Monday, August 7, 2017

Reader emails and the art of writing a good question

I haven't done many "reader email" posts in the recent past and there's are reasons for that. Some of the questions I've gotten have been on topics that I've already covered a lot on the blog, so they're answered quickly with a link to an existing post.

What's left after weeding out those are emails that often fall into one of two categories:

1) An email that asks a question too broad or abstract to yield a useful answer. This would be something like "Tell me how to break into the business" or "what are all the things I can be doing to make my script attractive to an agent?"

Those are questions without any concrete answers, and if they DID have answers, they would require a great deal of effort on my part to answer them. Entire books have been written about each of those subjects. Any effort on my part to answer them in the confines of the blog would likely result in even larger broad and sweeping generalizations than you usually find.

In both cases, the knowledge you want is out there - but it will take some effort on your part to seek out and absorb. When I sought answers to these questions, I researched the lives and careers of people I admired. I went looking for the story of how they broke in. Everyone has a different story of how they attracted an agent or how they got their first job. That diversity speaks to how there's no single way in other than persistence and building up your portfolio to the point where your work will stand out.

2) Long rambling emails that tell me your life story and take many detours that might include the origins of your latest script, the depths of your anxieties, the many disappointments and setbacks you've suffered in your career, and so on.

I know I run the risk of coming of like a dick when I get glib about this, but I assume that if this is how you're composing emails to me, it's also how you're writing to other people who are FAR more important than me. If your email has more than three paragraphs (BRIEF paragraphs), you're doing it wrong. I've been known to open an email, see a wall of text and say, "I'll get to it later" without reading it and I'm much less busy than anyone who can actually do something for your career.

Introduce yourself in two or three sentences. Use another two or three to establish you're familiar with the person you're reaching out to and that you understand their time is valuable, then quickly get to the point of what they can do for you. Obviously if there's a connection you share, like a common friend or the fact you went to the same school, obviously mention that. The point is to be brief, and yet still establish a connection in a few lines.

If you're a good writer, you can do that.

In the meantime, if you've got what you think is a good question, hit me up in the comments or at

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