I got this question recently and I wanted to make sure that people who were thinking about getting involved with screenwriting didn’t have this same fantasy.

Question: Is my, I guess, naive fantasy of selling my script within a few weeks for $65,000 dollars possible? Or is it a slow, industrious process that can take months.

Answer: I assume you’re half kidding with your question but I’ll answer it seriously.

If you’ve written something that is truly earth shatteringly good, something that is so unique and original that it literally jumps off the page and blows people out of their seats as they read it, you’ll be lucky if you sell it within 10 years. If you haven’t written something quite that good (and trust me, you haven’t) it means you’re going to need to slug it out and market the hell out of it and push it for years and years. And when you’re about to give up you’ll need to keep on pushing. And then after a few more years when you’re about to give up again you’ll need to keep pushing it for even a few more years.

Death and taxes are less certain then the fact that you will NOT sell a script “within a few weeks.” You can move to Monaco to avoid taxes and doctors may come up with a cure for every disease known to mankind so that you’ll live forever. But you will not sell a script within a few weeks. That I am certain of.

So no, it’s not an “industrious process that can take months,” it’s a process that can take years, and that’s only if you’ve written a great script, market it aggressively, and get really, really, really, really, lucky.

It’s a common saying in Hollywood that the overnight success takes 10 years and from what I’ve seen that’s no exaggeration.

If you’re not willing to put in the time or effort and are simply looking to make a quick buck I recommend that you buy lottery tickets with what ever money you can afford. You’re odds are much better and it’s a hell of a lot easier.

16 thoughts on “How long does it take to sell a script”
  1. But never say never right? This is the reality but there has to be some optmistic people out there and I’m one of them. I expect to sell one of my screenplay’s before the year is out. :)And if I don’t… well then it will happen in the next 6 months. Just don’t give up is all I’m saying. Keep focused and stay positive.

  2. What a sad, pessimistic and completely unhelpful article this one is. Don’t pay any attention to it readers. Sounds like the words of a dissillusioned wanna be screenwriter.
    Yes, selling a screenplay is not as simple as “build it and they will come” but it is definitely doable and it doesn’t have to take 10 years. Anyone who says selling a screenplay takes 10 years is full of it and is probably trying to keep you out of their industry. Network and be as creative with your marketing as you were with your writing and if the script is as good, you’ll sell it.
    The movie world needs stories and new writers are being discovered every day.

  3. Nonsense!

    I’ve been in LA just over a year (I came here and didn’t know a single person) and have written five scripts, three have been optioned — one is currently in production.

    I doesn’t take ten years, all it takes is a great, original script, and you’ll make it. Fast. Because of the crap that flows around in this town, good stuff stands out, great stuff REALLY stands out.

    If it took Ashley Sctott Meyers 10 years to sell what ever he had written, it doesn’t mean it’s takes ten years for everyone. Far from it. Saying that a great script will sell “in 10 years if you’re lucky”, is discouraging to young new writers just starting out.

    Don’t listen to that kind of nonsense. It doesn’t take ten years. Every writer I know (in my writing group), has been writing for less than five years, and all have sold at least one script.

    Granted, it takes talent and hard work, but these kinds of posts of screenwriters discouraging others, is counterproductive.

    As for the person who asked if they could sell a script within a few weeks. Yes, you can. If it’s good enough and stands out, you’ll sell it. Believe me, you’ll sell it quicker than you ever thought.

    Just keep writing (and keep rewriting), and don’t listen to the kind of non sense that tells you it takes decades. It takes decades for bad writers.

    1. I never meant this post to be negative. In fact I don’t think it is negative. I’m trying to encourage people to understand what it takes to succeed.

      No matter what profession you’re in it takes 10 years to get good at it. There was a book written recently about this, Outliers: The Story of Success.

      If you think you’ve written something great and you’ve only been writing for a few years you’re seriously selling yourself short. If you think you’re already there you stop getting better. It’s quite common in Hollywood. A newbie gets lucky and thinks it was his talent that got him where he is. He then languishes for years trying to repeat his original success. But it never happens because he doesn’t really have the tools to succeed – which are a lot more complicated than just doing good work.

      I actually have a post half written about the myth that “great writing will get recognized.” It’s a myth. I’ll be publishing it in the next week or two so keep an eye out for it.

      The trap you’re falling into is that you actually believe that it all boils down to the quality of your work and if you write good enough scripts everything will be dandy. Trust me, Hollywood doesn’t work like that. The problem with this thinking is when things stop happening for you you’ll have no tools what-so-ever to get you through the inevitable downturn. You’ll be trying to write a master work and maybe you’ll do it, too, but it won’t be enough and you’ll have no idea what else you should do.

      I’m really not trying to discourage anyone. The title of this blog is “Selling Your Screenplay” and that’s exactly what I’m trying to help people do. Selling a script is much more complicated than just writing a great script. And that’s what I’m trying to teach on this blog.

      If you’ve had the kind of success you talk about that’s great. Maybe you really are an uber-talent. I sure wish I was. But I’m not. So I’m going to keep plugging away.

      1. I certainly didn’t say I was better — but I know that I’m good enough, having sold a few scripts.

        Also, at this stage I have an agent and a manager, the kind of people who care and who’ll tell you the second you stray off and begin to feel cocky (which happens after you’ve sold a few, trust me).

        It’s simple common sense that you should keep getting better and improving your craft. Just because you sold a few doesn’t make you an expert, and how ever thinks that is way over their head.

        But I will still argue that your notion that a script will sell in “ten years”, is total BS. Just as an example, John Ridley wrote Three Kings in seven days and sold it after two weeks — this kind of stuff happens, all you need is a great, original idea.

        And not some negative blog post.

  4. I think this is a good realistic look on selling scripts. Sure, lots get lucky, with connections or just the right move – but each screenwriter should keep your points in mind to push, push push, and keep trying. No, sure it won’t take 10 years for everyone. And congrats James on selling one.

  5. And yet, “James”, Ashley Scott Meyers has credits to his name. Where are yours? It’s all well and good saying you’ve optioned this and that, and that your work is in production, but I could say that I have just been signed to play for LA Galaxy soccer team. What one says on the internet versus what one can prove…very different things.

    I would rather listen to the “counterproductive” words from someone who has done something, than the, and let’s be frank and transparent here, arrogant bragging of a person who has nothing to back his claims.

    I enjoy your blog, Mr. Meyers, it is very useful. Keep up the good work.

  6. Andrew J: For obvious reasons, “James” is not my real name, as I’d like to keep my anonymity in this matter (following the advice of my agent and manager and their lawyers).

    1. Nice dodge. My agent, manager and their lawyers advise that I pay no attention to the man who has excuses to hide behind anonymity.

      Can’t pay any attention to the braggart who regales us with all his wonderful achievements but then hides who he is. Stand by your claims, or just stop making them.

  7. I appreciate the advice to be found on this site. I think the intent of this post was to temper peoples’ expectations.

  8. I disagree about it taking ten years. If you haven’t sold a given script within about a month of your agent taking it out, you likely won’t sell it at all, ever, unless you rewrite it drastically. Scripts that sell outright — as opposed to getting optioned — sell fast. So if you have written a brilliant script, you could get an agent and sell it in a matter of three-four months. It could sell within a week or two of your agent going out with it. Though the go-go years of big fast spec script sales are probably over.

    I agree it could easily take you ten years to write your first script that sells, if you ever sell one, but that wasn’t the question.

  9. I want to reiterate a few things based on the comments above. First off, if you read my original post I never said it takes 10 years to sell a script. I said “you’ll be lucky if you sell it within 10 years.” If you sell it within 1 year that’s still within 10 years, right?

    I actually sold my first script after I had been in Hollywood about 3 years. But I got really lucky. And that’s my main point. You might sell a script quickly but if you do you’re getting really lucky and you should understand and appreciate how lucky you really are.

    And my comments “that the overnight success takes 10 years” wasn’t meant to imply that it takes 10 years to sell one script either. You’re not a success in Hollywood after selling just one script. To be a success or to “make it” requires many solid projects written and produced over the course of many years.

    Again, I really wasn’t trying to discourage anyone and I’m actually quite surprised how many people took it that way.

    I worry that someone will move to Hollywood write two or three pretty good scripts, send them out, and then when they don’t sell in the first 6 months or a year they’ll pack up and go home. Just because you don’t sell a script in the first 2, 5, or even 10 years doesn’t mean you should quit or that your scripts aren’t any good. They very well might be outstanding scripts. Screenwriting is a marathon not a sprint so I’m trying to prepare people for the marathon.

    If you get really lucky and sell something in the first year, that’s great. But the majority of the people who I’ve met who have achieved some measure of success have done so by plugging away for years and really putting in the work.

    Is that really nonsense, negative, pessimistic and completely unhelpful?

  10. James said, “John Ridley wrote Three Kings in seven days and sold it after two weeks”

    Umm…John ridley worked in Hollywood as a Television Writer for over 6 years before he sold Three Kings. He was probably in Hollywood for a few years before he got his first Television writing job as well, which basically puts him in the 8-10 year range. Seems to me your so-called exception actually proved the rule.
    By the way, John Ridley crossed the picket line (so to speak) and was the only non soap opera writer to work during the strike, so he doesn’t really support anyone but himself…So the Hell with him.

  11. I think James and Ashley are both on the side of all writers trying to sell a script. Ashley is taking a more realistic approach to the industry and James is the eternal optimist. 🙂 Both people are correct. You could indeed sell s acript quite quickly providing it’s a good, solid script. Or, maybe not. Maybe, despite getting lots of great feedback and coverage and awards, you still can’t sell your script. Why this happens is a mystery to me. I also think it’s not what you know but who you know. This is a hard and sorry fact of life. But I too will play the optimist card. I’m convinced that if a script is great, and you pitch to the right people. You can sell it quite fast. Whether it gets made or not is another story. 🙂

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