Jeff writes in with a question:
In his book, "Breakfast with Sharks," Michael Lent suggests getting coverage for your spec script from on of the big agencies by simply calling them up, and asking for a list of freelance readers while posing as a producer. So I did this. It didn't work. One agency said to email their story department while the rest simply said they don't give out this information. I emailed the story department and offered $75 for coverage of my script. Any thoughts on this?
Coincidentally, I recently read that book and found myself wondering if that scheme would work. I guess they're wise to that trick. I also know there are people who think it's a big scam to pay for coverage of any kind. One of the first executives I read for once gave me the advice to "Never pay anyone to read your script." Now, I'm pretty sure he meant to apply that to unscrupulous agents and managers who charge a "reading fee." That usually IS a scam.
However, there are perfectly sane reasons for paying someone to read your script, and I assume you want coverage on your spec so you can get a sense of how an industry reader would react to the material. Judging by the number of emails I get each week asking me if I offer such a service, there are a lot of aspiring writers out there who want to know what an "insider" would make of their script, as well as get any suggestions for improvement from someone in a position to pass scripts on to the next level. That makes a lot of sense to me.
For me personally, the instances where I would pay for coverage are rare, owing largely to the fact that I live in Los Angeles and there is no shortage of close friends I can ask to read my script who are either writers or work in the industry. The last spec I wrote, I vetted through about 15 people who I trusted and it didn't cost me a dime. I got a lot of useful feedback, as well as some notes I just decided I was going to ignore. Now, obviously if you live in Iowa and don't know any other screenwriters or anyone who's ever read a screenplay, then you might benefit from the services of a professional reader.
So my advice would be to be selective in choosing your reader. Check out screenwriting boards to get recommendations for readers. As with any business, I'm sure every reader and company will have some good feedback and some bad feedback. Check out their websites, decide if their prices are fair, investigate their connections and see if you can find any testimonials from previous clients. Some of the better services have very insightful and knowledgeable readers, while others might pay the readers pennies, which probably won't inspire them to read your script too carefully. So if you're going to buy coverage based solely on what's cheapest, you'll probably get what you pay for.
I put the call out on Twitter yesterday to see if anyone had purchased these services before and got a few responses. Christina emailed me with an endorcement of Scott The Reader:
"[Scott] charges $60 and will give me notes sometimes in 24 hours. He's good - his notes, years later, end up being on the right track even if i can't see it when I first get them back. What I like most about him is utter professionalism. He never dips into arrogance or snarkiness the way some readers can. (Like myself!) He just tells you what he sees with a rational, level-headed voice. He does a lot of production company coverage, I think.
I don't know him personally, but some of my LA friends know him as a real person and report he's a nice guy. I kinda like not knowing him. That way he's not biased by my sunny, outgoing personality.
(That was a joke, btw. I am outgoing but cynical.)
I've paid $200 for another lady - okay, but not so much better than the $60 guy.
I applied for Film Independent's screenwriting lab year. The fee was $75. I didn't realize I'd get exhaustive coverage back - totally worth the application fee.
Gerry wrote in to say:
"I've used Script Shark twice, once with their reaction pack coverage which has three (or four or five) readers give notes on the same draft of the script. It's interesting to see the different takes on the script. There was a fair amount of consensus on the strong points in my writing, and some dissension on the weak ones. A few readers were a little nitpickier than the others, but overall the points they made were good ones. If something got pointed out by more than one of them, I really gave that part of the script a second look and more often than not, their comments helped me figure a way to fix it.
Their readers are anonymous, but you can request specific ones and read their bios on their website. It says they make sure their readers have read for at least two major companies before working for them, so at least you know you're not getting someone right off the bus. For what it's worth, I had good experiences with DS, RD, AM, and RB. A few were a little sharper than others, but I didn't feel ripped off at all."
It's worth pointing out that Script Shark is a little more expensive than Scott the Reader, starting at $155 for standard coverage. It's also worth pointing out that at least one Shark reader (AH) hangs out over on the Done Deal Pro message boards and has gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers there. His site is The Screenplay Mechanic, and his rates start at $75 for standard coverage. I've never used him, but his customers seem to be satisfied, if the Done Deal feedback is anything to go on.
[UPDATE - I am redacting comments I made endorsing a service and an individual whom I would no longer support. I don't like "revising" the post like this, but I'm not comfortable with someone coming across the archives for the first time and submitting to a service that no longer meets my standards.]
If I was to pay for coverage, those four places would probably be where I would start. In my web searching for reviews, I've come across a strong number of good reviews vs. any bad reviews. And in the grand scheme of things, the prices don't seem that unreasonable.
Anyone out there got any glowing endorsements or horror stories to add to the mix? And are you guys really that interested in paying for notes from me?