Sunday, May 16, 2010

First Things First

It's always tempting to test out your story idea by pitching or sending a query before the novel or script is finished. Not a good idea. What if your query is accepted and the agent/publisher/studio loves the query and wants to read a partial or the full? You have just blown your contact. That's it, that was your first and only chance to make an impression.

Why? Because the agent (I'm just going to use agent from here out, to simplify) doesn't want to see your partial in one month, three months or a year, he wants to see it now. So what if he's going to take weeks or months to get back to you? That's his end of the business. Your end of the business is to be professional and send him a finished manuscript/script ASAP, while you are still fresh in his mind.

This may sound stupid, but you wouldn't apply for a job/career as a nurse without first getting your BS in Nursing. In any other field, you'd get an education, do your internship, and get some experience before applying for a job. And I'm talking about a professional job here, not flipping burgers (which I actually do for a living, as the owner of course). So why would you just flipantly jot off a query to an agent without actually having something to show them? And doing some research into your market?

So, you have your manuscript/script finished, can you query now? NO!!! If you haven't polished your pages to within an inch of life, you aren't ready to offer up your words to a professional. Writing is rewriting, and you have to rewrite, polish, put the damn thing away for a time, then come back with a fresh eye and start polishing again.

When you think you have done everything possible to make your words sparkle, and jump off the page, then it's time to write that query. And not a moment sooner!


  1. oh what a great post, jamie! it's so true... all of it.

    never ever ever send anything out before it's totally ready. don't refer to it like it's ready when you have only 1 page written. and that's in-person too. if you find yourself in an elevator with nick cage (sorry if that happens) and you have a banging idea for bangkok dangerous 2 (again, wow, but also sorry), but only have a notion. woo him, become his friend, take him to dinner, but don't get him interested if you don't have the work ready to back it up. it's so hard to resist the temptation to jump in and deal with the writing later, but it takes ages to write a spec that's worthy of being sent around. success is patience meeting persistence meeting preparation. do the work, then make the call.

    so glad you posted this, jamie! great notes for everyone. xox

  2. Good point! I had no idea people would do this. Queries are great for magazine articles before actually writing the article. But fiction and scripts? No wonder agents get so cranky! ;-)

  3. Truer words...

    I read not too long ago about someone who sent in a query and then the first 50 pages as requested by agent.

    They didn't have any more written!

    Harsh lesson to learn, eh?

    And you're so right - writing is lots of spit and polish! :)

    Burgers? Yum.

  4. So true Jamie! It's so easy to get excited at the prospect of pitching but you're right, you'll shoot yourself in the foot if your script isn't ready. This is definitely one of the first lessons a novice screenwriter learns. Me included.

    I like the Nursing analogy. So true! What makes writers think they're any different? It's all about being professional.