Thursday, September 10, 2009

Have you ever paid for it? (Coverage, that is)

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?


  1. I think I would. I try out all paid-for readers, if I can. Though I'm broke at the minute, so couldn't right away.

    Here in the UK there's always a big furore about script readers in general. Being a reader AND a writer, I can see both sides of the argument - I've had shitty coverage too!! - though I am biased towards paid-for readers. I generally find them very objective, helpful and balanced - unlike some of the crappier readers I'd come across at prodcos and agencies who don't have any *connection* with the writer, so trash their work with abandon which helps no one. That's not to say they ALL do this of course - I've been one of those readers and known plenty more who would never do this. But it seems to me that when a reader doesn't know where a script has come from, they feel more ready to make personal attacks.

    I endorse peer review COMPLETELY in developing your script - in fact, I recommend writers on my blog do this before coming to someone like me, to root out all the "obvious stuff" and I even get writers I've had through my doors together to read each other's work if they have trouble finding people.

    But getting peer review of your script from your writer's workshop, online group, whatever is only ever gonna get you so far. People have their own lives and their own jobs - your script then is quite low down the list of priorities on a day-to-day basis.

    Also, loads of people have no idea how to review a script *properly*... This is how flaming starts or misunderstandings and before you know it $60 to Scott the Reader (who I have used myself btw: great stuff) doesn't seem like so much money. Also, his job IS your script. You will get better "attention", for want of a better word.

  2. Having spent years working in information services, the best way to find dirt on anyone is to do what I call a "fuck and sucks" search. Pick any company, put the word "fuck" before their name or "sucks" after and close it in quotations. You'd be amazed at how often this unearths great horror stories, coverage services included.

    I know a lot of writers in the business too but the problem I've found with fellow screenwriters seems to be universal. They're typically very busy working on their projects which makes their turnaround times unreliable. And once that script has been read it's difficult to recapture a fresh perspective. But most importantly, screenwriters for the most part secretly hate each other, honoring this weird code where nobody ever asks for help.

    I spent most of my formidable years as a writer pursuing journalism and literary markets (if only I could get those years back) so I have no formal education in screenwriting. To me, 200 bucks for feedback is a pretty cheap crash course. My advice is to ask them for the nastiest, meanest son of a bitch they have on staff. Nothing instills a desire to change an awful scene or some bad dialogue than wishing you'd never written it. Then again, it's the people who really suck that will argue their feedback anyway.

  3. I want to clarify that there's a difference between what Scott does and what a company like The Script Department does. Scott offers notes that you can use in rewriting your script, not formal coverage. The Script Department and places like it usually give you feedback in two parts - the first part is formal coverage, the second part contains rewriting notes, like Scott offers. It's good to pay for formal coverage once in awhile and see what it looks like, but it's unnecessary on every draft.

    I also have an extensive network of friends and acquaintances who I trade reads with. However, I tend to cycle through drafts faster than others and burn my readers out, so that is another reason I pay for it.

  4. Yeah, I've paid for script coverage notes MANY, MANY times. Three services come to mind: Scott the Reader, and the Script Department being two of them.

    Would NEVER share horror stories about bad experiences. I'm HOPING that in using script reader services SOMEHOW my writing gets passed on by a reader to someone who could could champion one of my scripts. Bad-mouthing people accomplishes NOTHING. When situations dissolve I feel it's best just to walk away. Try to leave on a positive note; making enemies doesn't serve the ulitmate goal: one day seeing a movie made out of your script.

    The one time I used the Script Department I got good notes that I can use.

    I've used Scott the Reader much more often. He was referred to me by someone in the industry that I respect. Scott is also a Nicholl's semi-finalist this year, still in the running for the $20,000 payout. Go Scott!! The last two times I've used Scott's services he's been a little slower in turning in notes... but in times past he's covered scripts in a matter of days. Mabye this recent slowdown is inidative of a bigger workload, or because his own writting career is heating up, I don't know. BUT he's good -- and well worth the price of admission.

    Scott the Reader blogs at:

    Go visit him. Scott's a writer's people person.

    You know Bitter Script Reader, if you offered coverage services -- and they weren't extravagent... sure dude, I'd give ya a test-spin!

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  5. I have paid for coverage in the past and I will do it again. I live in Los Angeles, am an assistant in development and belong to a writers group of other assistants, but at the end of the day, the opinion of a stranger will be the most authentic response to my script.

    Unfortunately, I don't really trust the people I know well and can get free notes from to be truly honest and really critical enough to make me improve. The best notes I ever got were from another aspiring writer whom I met online and wrote a similar spec script to mine and so I asked if he'd be willing to trade scripts & notes - what came out of that was nothing short of a wake-up call and nothing less than the best critique of any of my writing I've ever received. Needless to say it really helped the rewrite. However, if someone like that isn't available, the next best thing would be someone who professionally reads scripts.

    I do think that the "script consultant" business on the whole is a scam, however paying money to receive detailed thoughts on your script is invaluable. At least it's invaluable enough to make it worth the money.

    I've used a couple different services, including a reader used by the Disney Fellowship (Fellowship programs may be a better place than agencies to get a list of readers because a lot of them use outside readers due to the volume of submissions). Not all of them have been good, but they've all been better than nothing.

  6. I can vouch for Scott as well, I've used his notes ... he also does coverage, I believe, but it costs more and really what you need as a writer is the notes anyway.

  7. I'm waiting to hear back from a new guy I just tried called "Josh the Reader". He's free and I really trust his judgment because apparently he wrote some Cronenberg movie a few years back. I'll let you know how it works out!

  8. Though I'm sure anyone who reads any other screenwriting blog or site knows what kgmadman is referring to, I'm offering the link below for those who don't habitually track down industry gossip/news. (Hi Mom!)

    Also, as a writing blogger I'm apparently legally obligated to call attention to Josh Olson's Howard Beale-like rant. (Seriously... is there a blog out there that didn't post this today?

  9. I've used Hollywood Lit Sales ( several times now and while their web site looks totally scammy, they've given me the best feedback for the price. It's always been very specific, detailed and insightful.

    They're also one of the few to offer feedback on treatments, which helped me avoid a lot of pitfalls before I started the screenplays themselves.

    I've also used ScriptShark, the Script Analyst and Scott the Reader. They all do a decent job too.

  10. Just to tout the company I do some reading for, is a very solid coverage service and also a monthly contest. It's very fairly priced for the very detailed coverage you receive for your script (cheaper than most sites listed above), and there are monthly and yearly prizes. Google it or check out customer feedback on for an unbiased opinion.


  12. Thanks for directing me to this post. I live in NYC, so it indeed isn't hard to find knowledgeable and experienced people to read my script, especially since I'm an actor (this writing thing is entirely new!) The thing is, they would be friends and/or colleagues, and I would always question whether anything positive was biased, or if any negative comments were sugar coated.

    I don't think I'd pay to have a first draft read, but certainly after a couple revisions on my own. I came across These guys, and would love to know if you've heard anything about them, either way. Scott sounds like an excellent choice, as well. When I'm ready, I certainly would love to try this out, and if you're selling your services at an affordable fee, I'd certainly be interested.

    Thanks again!

  13. Hi Cary - This is Brian from Screenplay Readers, who you mentioned above in your comment. Coming to this post a bit late, but am happy to extend you a 15% off coupon code if you'd like to give us a try, should you still need script coverage. We're at

    Thanks much!