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How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell)

I believe that most screenwriting books, seminars, blogs and other screenwriting resources don’t spend nearly enough time on teaching people how to market their screenplays. SellingYourScreenplay.com tries to bridge that gap.

When I started out in the industry I didn’t know anyone. I was just a guy with a few ideas and a dream. With a lot of hard work and persistence I have been able to sell several screenplays (click here to view my credits on IMDB) by applying the exact lessons I’m going to teach you on this blog. It’s not quick or easy and it’s going to take a lot of hard work. But if you’re willing to do the work I believe that you too can have some success as a screenwriter.

There are no shortcuts and neither I, nor anyone else, can sell your screenplay for you. Ultimately you’ve got to decide if it’s worth the effort to make a go at screenwriting. You’re reading this blog, so that’s a good first step. But that’s all it is, a first step. Now you’ve got to really dig in and start doing the hard work.

If you ask 100 different screenwriters how they broke into the business you’re going to get 100 different answers. There is no “right” way to break in. So my philosophy has always been simple: try as many different angles as possible and figure out what works best for you.

Below are two short lists of things you should be doing to try and sell your screenplays. I’ve listed them in order of what I think is most effective (your results may vary). One thing to keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list. You should be thinking of other ways you can market your material and doing those things, too. If you would like to share any of your ideas please email me as I’m always curious to hear how other writers are successfully marketing their material.

Also, you may not be able to do everything on these lists, but the more you do the better chances you’ll have. If you’re serious about success, however, you’re going to need to try most of these things, otherwise you’re not going to be giving your screenplay, or yourself, a real chance to succeed.

Things you can start doing today.

  • Make phone calls to agents, managers, and producers pitching your material
  • Write query letters for your screenplays and snail mail, email, or fax them to agents, managers, and producers
  • Scour sites like Craig’s List and other online resources for people looking for screenplays and send them your query letter
  • Enter screenwriting contests
  • Try and connect with agents, managers and producers on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook

Long term items which you should also be doing.

Again, this list is not an exhaustive list but it highlights a few things that you should be thinking about in terms of your long term strategy. None of these things will sell your screenplay directly, but doing them will greatly increase the chances of you selling a screenplay by enhancing your understanding of the craft and building your network of industry connections who might be able to help you sell your screenplay.

I would recommend looking at these lists often. Make sure you’re doing the “today” items nearly everyday and working towards at least some of the “long term” items.

To sell a script the first thing you need to do is write a really good screenplay.  I know this sounds obvious, but really, it’s got to be good to get noticed.

I would guess that for most people to write a “good” screenplay you’re probably going to need to write a half dozen (or more) not-so-great ones.  I read once that Platoon was Oliver Stone’s 11th screenplay – but the first one that actually got him any recognition.  So don’t be ashamed about being a novice, everyone is at one time or another, just keep writing, and with each script you’ll get better and hopefully you’ll eventually start churning out scripts that are up to industry standards. Just because your first one (or first ten) are terrible doesn’t mean you’re not capable of writing a good screenplay, it just means you haven’t acquired the skill yet.

Once you’ve written a good script write another one so that you have at least two solid screenplays ready to go.  It’s very common for a producer or director to read one of your scripts and think it is well written but not quite right for them – that’s when you’ll want to pitch them one of your other “good” scripts. In addition, when an agent or manager takes an interest in our writing they will almost always ask for a second writing sample to make sure you’re capable of writing more than one good script.

Don’t be too eager to start sending out your first few scripts if they’re truly not up to industry standards – and if you haven’t written at least a half dozen scripts or more they most likely are NOT!

There are lots of books on how to write a good script.  Read them. I personally recommend Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, Screenplay by Syd Field and The Art Of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri for starters.

You can learn more about Snyder’s Save The Cat by checking out my quick review of the book: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

You can learn more about Field’s Screenplay by checking out my post Syd Field’sScreenplay

So how do you know if your script is up to industry standards? As a screenwriter you should be interacting with other screenwriters, reading their scripts, and reading scripts from produced screenwriters. So by the time you’ve written a few solid scripts you should have some idea about where you stand compared to industry standards. If you’re not doing any of these things your script probably isn’t ready and neither are you – so start reading other people’s scripts while you’re working on your writing.

One great way to find out if your script is ready to be sent out is to ask someone in the industry to review your screenplay. Selling Your Screenplay currently has a script consultant service. Check it out here: http://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/script-consultant/.

Make sure you protect your work by getting a copyright on it or sending it to the WGA for registration. Check out my post How do you protect your work? Screenplay copyrights and WGA registration to learn how to protect yourself and your script.

Okay… so now you’ve written a couple good scripts and gotten them all copyrighted. Now what?

You’ve got to get your script to someone who can turn it into a movie. While this may seem obvious (and easier said than done) it’s all you have to do.

Who do you know that could turn your script into a movie?

Perhaps you have enough money to produce the movie yourself.  I’ve done this with my screenplay, Reunion. This can be a great learning experience, a lot of fun, and it allows you to have a lot of creative control over the final product, something you probably won’t get if you’re not a producer on the project.

Or perhaps you have a rich relative or friend who might be willing to invest in your project.

In this day and age you can produce a feature film for very little money and if you’re looking to get your first project off the ground this is going to be the easiest way to do it so seriously consider it.

I’ve actually written a bunch of posts on this so check them out if this is something you’re interested in trying. You can find them here: Producing your screenplay.

But if you’re goal is to simply sell your script then you’ve got to find a producer who will raise the money and make your movie.  While this is very difficult this is precisely what most screenwriters are looking to do.

Many novice writers assume they need an agent to help them sell their script. While a good agent can help, I recommend going straight to the producers themselves. In my experience when you have no credits finding an agent that can really help you is actually harder than finding a producer who will make your movie so you’re better off spending your time trying to find a producer than an agent. Check out my post How do you get an agent for your screenplay? (And why you don’t need one!) to learn more about finding an agent.

Many of the trade publications (The Hollywood reporter, Daily variety, Backstage West) and other online publications will often have ads in them placed by producers or directors seeking screenplays.  Over the last few years I’ve noticed that there are fewer and fewer of these sorts of ads in the trades as they have moved to Craig’s List and other online sites.  Read my post about submitting to Craig’s List.  While you do have to be very careful, it is a great resource for writers, especially beginning writers. I recently optioned a script to a producer I met on Craig’s List so it can be done.

Over the years I’ve had the most success by sending cold query letters to producers so that’s what most of my lessons will cover. But don’t think this is the only way to succeed. It’s not. You should be pushing your screenplays forward in as many ways as you can (see the list above!).

I’ve broken the process of sending out cold query letters into five steps. This five step method is exactly what I’ve done to option and sell my screenplays. There is really nothing more to it. But be prepared to do some work and make sure you have patience and a ton of persistence. Persistence is key. You’re probably not going to sell a script by writing just one and going through the five steps once or twice. It’s going to take writing lots of screenplays and running through this marketing process over and over again, multiple times for each screenplay. But eventually, if you’ve written a good, marketable screenplay I believe you too can join the ranks of produced screenwriters.

Step #1 – Writing A Screenplay Log Line

Step #2 – How to write a professional query letter for your screenplay

Step #3 – Building a Database of Agents, Managers and Producers

Step #4 – Sending Your Screenplay Query Letter to Your Database of Contacts

Step #5 – What to Expect From Your Query Letters

I get a lot of questions from novelists who would like their screenplays turned into a movie. If you’re in that situation check out these posts: Turning your novel into a screenplay.

I also get a lot of questions from people who live outside of the United States who are looking to break into the industry. I’ve written a few posts for those people, too, which you can find here: Breaking into Hollywood from outside of the United States.

Sadly, even after laying out all of this information in as much detail as I have, I still get a ton of emails from people who want me to sell their screenplays for them. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen for a variety of reasons. I’ve written about those reasons in a couple of blog posts which you can find here:

Will you polish or rewrite my screenplay for me?

Will you sell my screenplay for half of the proceeds and a shared writing credit?

Everything I know about selling screenplays I share on this blog. Really. Absolutely everything. I’m not holding anything back. If you read my blog regularly and you go back and read older posts you will know 100% of what I know about selling screenplays. I’m certainly not the most accomplished screenwriter in the world but I have sold a few scripts. And I believe that you too can sell your own screenplay if you work at it. Hopefully my blog can help you in your pursuit. Please let me know if it does.

If you would like this information emailed to you for free, join my email list and I’ll email it all to you, plus regular updates from the blog. Just use the form below to sign up. Again it’s absolutely free.

I have a Screenwriting Frequently Asked Questions page so if you have any additional questions please check that page out.

Good luck.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Muz February 20, 2009, 1:16 pm

    This is nice advice, thank you. I live in the U.K and I really want to sell a script to hollywood. Is this a disadvantage for me for living outside the U.S. Also my script is high-budget what the chances of it being considered.

  • Ashley Scott Meyers February 23, 2009, 1:41 pm

    Muz;

    Check out my post about whether or not you have to live in LA:
    http://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwriting-faq/do-you-have-to-live-in-los-angeles-to-be-a-screenwriter/

    I would say if you have a high-budget script it will be considered by companies that have the resources to produce such a script – but generally those are larger companies and only take submissions from proven writers. So I would say it will be a bit harder to sell this type of script as a new writer. But if it’s a great script it might serve as a nice writing sample too, which could potentially get you other writing gigs.

  • riad March 18, 2009, 11:04 am

    hi,
    I’m from morroco, and I wrote my first script in french and I sent it to about 4 french compagnies. the problem was that I always received responses after months of delays till one day someone explained me that my script was french-written but conceived in an american way. that’s my problem because all the movies I watch are effectivly american ones. Now I’m trying to translate it in english and I hope to find an american partner with whom to work. thanks.

  • Mark Ratering May 26, 2012, 5:57 am

    love the material

  • Gene May 28, 2012, 6:26 am

    Ashley,
    Thank again for the advice and guidance. I’m wondering if you might write a post regarding the subject between good writing, good storytelling and a good story.

    It seems that when you state that the 20th screenplay might be to industry standard, you’re referring to the formatting and style; a well written screenplay. But what I’ve noticed on S-writers blog sites is, very little is mentioned about actually having a good story.

    I tend to lean in the direction that having many screenplays keeps one’s skills sharpened, like a sword ready to do battle in the industry. However, having a great story (ala Jurrasic Park, Star Wars, The Matrix, Gump, Shawshank) is far more work then just pumping out some script like a manufacturing plant – it’s art and that takes time. I guess I just feel like far too much emphasis is placed on skill. Doesn’t it seem like great writers are pushing out crap because Hollywood simply lacks original ideas? Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but simply because someone can write, doesn’t mean every piece they write is a masterpiece. Someone like a Randall Wallace can sit down and write Braveheart (first a novel) and then adapt it to a screenplay – and it didn’t take him 20 scripts later – my point being he had a great story to tell and that was the real reason he’s shined so bright.

    I’m not trying to say “keep writing” is a fallacy – not at all – just that writers also need to hear about the importance of a great story. I tend to think that a poorly written GREAT story is better than a supremely written script with a BORING story. If I have to take 2 hrs to read one, I’ll pick the poorly scribed script.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to reach out to us.

    • Ashley Scott Meyers May 30, 2012, 1:50 pm

      I agree to some degree. A really great story can overcome a lot. But it’s all a sort of balancing act. The better your story, you probably need a little less craft. And the more craft you have, you probably need a little less of a great story.

      One other thing that I’ve found for myself, is that as I’ve improved my craft I’m able to recognize a good story when I see it. I think this is key. I also think as you improve your craft you get better and flushing out the great story in a situation. So again, don’t underestimate craft.

      There are examples of people who hit it out of the park on the first try, good for them. I don’t think that’s the majority of writers, even really good ones, and it’s certainly not a reproducible model that we can learn from.

      I would say reaching the pinnacle of the profession, or even making a living at screenwriting, requires an enormous amount of craft so there is no way of getting around it.

  • Marv Adamo May 31, 2012, 10:28 am

    Ashley,

    I have been an email subscriber for some time. As a would-be screenwriter, your site has been extremely helpful. So I thank you for all of the great information. I have completed two screenplays and am presently working on two others and am “perking” on two additional stories. So I am not lacking for ideas.

    I also want to thank Gene (May 28 post) for his comments. I can’t believe how many bad stories make it to the big screen. And not just bad story, but poor execution. It actually encourages me, because I think I can do better. When my wife and I check out films, we bring them home ten at a time because we know at least half of them will be rejects. All the hype, all the special effects, even big name stars, can’t make up for poor story content, in my opinion.

    No question that craft is the key to success in the industry, but if you don’t have a great story to tell, don’t waste our time and money.

    PS: Because I’ve known several young ladies named Ashley, until today I thought you were a woman. Forgive me this mistake. I forgot about Gone With the Wind – “Oh, Ashley.” Are you from the South? Don’t be offended. Explain a Sicilian named Marvin.

    • Ashley Scott Meyers June 5, 2012, 12:39 pm

      Marv;

      Thanks for the long comment.

      I’m not the least bit put off that you thought I was a woman. It’s been happening my whole life and happens virtually every day in one way or another. I’m not from the south. It was my grandfather’s name, and I think back when he was born it must have been a more common male name.

      Ashley

  • Marti June 11, 2012, 2:03 pm

    Hi Ashley,

    Funny about Merv thinking you are a woman. As a woman named Marti, I get the opposite all the time…

    I am also an online subscriber and find your information incredibly helpful and accessible. I do have a question about treatments:

    If you’ve already written a screenplay and have a producer in Hollywood shopping your synopsis around and getting very positive feedback, is there any reason to go back and write a treatment? I guess my question is, will the next thing people ask to see, after the synopsis, be a treatment or the screenplay itself?

    Thanks for such great guidance.

    Best,
    Marti

    • Ashley Scott Meyers June 11, 2012, 8:56 pm

      For the most part, if people like the log line they’ll usually read the script (or at least the first few pages). If you have a short synopsis, great, but that should certainly be enough to convince people to take a look at the entire screenplay.

      Everyone now and then you might run into a producer who requests something strange, like a long treatment, but that’s pretty rare, and quite annoying from a screenwriters perspective.

      Treatments usually are something you do when you’re writing on assignment, you’ll do a treatment before you start writing so that the producers know you’re going in the right direction. Then you can work through the outline / treatment to make sure it’s what the producers expect and want.

      Thanks for reading.

  • chany catala June 11, 2012, 10:42 pm

    Yes! Ashley Scott Meyers is a wonderful web! I unfortunately recently joined a web that cost me a few hundred dollars, and! they are not as good as ASM who posted my hard-work for free! My unique ‘ouvre’ I call ‘The New Romantic Cinema’ where I offer many screenplays that are full of dazzle.
    Thank you, Ashley Scott Meyers!

  • chany catala June 17, 2012, 2:50 pm

    Thank you for all your lovely messages! You really try hard to help inspired writers (artists) with your very savvy advice! Keep me posted! ChanyX
    ps “The New Romantic Cinema’ is dazzling!

  • chany catala June 19, 2012, 4:36 am

    ‘As You Desire Me’ will make a great new movie! My modern screenplay is a wonder! first, from the pen of Luigi Pirandello! The story was originally
    brought to the screen by MGM in 1932 with the luminous Greta Garbo.
    ‘Zara’ the sublime woman, enters en-scene a vagabond, then, a celebrated
    punk-chanteuse, ultimately, in the third act, she is, perhaps, the long lost
    Countess Pieri! Berlin in the 30s! The script is very conceptual! and it’s available! hurry! Chany Catala

  • Fattycake June 21, 2012, 2:01 pm

    Do you have anything on synopsis? Examples?

  • Fattycake June 21, 2012, 2:03 pm

    Found it, thanks.