Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reader question - How much feedback should I get before I know I'm ready?

Becka asks me:

How much and what kind of feedback and coverage should I get for my scripts before I try to get an agent?

So far I've just been in a local class, entered a small contest where they give you a summary of 20 readers' notes, and I am soon getting some extended coverage on another script. I can only afford a couple more basic coverage services and a contest or two over the next few months- how should I get the most for my money and start rackin' up the feedback on my first few scripts and treatments?

Well, there's quantity of coverage and then there's quality of coverage. 50 reviews from amateurs not much more experienced than you is worth less than two or three reviews from experienced writers and readers.

Let's take this piece-by-piece. The contest - how professional is it? Who are these "20 readers?" What are their credentials? Are the people running the contest employed in Hollywood or is this one of those regional film festival screenplay competitions?

I don't mean to say that someone not currently inside the system can't give cogent notes, but on average, you're going to get more effective feedback from someone close to "the show." It's quite possible that this festival recruited its readers via postings on Craigslist or They could be interns at small management companies, fresh off the bus.

I don't know if I put a lot of faith in contest feedback. I've covered the topic of coverage services a few times, but this is probably a good time to reiterate the basics.

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.

When I covered this topic before, I got some good responses endorsing Scott The Reader including this from a reader named Christina:

"[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.

I've also gotten some strong feedback on Script Shark. It's worth pointing out that Script Shark is a little more expensive than Scott the Reader, starting at $175 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 $95 for one page of notes and $119 for studio style coverage. I've never used him, but his customers seem to be satisfied, if the Done Deal feedback is anything to go on.

Also, I once traded scripts with Amanda the Aspiring Writer and was very pleased with the results. She knows her stuff, having been an agency assistant, where part of the job was to do coverage regularly. She charges $110 for feature coverage.

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, especially when all of those readers seem to be above board.

How much feedback you need to get probably depends on the reaction to your first few submissions. Do people seem to feel that you're ready? Are they captivated by your concept, drawn in by your characters? Do they think that this is an idea that people want to see? If you get a couple middling reactions, I'd take that as a sign to do some significant reworking before I sent it out to anyone else.

I wouldn't query any agents until you start getting very enthusiastic responses from people who know what they're talking about. It's not enough to get polite encouragement. You should be getting reactions on the order of "This is a VERY strong sample! I couldn't put it down. I tried to find things wrong with it and I came up empty!" Reactions like "This isn't really my thing, but I'm sure someone will like it" aren't what you should be looking for.

I'll make the following predictions - someone will pop in to suggest as an option. Someone else will pop in to offer the opinion that Triggerstreet is a cesspool of amateurs and that most of what you'll find there amounts to the blind leading the blind. Then someone will take offense to that and defend it as a good screenwriting community that can help beginners develop their skills.

Pretty much all of those are right.

Not having read your script, I can't tell you when you're ready. All I can say is that patience is a virtue. Don't be overeager to query. Agents get a lot of queries each week and it's very easy to ignore a query that doesn't grab them right away. It's even easier to pass on a middling or so-so script. Don't query with anything less than a script that's going to knock their socks off.

If you've got the informed opinion of industry pros that this script is ready, then go to it. If all the feedback advises caution and redevelopment, I'd pump the brakes.


  1. I'd echo recommending Scott and Amanda - I've had notes from both on different projects and found them really useful, well worth what they charge.

    As to knowing when you're ready, I tend to think it's more of a gut thing than any specific amount of feedback. Maybe it's different in America, but I found it more constructive (and less soul destroying!) to focus on working on shorts, getting a play produced locally, developing my portfolio, long before I thought of approaching agents. I've often heard (and seen it happen to a few people) that when you're ready, and agent will find you rather than the other way around...

  2. I've worked with Scott the Reader and recommend him ... I also noticed that Screenwriting Tips ... You Hack offers a note service as well (I think for $60) ... I've never used him, but his site is very insightful ...

  3. I pulled my script from Triggerstreet a long time ago just because of the volume of reviews I got. As a writer, I try to have a thick skin, but I will freely admit that getting 12 reviews at once telling me my script sucked was too much for me to handle. Now I get my script reviews one at a time. I start with Scott the Reader and then go on to Script Savvy contest / reviews. I can handle criticism, just not a whole bunch at once if I can avoid it!

  4. For the record, I had one script of mine read by Trigger Street and felt the coverage was way, way off the mark (that script was subsequently optioned) ... in addition, when I was active at Trigger Street, I usually read all the coverage SS did of the SOM and usually found it lacking ...

    It could be that it was just one or two reviewers, I suppose, no reviewer is created equal, however ... I remember Alex at Complications Ensue taking their grid approach to coverage to task (tho he didn't mention the shark by name, he had their grid up and reviewed their reviewing process).

  5. Who would you recommend for TV pilot coverage, as opposed to feature coverage?

    I submitted an original pilot script to a couple of competitions, and while the judges comments were mostly on point with regards to issues such as dialogue, other comments seemed to offer contradictory perspectives.

    Moreover, I felt that one judge just wasn't interested in the genre, and the scoring and some of the comments reflected that. The other didn't seem to be experienced in TV and offered advice that just seemed to be plain wrong.

    I'm fundamentally ok with the criticism, but I'm confused. Help?

  6. I'd say any of the services I cited above are probably good with pilot coverage assuming they offer it. I've heard good things about Amanda's pilot notes, for instance.

    At the moment, I haven't sent a pilot to anyone for coverage, nor do I have any personal friends who have, so I'm less able to give you an informed answer.