally develop those relationships, then using an initial e-mail can be an efficient way to smooth the way to getting in. In fact, an initial e-mail can often be better than a cold call, because people commonly don't want unsolicited pitches by phone because they are busy and don't know who you are. But if you write a good e-mail pitch, that can help start the process.
I know, because I have been sending out e-mail pitches for myself, for co-writers, and for clients for over 6 years now, and I can personally testify that they work. In my own case, I have sold a dozen books through using an e-mail query (most recently ENJOY: 101 LITTLE WAYS TO ADD FUN TO YOUR WORK and WANT IT, SEE IT, GET IT! to AMACOM), optioned a TV game show based on my book, game, and Website DO YOU LOOK LIKE YOUR DOG? to several producers, and several of my scripts were optioned by producers. I also lined up directors for three scripts I am doing. And dozens of clients sold their own books this way, including Suzanne Hansen, author of YOU'LL NEVER NANNY IN THIS TOWN AGAIN, who scored a six figure deal. The U.S. Government's Export Division in Los Angeles used queries several times to set up meetings for senior TV executives from Hong Kong seeking film production deals and venture capital investors.
So what's the secret of using an e-mail query successfully? I have found certain approaches have the best results, whether you are pitching a book, script, completed film, or other project.
- Start with a good specific subject line in which you indicate the type of book or film (ie: mystery novel, self-help book, suspense thriller, action adventure). Think of this like a mini-log line in which you highlight what your query is about in around 10-20 words and note anything that makes you special – such as if you have previously published a book, have a Website with thousands of visitors each day, have produced film, or are an optioned or award winning writer or producer. Avoid vague lines or hype. These may sound like an ad or spam, and will remain unopened or get quickly discarded.
- Include a sentence or two in which you expand on your subject line to summarize what the book or film is about. Add in anything that makes you stand out, such as awards you have received and previously published books or produced films. But save any details for a short bio at the end, so you can focus on what you are pitching.
- Include a paragraph or two where you provide a mini-synopsis for your book proposal or story, and be clear the main topics covered or what happens in the plot. Though you might write a pitch for an audience that leaves people hanging, such as a question about whether the protagonist will survive the dangers faced, editors, producers, distributors, and others who review your book or script want to know. Again and again I've heard book editors and agents express disappointment when they hear a writer talk about why this book or film will have great appeal or who will especially like it, without clearly explaining what it is all about. In the film industry, producers, agents, and distributors repeatedly complain at conferences that they get frustrated when they get pitches that leave them with a mystery or asks a question such as: "Can the protagonist successfully evade the dangers he faces," without describing these dangers or how he or she is able to overcome them..
- Include a sentence or two about yourself, highlighting what is most relevant for the industry. Avoid extensive bio information from another field, such as academic or scientific awards, which can be turn-offs to people in the industry. They are interested in book or film related achievements, unless these outside achievements are related to the subject of the book or film (such as if you have written a murder mystery about a victim poisoned by a snake and you are an expert on herpetology).
- Conclude with a call for action, where you offer to send more information by e-mail or regular mail, and you indicate what you can send (ie: a synopsis, a complete manuscript, a script, a treatment, a DVD, etc.)
- Finally, put your contact information, including your address, city, and state, phone number, website if you have one, and e-mail at the end. Usually, people will call or e-mail you, but it's good to include your address for credibility.
As for how to send the e-mail, a simple text message, which can include links to a website, generally work best. If you try to send attachments or graphics, people often will not open your e-mail. And if you try to send a fancy letter, with bold and italics type, embedded illustrations, and the like, your letter may look more like an ad.
Once you are ready to send out your letter, you can send these out individually, using industry directories, cards you have collected at industry events, and the like. Or a service like PublishersAndAgents (http://www.publishersagents.net/) for books or the FilmConnection (http://www.filmconnection.biz/) for the film industry can save you hours of time in putting this information together and sending out individual e-mails. One of the writers at the service can also review your letter to help you make sure you have written a good, powerful letter which is more likely to be received and read. After that, your success will depend on your book, script or film. But a good e-mail letter can be your first very important step to getting through the door.
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Gini Graham Scott is a writer who has written over 50 books for major publishers including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Sourcebooks, and AMACOM and has written 15 scripts. She is also a film producer, who is producing one of her scripts UNBALANCED with an award-winning producer. She has sold over a dozen books and optioned numerous script and TV show proposals using PublishersAndAgents and the Film Connection which she founded over 5 years ago. She is Creative and PR Director for Making Connections (http://www.makingconnections.biz/).