Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What kind of idiot pays $75 each to have their query and logline evaluated?

I was checking out the Done Deal Pro boards recently when I came across a posting that mentioned a blogger whom the poster had met at a pitch seminar. The post mentioned some advice that seemed interesting and provided a link to that blogger's site, so I decided to check it out. I always enjoy finding new blogs and pointing out new points of interest for my readers.

After checking out the site I decided not to link to this person, or name them for reasons that will probably become clear in a moment. As it turns out, this individual was not just a blogger, but their site mainly operates as a coverage service. I don't take issue with that. As I've said before, there are plenty of rational reasons to pay someone to critique your script. I urge people looking to purchase some services to do their research and truly examine what they hope to get out of the experience, but I see nothing wrong with it.

Screenplay consultants have often been painted as unscrupulous jackals who prey on hopes and dreams of aspiring writers. I think that it's unfair to tar all such consultants with that brush. Surely there are a more than a few services that are a waste of money, but I'm led to believe there are more than a few that are above board as well.

This is why I was so dismayed when I looked at this blogger's services and saw the following:

"Query Letter Formatting/Writing/Editing - $75."

Are you fucking kidding me?

Look, your money is yours to burn. If you want to spend $200 or $600 for studio-style coverage, who am I to judge? But $75 to read a query letter and help write another one is nothing short of outrageous.

As it happens, I wanted to compare this individual's prices to one of the more reputable screenplay consultants out there. I went back to the earlier post and decided to check it against The Script Department, and guess what? For a mere $75, The Script Department offers a "Query Letter Review." Yep, they'll read it and tell you if it's any good. $75 for what probably amounts to five - no, I'll be generous - TEN minutes of work. Considering how blind queries rarely work, that's only slightly more effective than just burning the money outright.

It gets better. For another $75 bucks they'll review your logline too. Yeah, so for a grand total, you can have professional readers look at less than a page of writing and give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. That's almost as stupid as paying thousands of dollars to someone who's never actually written a screenplay so that they can teach you how to write!

I'll be blunt. Any writer who's so desperate for that kind of validation that they'll pay $75 to get it isn't ready to play in this game. There are tens, if not hundred of books that can help you craft a sharp query letter and a strong logline. Honestly, if you've read more than one of those books and you still can't distill your script into a strong logline then chances are your story isn't that good. As for query letters, just Googling "How to write a Query Letter" will probably lead you to more than enough sites that can walk you through the process and provide examples of strong query letters.

Coverage on a script is one thing. It gives you a fresh pair of eyes and probably would even offer a few suggestions on how to improve weaknesses in the material. But "query reviews" and "logline evaluations" - particularly at those prices - might not be a scam, but they're a colossal waste of money.

For about five minutes I considered setting up a PayPal account and offering both services for $10. Truth is, I felt sleazy even taking that much money and I figured that most of my readers would be smart enough not to spend money on them anyway. Still, the sheer greed on display there couldn't help but motivate this editorial.

It's your money. Spend it however you wish, but please spend it wisely.


  1. I agree that $75 for a critique on a query letter is outrageous. But I don't think reading books is an adequate substitute.

    Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for writing "Little Miss Sunshine", recently said that while everyone knows it's important to write, write and rewrite, a crucial step on that path to improvement is often missed: professional feedback.

    Paying for coverage does that. Reading books does not. And having your script covered by a friend who doesn't have a clue about story structure and has never attempted to write a screenplay himself doesn't either.

  2. Hell at Done Deal there's an army of people who'll look at your query letter for free.

  3. Writing a query letter for a client requires a thorough read of the script, and the expertise to pick out details from the script and frame them in just the right verbiage for the query letter. So no, it's not outrageous to charge $75 for this service.

    A query review might involve the exact same thing. Query "critique", though -- an up/down reaction -- is worth about $10.

  4. Nanobitches - Sorry, but the way I see it, queries almost never work. Those query letter blaster services are total scams and I'll never be convinced otherwise, and paying someone $75 to read your script and have them distil it to a 2 paragraph pitch is a ridiculous waste of money.

    A storyteller who can't cut right to the heart of their own story is someone not yet ready for the big leagues. Any writer who can't even figure out the components of a strong query by looking at good examples online and reverse engineering their own version still has a lot to learn before they make it in this business.

    People who pay $75 for that service are gullible. As for the people who offer the services, hey, Barnum said that "a fool and his money will soon be parted," so maybe it makes sense to those service providers that they be the ones to profit rather than someone else.

    But don't try to sell the line that such a service has any true value or benefit to the writer. And as Emily points out, Done Deal Pro is full of helpful people who can provide the same thing for free.

  5. Emily says DDP is full of people who'll "look at" your query, not write one for you.

    I've seen clients get management deals, options, real money from queries. Check out InkTip and Scriptblaster -- it happens all the time.

    Unless you have experience in doing analysis for clients, then you don't really know what you're talking about. You're a good person and you have a laudable desire to keep the gullible away from scams -- but to suggest that there's no real value being exchanged here is just flat out incorrect.

  6. Blind queries never work. It's about the same success rate as someone who cold calls during dinner. Targeted queries CAN have some success, but it requires being smart about who you approach. The writer needs to do their research and go after the sorts of agents and managers who are likely to respond to such queries and personalize the query in a way that gets the recipient's attention.

    If you hit up a guy who just left ICM and is striking out on his own as a manager, and your letter makes specific mention of that fact as to why you're contacting him and why your specific script might be of value to him, then maybe that manager might take an interest. Sending out a generic query to the same 50 people that you pull out of an agency directory isn't going to have the same effect.

    What's more likely: A guy pays for a one-size-fits-all query where they can just find-and-replace the recipient's name, or they shell out $75 each time they want to submit somewhere else?

    To say I'm suspucious of any "Success Stories" claimed from InkTip and Scriptblaster would be putting it mildly. I wouldn't be surprised if many agents regarded Scriptblaster emails as spam by now and deleted them unread.

    True, Done Deal Pro is full of people who say they got read and in rare instances repped off of queries, but when you did deep, you see these were guys who did their homework, utilized their connections and were SMART about how they queried.

    I'll say it again, any writer who hasn't yet figured out the art of writing their own query letter probably doesn't have the ability to deliver at the next level. Even if they have someone hold their hand in crafting the letter it's not enough to have a perfect query letter. One still has to be smart about using it.

  7. By and large, I agree your advice is sound. There's nothing less effective than a spam query. And fortune favors the prepared in all situations.

    But it's also true that the actual creation of an effective query by an individual with expertise and experience can prove valuable and even invaluable to a screenwriter, as I have personally seen in my own business.

  8. Yeah, I'm going to have to disagree with you here, BSR - the query letter and logline review services are good for unrepped baby writers who have been invited to query or submit to a legit agency/production entity/etc. I wouldn't recommend it for cold-querying; I certainly wouldn't recommend it to writers with only one completed script; and it's one of those services that if you're smart enough, you'll only need once or twice - but there is a use for it: to confirm that you're on the right track (or, uh, not).

    As far as wasting money goes, perhaps someday all the overworked readers in the world can have the opportunity to kick back in a deck chair poolside in Monaco and light a couple of fat cigars with those $75 bills. :>

  9. Just reading back over some of the old posts here and, if nothing else but to even the numbers, I'm siding with TBSR. Even if these companies offer to write the query for you, it will come across as generic - unless you're gonna pay for a query with each company. I could never offer this service because, like TBSR said, it is something that can be learnt, where as feedback is an additional set of eyes on a piece of writing you've been working on for a prolonged period.

    They are taking advantage of the idea that the query letter is seen as the gateway to the next stage.