We help writers and filmmakers find publishers, agents, and film industry contacts.
Tips on Getting Published, Produced, and Promoted
Tips for Book Writers
The following articles will help you write a good query letter, find publishers and agents, get published successfully, and market and promote your books. Click to see the articles on these topics.
Tips for Film Writers
The following articles will help you get your script produced by pitching it to producers, production companies, agents, and managers or finding distributors and sales reps to distribute your films.
Key Components to a Good Query Letter
Think of your query letter as a door opener to get an editor at a publishing company or an agent to want to know more. Consider it a marketing pitch letter to elicit a quick response by phone or email.
A successful query letter is characterized by these key qualities:
- It is short and to the point, about 300-400 words, and ideally no more than 500-600 words. It should start off with a one to two sentence summary of your project, along with a brief introduction of yourself if you have achieved a high-profile or success with other books. Then, add one or two more paragraphs expanding on the book. Conclude with a brief bio about you and how you can help market and promote your book. You can use bullet points or chapter listings to highlight the contents, especially if this is a non-fiction books. Or if you have a fiction book, bullet points are ideal to feature the main plot points. Keep this letter simple and avoid unnecessary detail, because one of the biggest mistakes writers make is to say too much, such as by listing many plot twists and turns or multiple characters in a novel, so the story becomes hard to follow. Likewise, keep your biography to a paragraph of two or three sentences in which you feature the highlights, especially those related to the book you are pitching. Avoid listing long-ago achievements and less relevant accomplishments, such as getting an article published in a poetry magazine or academic journal, or getting a BA in English or Creative Writing. Emphasize what you are doing now.
- Begin with a strong subject line, which highlights what your book is about. Think of this like a short, impactful summary statement to make the editor or agent open the letter. For example, to indicate the kind of book this is, you might begin with a phrase such as: “Nonfiction history book,” “Self-help book,” “Romance novel,” or “Sci-fi thriller.” Then follow with the word “about” after which you describe the essence of the book in 10-15 words. Avoid being vague or using hype, such as calling this a “Powerful unique breakthrough book” which could refer to anything as well as being a turn-off, because it sounds like overinflated sales copy. Use either Sentence or Title Case to write your subject, and avoid ALL CAPS, which comes across as shouting in an email.
- After describing the book and its selling points, briefly highlight your background, including any past PR and how you will support the book in the future. Today, what editors and agents call the author’s “platform” is very important, given our celebrity and media driven culture. While the first hurdle is showing the appeal and uniqueness of your book in a crowded marketplace, the next big hurdle is showing you have the credentials and ability to help promote your book. At one time, publishers used to do their own publicity to launch a book, but now they look to authors who already have the authority and visibility to promote their book in various ways, from having a large number of social media followers to having a high-profile media presence. As much as possible, show your platform by including relevant credentials, such as having published articles and website on this topic, being involved in related organizations, getting publicity in the mainstream media for past accomplishments, and doing a weekly blog or radio show with many thousands of followers.
Assuming your letter has gotten the recipient’s interest, indicate you would be glad to submit more information, such as a more detailed synopsis, proposal, sample chapters, or the complete manuscript. Avoid thanking the recipient for his or her time in reading your query, since you should present yourself as offering the recipient a chance to represent or publish a great book.
When you send your letter, it’s best to send it as a simple text letter without any attachments or graphics, since such letters are more likely to be received and read. Save any attachments, such as a proposal, for a follow-up letter, since many people don’t open such emails from people they don’t know, though you can include links to websites, photos, and videos.
How and Why Publishers, Agents & Films Works
Many writers ask why and how Publishers, Agents & Films works, and how they can know if it will work for them.
Publishers, Agents & Films has worked very well for nearly 14 years, originally as Publishing and Agents – because it helps writers directly connect to publishers, literary agents, film producers, production companies, film agents and managers, and others in the publishing and film industries. The service streamlines the process of making this connection by using special software, so the letter comes from each writer’s own email and is sent directly to the particular contact by name. Plus the service helps writers write a good pitch letter, which ironically, many writers can’t do, because this is a marketing letter, and they are doing a different type of writing.
Sometimes writers ask, “Why can’t I do this myself?” Well, if you want to take the time and effort, you can. But it might take you 20 to 40 hours to obtain the industry information to create the database Publishers, Agents & Films has put together from industry sources. Also, we do mailings to test whether the emails are still viable and if the publishing and film professionals are open to contacts from writers. In addition, unless you have purchased your own software or subscription, you have to do these mailings individually to each contact in your mailing, which can take hours.
Then, too, you have to purchase the directories and industry sources which Publishers, Agents & Films obtains to create its databases – which can cost you several hundred dollars. But we have already created these databases with thousands of contacts, and we have special software so it appears that the email comes directly from each writer. At the same time, each contact is addressed personally, rather than the query appearing like a generic pitch.
Another thing Publishers, Agents & Films does that makes the service successful is that an editor reviews every letter that goes out to make sure it is effective – or the service arranges for a skilled writer to write the letter. Often writers think they can write their own letter; after all, they are a writer. But they commonly make many mistakes – from errors to formatting to not writing a clear, persuasive letter.
For example, they don’t include a subject line or their subject line is too vague, general, or filled with sales hype. They provide too much detail about their book, script, or themselves, rather than making their letter short and to the point. Or they don’t provide enough detail, so their description of their book or script is too vague and general, like their subject line. And on and on. That’s why a Publishers, Agents & Films editor reviews every letter, makes some minor editing fixes or tells the writer what to do to create an effective letter. Or they write a good letter for the client.
he effectiveness of this approach is shown by the company’s long history as a business and by the many testimonials we have gotten from writers, filmmakers, and professionals in the industry. Even agents have used the company for their clients, and its clients have included a famous director, the grandson of a famous novelist, and many writers who have published multiples books before and are now looking for a new publisher or agent.
As a business, the company’s history goes back to December 2003, when it was first founded, and the first test of the database led to the founder’s sale of a book to Random House: DO YOU LOOK LIKE YOUR DOG?, which led to numerous reviews and guest appearances, including on Good Morning America. The company was also featured in articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Contra Costa Times, soon after its founding. It has sent out letters for over 1000 clients, and it has featured over 260 testimonials to the effectiveness of the service on its website. For a time, the founder worked as a consultant and writer when the company was taken over for nearly eight years by new owners, and now Publishers, Agents & Films is a successor to this business led by the founder.
Another question frequently asked by writers is whether an equerry by the service will work for them; are there any guarantees? That is a question that can’t be answered until the writer sends out a query, because the writer’s success will ultimately depend on the manuscript or script, and not everyone will be successful in the very competitive fields of publishing and film production. So there can’t be any guarantees, because there is no way to know what the result will be in a particular case.
On average, though, writers get about 10-20 requests for more information on their book or script, and then about a third of these writers find agents or publishing deals. In some cases, writers can build up their ability to interest a publisher in their current or next book by self-publishing to build a platform for sales, speaking, and media interest. And Publishers, Agents & Films can help a writer with self-publishing and PR, too.
In summation, Publishers, Agents & Films has a proven ability to help connect writers with publishers, agents, and the film industry, and these connections have led to many success stories, including a few six figure deals for some writers. Given the competitiveness nature of the business, an e-query can’t work for every writer.
But most writers do get a request from the recipients of their mailings to learn more, and about a third ultimately find agents or get publishing deals – which is a much higher rate of success than for the industry as a whole, since agents, publishers, producers, and production companies get thousands of submissions for the few books or scripts they accept.
At the very least, Publishers, Agents & Films streamlines the connection process, so writers can more quickly and efficiently send out their queries and get responses from several hundred or a few thousand contacts in the publishing and film industries.
How to Decide Which Publisher to Work With
How do you decide which publisher to go with if you have publisher interest? If you have already chosen an agent to work with, the answer is simple. Usually, you will turn over the contact information for each publisher and the agent will follow-up, along with contacting other publishers the agents feel is right for your book. Then, your agent will recommend which publisher or publishers to negotiate with and work out the details.
However, if you don’t have an agent, you will need to decide yourself and negotiate any agreement on your own or perhaps with some input from an attorney. Though make sure your attorney is familiar with publishing; otherwise the attorney may bring up some points that are not negotiable and could kill the deal.
When you do have multiple publishers or any publisher interested, the initial process is much like what you would do in evaluating an agent. You do an assessment to decide the best fit, and after that, if there is more than one publisher in the running, look to your intuition or gut feelings to help you decide.
As part of this assessment, look at the size of the publisher. If it is one of the big six, now five, including any of the big five’s imprints, that’s usually a strong plusfor that publisher, since the clout of a big publisher will increase your credibility and is likely to result in better distribution, promotion, and sales, though there are no guarantees.
In the event that you have more than one editor from a publishing house interested in your book, you need to tell them about this situation. A good way to do this is to initially work with the first editor who has expressed interest and let the other editors know. You can explain that you weren’t sure who to contact and let the editors work it out for themselves who will handle your book.
Next, in conducting your assessment, look at the different books the publisher handles to see what other books have been published in your category. There should be others for this to be a good fit. You can get a sense of how well these books have done by looking at each title on Amazon and checking the ranking – the lower the number the better. Consider any rank under 10,000 to be a good showing. Generally, the other books that have been published will be in your subject area (i.e.: business books, self-help books, general interest, etc.). But sometimes a publisher may want to move into a new area or create a new imprint for a different type of book, which is fine. In fact, a publisher may even give these books a greater promotion to establish the category. However, if there’s clearly a mismatch and this is a small publisher, this could be a warning sign, such as if you have a business book or memoir and the publisher is specializing in health and nutrition books.
Another important consideration is the size of the advance, since this is often the only money you will get, because the majority of books don’t make out their advance. On the other hand,, some small publishers only start with a small advance or even no advance, and their books do well, plus they may have a good reputation in the field. So that could offset a low advance if the publisher is otherwise a good fit for your book. Generally, for a book from a new author, you can expect about $5000-20,000 from a larger publisher and about $1000-5000 from a smaller publisher, though in some cases, especially if this is an academic press, there will be no advance and limited sales. But the prestige of the house can make the sale worth it and open up doors for future books.
Consider, too, how enthusiastic the editor and marketing team is about your book. Ask about the publisher’s plans for distribution and promotion, as well as what the marketing and PR people expect you to do. Often publishers expect authors to pick up much of the promotional effort after their publicity department sends out about 50-200 review copies. So assess how much the publisher plan to do for your book in comparison to other interested publishers.
Also, review the contract you are offered. Many terms are fairly standard, such as a 10-15% royalty on hardcover retail sale or net receipts from paperback book sales, which start at 10% and go up with increased sales. A standard royalty on e-book sales is now 25%, though some publishers may offer up to 40%. Usually, publishers offer 50% of net receipts on the sale of other rights, such as serial rights, foreign sales, and video rights. These are details which you can work out once you decide on a particular publisher, and they are less important in making a decision on which publisher to choose.
However, one clause to be careful about – and which most publishers are willing to drop – is the first option on future books clause. While it is reasonable to have an option on books on the same or a related subject or have a non-compete clause about your publishing other books on this topic that might undermine sales, it is not reasonable to tie up any of your books in the future, especially if you write books on different topics. So the publisher should be willing to strike such an option; if not, that’s a warning about working with that publisher.
Another caution, as in dealing with agents, is that you should not be asked to pay the publisher to publish your book. While there may be an exception for some academic publishers, where academics are asked to help subsidize the publication of their book because of the “publish or perish” syndrome and the limited sales of most academic books for a specialized audience, trade publishers should not ask for any payment. Even if the publisher is asking for extensive rewrites, this should be something you do yourself or hire your own editor. But it is a conflict of interest if a publisher has its own pay to play editorial service. The publisher should make its money from publishing, not from editing manuscripts of the writers it publishes. And normally, publishers only take on books when the manuscripts are ready to go or require very little editing, apart from line or copy editing, which publishers normally do as a matter of course, with no charge to the writer.
In some cases, a traditional publisher may expect a writer to commit to buy a certain number of books. But unless you are likely to sell that number of books, say on the speaker circuit, cross that publisher off your list. Also avoid any publisher who has a substantial charge for publishing your book, even with a promise of a much higher than usual royalty rate (ie: 40% of net versus a more usual 10-15%), since that is often the sign of a vanity or author subsidized publisher, where the publisher has little distribution and its main income is coming from authors who are paying to publish their books. If that’s the only alternative, it’s better to self-publish than turn your book over to a vanity press.
If after weighing these various factors, you are still left with several contenders, focus on how enthusiastic the publisher is about your book and how you feel about working with that editor and publisher. For now, you are ready to let your intuition or gut level feelings help you decide.
And if you only have one interested publisher, the question is whether you want to work with that publisher or not. If not, you can always self-publish, seek to build sales and your platform, and then try to sell the book to a mainstream publisher. You can use the same title if the book does well, or if not, you can always change the title and pitch it again.
* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
How to Decide What Agent to work With
Say you have sent out queries to agents and now have to weigh offers from multiple agents or decide if you want one interested agent to represent you. Ultimately, your decision may come down to a matter of personal chemistry – who you would like to work with. But before you trust your intuition or gut to make the decision, find out what you can about any interested agents and weigh what that agent can do for you.
In some cases, writers living near an agent may get to meet personally, but normally a face-to-face meeting with an agent isn’t common or necessary. You can easily use the phone, fax, email, Skype, or mobile apps to communicate. And for most agents, it’s fine that you are considering multiple agents at the same time. They recognize that choosing an agent is a little like getting married or at least getting involved in an exclusive dating arrangement. Before then, the agent is assessing both your manuscript and what it will be like to work with you, just as you are assessing whether this is the right agent for you.
Normally, figure on a few days to make your assessment. In the event, you get a request from an agent for an exclusive period to look at your manuscript, such a request is rare and is usually from a smaller agent, who may not be your first choice anyway. So unless an agent asking for an exclusive really is your first choice, I would regard these requests this way. Just because the agent has asked for an exclusive, you don’t have to say “yes” to an offer of representation, and I typically regard this request for an exclusive as more like asking for a right of first refusal. You should not let such a request hold you up from following up with other agents at the same time.
Generally, there is no reason to tell other agents what other agents have expressed interest in your manuscript, just as you don’t need to tell a person on a first date about who else you are dating. The one exception is if the agents are from the same agency. Then, you need to tell both agents or if you have already sent your material to one agent, tell the agent who contacts you next that you have been in touch with this other agent. Additionally, explain that you didn’t know who to contact in that agency, and if that agent wishes he or she can talk to the first agent and they can decide between them who might like to represent you. Then, weigh that agent against any agents who have expressed interest in other agencies.
To help you determine what to do, keep a list of the agents who have expressed interest in our project, along with their agency name, website, and contact information.
Then, once you have determined what agents are interested, the next step is to do some research both by asking the agent some questions and by doing some research on the Internet. Be aware of the likely responses and what to expect.
First, there are typically standards that all agents adhere to – generally the agent’s commission is 15% for U.S. sales and 20-25% for foreign sales, since an agent will typically work through a foreign agent and share royalties, though some agents will handle foreign sales themselves. So don’t try to negotiate commission percentages.
Secondly, pay attention to any options clause or agreement for the agent to represent more than the one book or group of books, such as a trilogy, you are pitching together. In some cases, an agent will ask to represent you on all of your books now or in the future or both, until a representation agreement is terminated. I even had one agent who wanted a one year continuation of rights to a manuscript after the agreement was terminated. Ideally, start with the agent representing one manuscript and see how it goes, before committing everything to an agent. Generally, if there is any option, it’s best to limit this to a first option on future similar manuscripts, unless the agreement is terminated.
Whatever you agree about representation for one or multiple books, the agent will expect to get a commission on all future royalties on any sale to a publisher that agent contacted, even if the sale is made after the contract is terminated. In the event an agent wants to tie you into a longer relationship on future projects from the outset that can be a caution to stay away. But if the relationship works out, of course, you will want to have the agent represent you on even more projects. Ideally, though, seek to have the agent represent just one project to start, though if you have similar projects which would appeal to the same target audience, it’s fine to agree that the agent can represent them in the future, too, unless the agreement is terminated.
Third, just as an agent will want to know about your platform, you want to know about the agent’s track record. Normally an agent will be glad to tell you about successful sales to publishers. In fact, agents often have this information prominently displayed on their websites. While the sales price of different books may be confidential, you might ask about what the agent typically gets from a sale, so you have a ballpark figure of what to expect. The past track record of the agent – and how long the agent has been in business – are important qualities to consider.
Fourth, ask the agent what he or she expects to gain from your book and get a sense of how eager the agent is to represent you, since you want an agent who passionately believes in your book. Commonly, agents won’t take on a project for an author unless they believe in you and their ability to sell your book. But there are levels of passion and in the agent’s time and ability to represent you, along with other clients. So assess how committed the agent is to representing you.
Additionally, you might check out the agent on the Internet to see what others have said about that agent and if there any negative reports, such as on the website Preditors and Editors (www.pred-ed.com) . If so, any negative comments are a warning sign, though you might ask the agent about this, since the posting could be from a disgruntled writer whose book the agent wasn’t able to sell through no fault of his or her own.
Another caution is if the agent asks for any money from you or has a related business of editing manuscripts and asks you to pay for a review or for editing your manuscript. A small monetary contribution might be appropriate, should the agent have to pay for any long distance phone calls, copying or postage for sending out manuscripts, or messengering services to deliver a manuscript quickly. However, in today’s Internet age, most of these expenses no longer exist, since phone calls, except to another country, are normally free and manuscripts are commonly sent via PDF or Word documents. But if there are any small charges, often an agent will simply keep you informed and deduct them from the sale of the manuscript. In any agreement, you should be able to approve any charges over a certain amount – say $50, though most contracts now don’t require any author expenses.
In the event an agent does do editing or ghostwriting, this is fine if it’s a separate business. But an agent shouldn’t ask to edit or polish your manuscript as a requirement for representing you, since that’s a conflict of interest. Sometimes agents will at no charge give you extensive feedback about making changes in a manuscript, and then it’s up to you to make the changes. But the agent shouldn’t ask you to hire him or her as an editor, since any offer of representation should come with no strings attached – and typically agents will only want to represent a project that is ready to go – or involves very few final edits.
Finally, after you have assessed the agent based on these criteri, that’s when it’s time to listen to your intuition or gut in deciding whether you want to work with that agent. Or if there are multiple agents you might like to work with, consider how you feel about working with each of these agents, for ultimately your choice should come down a matter of personal chemistry and which agent you feel will do the best job for you based on your agent assessments.
* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD.
How To Decide What Publisher or Agent to Work With When Both are Interested
While many writers are ecstatic when they get one publisher or agent to express interest in publishing or representing their manuscript, in many cases, writers get multiple offers to publish or represent them. So what do you do then? How do you choose which publisher or agent to go with? Or even if you only have a single offer, should you go with that publisher or agent ? Or should you try another approach, such as sending an improved query letter or proposal, waiting 6 months to a year to develop a platform, or using self-publishing to build your platform?
The following guidelines will help you decide when you have interest from both agents and publishers. The next sections will describe what to do if you have interest from agents or publishers.
When you have interest from both agents and publishers, that’s a happy situation to be in. First, decide if you want to work with one of the agents, as discussed in the next section. This is a good choice, if you can work with a good agent, since the agent can contact additional publishers the agent works with, as well as follow-through with the publishers who have already expressed interest to you and help you get a better deal. An agent will also know about contracts, so he or she can advise you on what to expect and where you can negotiate and where you can’t. (For example, you can often get rid of a first option clause on your next book, keep the film and audio rights, or get a higher percentage if you initiate a contact that results in a sale. But you normally can’t do much to increase the advance or the royalty rate, though you might get a graduated increase to kick in sooner for sales above a certain level).
Your agent should be receptive to your initial query to publishers which has resulted in publisher interest. Most agents will be, since this positive response gives the agent a lead on interested publishers. You then need to refer any of these publishers to that agent, and let the agent know of any publishers who have turned down your query or your proposal or manuscript, if a publisher asked to see that. Later, should you get a further response from any publishers, you need to refer them to your agent. A good way to do this is by keeping a list or spreadsheet indicating how publishers have responded to whatever you have sent to them. The agent needs this information, since he or she doesn’t want to be embarrassed by initiating a contact with editors you have already contacted or in following through when a publisher has already said no.
Generally, under this arrangement, agents will get their normal 15% commission when they follow-up with your leads, although in some cases, I have worked with agents who have taken 10% or even 7 ½% for following-up, while getting 15% for their own contacts. However, this may not always be a good idea, since the agent’s incentive will be to pursue his or her own leads and might not follow up as enthusiastically with your leads. Plus, if you are a new writer, you have to be careful that this offer to pay the agent less for follow-up with your contacts could backfire and the agent could walk away. So tread lightly if you raise this possibility, and if the agent is reluctant, don’t pursue it. Generally this approach for the agent to talk less will work best with the smaller agents who are less established; while the larger, more established agents will be more apt to turn it down.
In some cases, this joint arrangement can work very well when you are working with a new but enthusiastic agent. Often such an agent may have had extensive experience in publishing by working as an editor for a publisher. But due to layoffs resulting from consolidations in the publishing field, the former editor may have become an agent, who is now building up a list of contacts. If you can approach publishers by sending out query letters, the agent may be very willing to follow-up, whereas a long-time agent may already have developed a list of contacts and be less receptive to do this. In any event, once you have an agent, ask how the agent would like to work with you in the future in contacting additional publishers and take your lead from the agent.
* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Contract Terms to Avoid or Negotiate with Publishers
The last few sections described the various contract clauses you might encounter and what to do about them. Here is a summary of the major clauses to ask the publisher to delete or change (or ask your agent to make the request on your behalf, if your agent doesn’t already plan to suggest these changes). In many cases, publishers will readily make these changes; in some cases, they will offer a compromise; in other cases, they will say they can’t make the change.
Editors commonly have a general idea of what changes they can make, and they might be able to agree to some change on the spot. In other cases, they will have to ask the senior, managing, or executive editor above them or the publisher. Sometimes they will simply say no, because they know they can’t do something. Then, it’s up to you to decide if you can live with the changes the publisher agrees to make.
In general, if you see a lot of changes you would like to request, ask for the changes or deletions which are most important to you, and don’t ask for minor changes, so you don’t come across as difficult to work with. Following are some of the major contract clauses to ask to include, delete or change if they appear or don’t appear in a contract offered to you.
- Ask that the copyright be registered in your name (or your company name), whatever the arrangements for registering or paying for the copyright fee. (It’s only $35 to $55 and takes about 20 minutes to register online, so whoever files the registration shouldn’t be a big deal. Many publishers register the copyright in the author’s name as a matter of course, but to be sure it gets filed, you can check the record of copyright filings, or do it yourself.
- Indicate the approximate length and delivery date of the manuscript, based on what is realistic for you to do. Ideally, ask to submit the manuscript by email only, but agree to provide one or two hard copies if requested.
- Ask that you can keep any advance paid to you if the publisher decides not to publish the manuscript for any reason after you deliver it, or alternatively that you only have to return the money if you find another publisher. (However, if you don’t deliver the manuscript, then you do have an obligation to return the advance).
- Ask to exclude from the grant of rights the subsidiary rights which are unrelated to the actual publication of your manuscript, if you are able to exploit these rights yourself. If you aren’t able to do so, leave them with the publisher, or ask for a non-exclusive arrangement whereby you can initiate agreements as well as the publisher. If so, see if you can negotiate a higher percentage of these subsidiary rights paid to you (such as 75-25 or 60-40 to you and the publisher respectively).
In particular, some of the rights to exclude if the publisher is agreeable are:
- foreign language rights
- film, TV, and dramatization rights
- commercial and merchandising rights
- Limit the non-compete clause by asking that the contract specify exactly what types of subjects are considered to be competing, and keep this list as narrow as possible, such as specifying that you cannot write a book for another publisher on problems with drugs and addiction rather than writing books on mental health issues or self-help topics generally.
- Ask to delete any first option on future books or limit any first option to books on a limited selection of topics related to your book. If the publisher does have the right to look at a future manuscript as a first option, limit the length of time for the publisher to decide as much as possible – ideally 30 days or 60 maximum. If you plan to write or pitch a number of other books on various topics, consider this first option requirement a deal breaker, because it will interfere with your ability to find another publisher on future books.
- If the publisher indicates that paying for an index is the author’s responsibility, see if you can change this arrangement, so that the index is unnecessary or the publisher pays for it. If you still have to pay, see if you can reduce the price by getting your own quotes for someone to do the index to the publishers specs or by creating the word list for the indexer, so your cost of indexing will be less.
- While the publisher normally has the right to decide on the title and cover design, ask if you can submit your own suggestions, subject to the publisher’s approval.
- If the royalty rate is lower than the usual standards in the industry, see if you can increase it to common standards, such as 10% of net on a paperback book with increases to 12-15% of net after 5000 in sales. Likewise, if the publisher is only a 25% royalty rate on electronic sales, try to raise it to 40%.
- In the case of subsidiary rights that remain with the publisher, if you are in a position to locate potential buyers, try to work out an arrangement where you and the publisher can both pitch these rights. Also, seek an increase in the percentage to you if you initiate the sale, such 75-25 or 60-40 in your favor.
- Try to increase the amount of the advance, though suggst a reasonable increase based on the original offer. For example, if a publisher is offering $10,000, ask to increase it to $15,000; if the offer is for $5000, ask for an increase to $7000 or $8000; if the offer is for $2000, ask to increase it to $3000; if the publisher is offering no advance, try for a nominal advance to show the publisher is at least serious, such as $500 or $1000.
- While a common arrangement is getting half up front, ask if you can get the full advance if you have already completed the book. If the publisher is proposing to pay the second half of the advance on publication, ask if you can get this payment on acceptance.
- If there is a long delay in receiving the advance payment for signing, acceptance, or publication, ask if you can get the time for the payment reduced, say to 10 to 30 days instead of 45 to 60 days.
- While the advance payment is all you are likely to see unless the book does very well, see if you can get any future statements or payments in a shorter amount of time if there is several months delay between the close of a statement period and the issuing of a royalty check. For example, if there is a delay of several months, see if you can get the check issued in 45-60 days.
- Try to get more author’s copies sent to you, since you can use them to help with PR (and you can also sell them, though don’t use that as a reason to get more free books). For example, if you are only going to get 2 to 5 books, ask for 10 copies. Or if you are scheduled to get 10 copies, ask for 20 to 25 copies. But only ask if you are realistically going to do something with these books.
- If there is an option clause on future books, ask the publisher to delete this, or if the publisher insists on including one, limit it to the topic of the book the publisher is publishing (much like in limiting the non-compete clause). Also, limit the time the publisher has to consider the option clause, ideally to 30 days or 60 at most
- For the reversion of rights clause, if there is no specific indication of the number of sales to trigger this reversion, ask that the publisher put in a certain number of sales per year after an initial publication period (such as after 2 or 3 years). For example, the floor might be sales of less than 100 copies, or even 25 or 50 copies, but include something. Otherwise the publisher could technically have the rights forever, because in today’s market, something may continue to be in print indefinitely, due to the electronic books marketplace, where files of books can live on forever. Whatever the arrangements, the publisher should be allowed to sell off any stock it still has for a reasonable period, say 2 years, and you should get paid the normal royalty on those sales based on the rate already agreed upon for royalties.
- Make sure that you get the rights back if a publisher goes bankrupt or out of business rather than having the right to buy back the rights and any remaining copies at a value to be determined, which could end up be too high a price for being able to get your rights back and move on.
- If the publisher has a pay-to-play clause, where you are expected to commit to buy a certain number of books, ask to delete this clause. As long as there is some number of books to buy, you are essentially ending up in a self-publishing deal under the color of the publisher’s brand. But unless you have a way to sell these books through workshops, seminars, or online marketing, you are ending up with a lot of books you can’t do anything with, and even if any advance royalty payment is deducted, your commitment to purchase books could end up costing you $10,000, $25,000, $50,000 or more to buy all of the books.
* * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D
Dealing with Royalties and Payment Arrangements
Probably the one section of the contract that involves the most negotiation is the royalty rate, size of the advance, and payment arrangements.
If there will be a hardcover version of your book, a common arrangement is 10 to 15% of the retail or the net price (which is about 50-60% of the retail price). Often the royalty is figured on a sliding scale, such as 10% for the first 5000 copies sold, 12% on the next 5000, and 15% on sales of more than 10,000 copies. The particular numbers can vary, but commonly, there is no hardcover book, since most books are now published as paperbacks or ebooks, and some companies only want ebook rights, with the typical royalty rates and advances outlined below.
The royalty rate can vary somewhat depending on how much the publishers wants your book, and the advance can vary even more, based on the number of copies the publisher thinks your book will sell at what amount in the first year, and then you get offered a percentage of that. This is where your negotiation skills are best exercised and where working with a good agent can sometimes get you more – even much more – than you can get yourself, making the 15% or sometimes 20% you pay the agent well worth it. But assuming you are dealing directly with the publisher, here are some things to consider.
The Royalty Rate
A common arrangement is to be paid by the publisher based on the net receipts, which is the gross income the publisher gets from the sales of the book less any returns and a reasonable reserve for returns – typically about 20%. Usually, you can expect 7-10% of the net receipts, with an increase after the first 5000 copies to 10-12%. But if copies are sold at a discount of 50% or more, outside the US, or a special retail offer, the royalty commonly drops to 5% of net. In the event books are sold to book clubs or other organizations, corporations, or the U.S. government , or are sold for use as a premium, the royalty might be even less, such as 4% of net. And remaindered sales, where the publisher decides to drop the book and is selling off its current stock, the royalty might be similarly reduced, say to 4% or less, and if the books are remaindered at cost, you may get nothing other than a first option offer to buy any books at this heavily discounted cost.
In the case of ebooks or any sales in electronic form, the royalty is commonly 25% of the publisher’s net receipts, though some publishers will pay as much as 40%. It doesn’t hurt to ask about this if the royalty amount stated in the agreement is less than 40%
Sometimes a publisher may also add a clause about paying a reduced royalty when there is a low printing in a given year, such as 1500 copies or less. Then, the royalty may shrink to 5%.
You might find a little give in the different royalty rates if you ask. If not, it is generally best to accept those terms if you want to work with that publisher, since commonly, books don’t earn out their advance. So the most important number is the advance you will get and how you will receive it. A common arrangement is to get half of the advance up front and the second half on acceptance or publication. If possible, try to get this last advance payment on acceptance, which will usually occur a month or two after you submit the final manuscript, whereas a final payment on publication generally won’t come for about a year or more, which is the common gap between getting the contract and publishing the book.
Royalty Splits on Subsidiary Rights
Subsidiary rights involve deals with third parties, such as foreign language publishers, film and TV producers, and product merchandisers. This is where you can often negotiate the rights you are giving to the publisher and those you are retaining, and the percentage split between you and the publisher. A standard arrangement is 50-50, unless you work out a different split.
The particular subrights to negotiate are those you are still splitting with the publisher, based on your agreement in the grant of rights section. If you have retained a particular right, it shouldn’t be listed in this section which outlines the author’s and publisher’s percentage, since the publisher no longer has any interest in this right. If the right which you own exclusively is listed, request it be deleted, since the publisher doesn’t have that particular subright. For example, in some cases, authors retain the foreign translation rights, dramatization, film and TV rights, and the commercial and/or merchandising rights, or if it’s an ebook only deal, you retain the paperback and hardback rights.
While the usual split is 50-50, you can sometimes request a different split in your favor, such as 75-25 or 60-40, if you initiate the licensing of the book in another language or make the arrangements for a film, TV show, or theatrical piece based on our book. Likewise, if you can set up deals with gift, stationery, toy, or other manufacturers to produce a product based on your book, you might get 75-50. However, before asking for a change in the usual split,, consider if you are realistically going to do any outreach to set up these deals. If not, don’t ask for this exception. If you do plan to do any outreach, work out with the publisher how that will work. One good arrangement might be for you to each have a non-exclusive right to initiate contact with third parties, but then any agreement must be subject to the approval of the publisher.
The advance is what the publisher agrees to pay you as an advance against future royalties and other earnings. Most commonly you can expect half up front, usually within 30 to 45 days of signing the contract by both the author and publisher. Then, you get the balance on acceptance or publication of the manuscript, with that payment to come within 30 to 45 days of that event. Ideally, seek to get that second or last half of the advance on acceptance rather than publication, since you can expect an acceptance within a month or two after you turn in the manuscript or after the due date if you turn your manuscript in early, whereas your book may not be published for a year or even more after that. If possible, ask for the payment within 30 days rather than 45, but this may be a schedule that can’t be changed, due to the publisher’s internal payment system.
In some cases, where a book is already completed or close to completion, you may be able to get the whole advance in a single payment on signing, especially if it is a small amount from a small publisher. But usually, there are the two payments, or sometimes even three or four paid out at different times as the manuscript is completed, such as when a manuscript involves extensive research over a period of time.
The arrangements about the index and who is to pay for it will commonly be included here, and often state that any payment for the index if created by the publisher will be deducted from the final advance or from future royalties to the author. If possible, seek to have any payment applied to future royalties rather than to the advance on the royalty, if you can’t exclude this payment entirely.
This section will also indicate that the author will not receive any further payments until the entire advanced has been earned out through royalties, sales of rights, or other monies due to the author. Moreover it will generally indicate that no royalties will be paid on complimentary copies given out by the publisher or on copies which are lost, damaged, or sold for less than the manufacturing cost. These are common publishing industry practices, so there is nothing to negotiate here.
What is most subject to negotiation – and what is most important to negotiate if you can – is the SIZE of the advance, since if the book doesn’t earn out its advance, that’s all the money you will see. If this is a small publisher, you will usually get a small advance, or sometimes even no advance, because this is all the publisher can afford. But if the company sincerely wants to publish your book, you may ultimately earn more on the back end than a big publisher might pay up-front, if the company’s efforts result in big sales. So don’t turn down a small or no advance publisher, especially if that’s your only option. But try to negotiate so you at least get a small amount – say $1000 to $3000, though some publishers may be firm in saying that they can only give you the smaller or no amount they are offering. Then, it’s up to you to decide whether the possibility of future earnings and getting your book published by a mainstream publisher is worth agreeing to publish with them versus self-publishing your book.
In any case, be realistic about the advance you are likely to get, based on the type of book, the target market, the likely sales to that market, your track record, and your platform. Also, be aware that the royalty advances for the “midlist” book – a book by an author who isn’t a well-known celebrity or high-profile expert on something – have gone down in the last five years, because of the increasingly celebrity-driven marketplace and the millions of authors who are writing for little or no money and self-publishing their own books. Plus royalty rates to most authors have gone down because of the growth of ebooks, which are usually less profitable for publishers. Generally, you can expect an advance of about $5000-15,000 for a non-fiction book in most categories, such as self-help, popular business, and memoir – about half what these advances used to be, though some authors will get more. Try to get more money up-front if you can, and make the case for this based on how you can support and promote the book, and how much awareness you have already created for yourself through past PR, speaking engagements, workshops, and the like.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Dealing with Editorial and Production Arrangements
Another key contract provision deals with editorial and production arrangements. This section refers to the requirement that you will review any gallery proofs within the time limit specified (generally 5 to 10 days after you receive them), and if you make any changes other than printer’s errors or in some agreements more changes than 10%, you will be billed against your royalties or any payment due on publication.
This clause may also require you to provide an index if the publisher feels one is necessary and to provide it yourself or to let the publisher do this at its expense and charge that against the author’s royalties or payments due on publication.
Also, this section gives the publisher the sole and exclusive right to decide on all aspects of the production and publishing process, including the choice of paper, jacket, cover design, and whether any advertising will be in the book. It further permits the publisher to send out complimentary copies to the recipients of its choice – generally members of the press, and permits the publisher to set the retail price in hardcover, paperback, and any other editions.
Generally, you can’t make changes in the proofing schedule, unless you have a good reason for not being able to meet the planned schedule (such as being out of the country during this time). Also, you normally can’t alter the agreement about making only a limited number of changes or you get charged for them, since presumably, you should make any changes in the copy as you go along, usually after you get input from the developmental or copy editor working with you on creating the final manuscript.
However, you might be able to change the requirements for an index or paying the bill for it, which typically costs about $450-500 for an index. One way is change this is to request that there be no index if the publisher initially wants one, and some publishers will agree, although others will indicate that indexes are always included in this line of books, and you have to accept this, though you can negotiate who pays for this.
In some cases, the publisher will agree to pick up the cost; in other cases, the publisher may agree to charge the index costs against future royalties, rather than charging the unpaid balance against your advance. Another way to cut down the price is to do the index yourself according to the publisher’s guidelines, figuring on about 3-5 hours to do this. Or you might reduce the cost by selecting the words for the index and letting the indexer determine the page numbers, using the software that indexers generally use to create the index. If you do this, figure it will take you about 1-2 hours to go through the manuscript for words, and the cost of the index will be about $150.
As for production arrangements, generally you need to let the publisher make the final decisions. It is rare for authors to have final design or cover approval, which is like allowing a director to have final cut approval. So normally, you can’t change this clause, although publishers will normally run a suggested title or cover by you for your input. This review by you doesn’t have to be included in the contract, although you might ask if the contract can include a statement that the editor or publisher will consult with the author on the title and cover design, while the final decision will be up to the publisher.
Likewise, it’s normally up to the publisher to set the price, based on the cost of the book, taking into consideration the number of pages, size of the book, initial print run, and the like. Publishers usually have the right to set the design and pricing for the electronic edition, too.
In the event you don’t meet the publisher’s production schedule or provide an acceptable manuscript, this contingency is covered in the “Delivery of Manuscript” provisions, which deals how you have to repay the publisher any advance. Of course, if there is no advance, there is nothing to repay, so if you find the demands of the publisher onerous, this could be a good reason to seek another publisher. If so, don’t provide the first publisher with an acceptable manuscript; then you can walk away from what you now consider a bad deal.
If a publisher is unable to publish your book within the time agreed upon or decides not to publish for any reason, other than some failing by you, as described in the delivery section, you get the rights back and get to keep any advance, though if you subsequently sell the book to another publisher, you may be obligated to return it. However, if there are changes in the manuscript and it is published by another publisher some months or a year or two later or even under another title, this can be hard to police.
If a publisher has paid you no advance, the publisher can generally later not publish with no penalty, which is why it is a good idea to get at least some advance, although some small publishers don’t pay them. Still, many do responsibly seek to publish your book, and they put the time and effort into doing so, as well as pay some editorial staff to edit it and set it up for publication. Thus, take into consideration the responsiveness of the publisher if you agree to a no advance contract.
After a few months, if they do not appear to be moving ahead in publishing your book, follow up to see what is happening, and if you are not satisfied, feel free to walk away. After all, you haven’t gotten an advance, and the publisher appears to have breached your agreement, so you can feel free to find another publisher, and if necessary, you can even change the title for an even cleaner break. In any case, it is likely that this first publisher can’t do anything to stop you from walking away from what appears to be a bad deal due to their lack of performance.
In sum, generally, you have to agree to the publisher’s editorial and production arrangements, though you might be able to get out of having an index, paying for it, or arranging for any payment to be taken out of future royalties, rather than taking them out of any payment to be made on the acceptance or publication of the final manuscript.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Dealing with Warranties, Indemnity, and the Grant of Rights
Other common contract clauses deal with warranties, indemnity, and the grant of rights, many of which are basic boilerplate. It is best to just leave most of them as is, rather than trying to nitpick small points, which could lead a publisher to think of you as a difficult writer, which would kill the deal. Just ask for changes in some of the more important terms, and you are likely to at least get some of them, or all of them in many cases. Here are details about dealing with warranties, indemnities, and the grant of rights.
–Warranties and Indemnity. This is a clause where you warrant that you (and any co-writers) are the sole author, originator, or owner of all of the copyrightable material in the work or that you have gotten the written permission for any material from someone else. You also agree that, if requested, you will show this written permission statement or letter to the publisher. Or alternatively, you agree that the publisher, if it wishes, can secure these rights at its own expense and charge those expenses against any sums due to you, including unpaid advances, or the publisher may require you to pay these fees, or it can reject the manuscript for a lack of permissions.
However, often there is no need for any permissions if you are relating your own experiences or are citing sources, such as articles, books, or websites, because of the fair use doctrine, whereby you can generally cite up to about 250 words from any source without needing to get permission.
You also warrant that you have the full power to enter into the agreement and there is nothing in the manuscript that is libelous or an invasion of privacy, and you further agree that any instruction or advice will not result in an injury to anyone. Or as necessary, you agree to include the appropriate warnings and safety precautions.
In addition, you agree to indemnify and hold the publisher harmless from any legal claims, suits, damages and related legal costs due to a breach of these warranties. Also, you agree that the publisher can remove or clarify any passages that its legal counsel deems actionable. Moreover, the publisher can extend your warranties to third parties, including the licensees of subsidiary rights, and these warranties and indemnities will survive even if the agreement is terminated. In some cases, this section indicates that the publisher will similarly indemnify you from any claims.
In general, consider this clause as boilerplate, and any legal action based on such causes outlined in this section is unlikely in the case of most books. So I generally accept this clause as is.
– Grant of Rights. In this section, you grant the publisher the right to produce, publish, license and sell the work, or any part of it, in various forms. Typically, this grant will include electronic rights, as well as audio rights, dramatization rights, film rights, TV rights, and commercial and merchandizing rights, usually on a sole and exclusive basis. In some contracts, these different rights are listed separately. This is where you might want to be more specific in what rights you are granting, based on the size and reach of the publisher, and what you can realistically do yourself in terms of marketing these other rights to potential buyers, such as film and TV producers.
In the royalties section of the contract, you might work out different percentage arrangements for the different rights, based on whether you make the connections and negotiations or the publisher does, though the basic split is 50-50 for the sale of subrights.
For example, if you are working with a small publisher and hope to reach out to the foreign markets yourself – or if you have a foreign agent you work with, you might only assign the publisher the English language rights, and you can even specify that these rights are only for certain countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Commonly, you need to give the publisher the electronic and print rights (although there are some companies that only want the e-book rights these days), but you can often reserve the audio rights, dramatization rights, film rights, TV rights, and commercial and merchandizing rights. However, in deciding what rights to seek for yourself, consider whether you are in a position to contact people in the film, TV, or other industries yourself.
If not, it may be better to leave these rights with the publisher. And often, a film or TV project based on the material in your book may turn out to be very different, so unless the book has sold well and you want to use the title, it may not be necessary to have the subrights to produce this new project.
This grant of rights section will also normally include a non-compete clause, or sometimes that clause is separated out as a separate section. However it is stated, much like in the non-compete clause, you agree not to create for anyone other than the publisher a work that is similar, covers essentially the same subject matter, or is likely to compete for sales with this work. Asking for these restrictions is certainly a reasonable request, if the publisher is investing in publishing and promoting your book. However, it is best to specify more clearly exactly what it means to say something is substantially similar, covers essentially the same subject matter or is likely to compete with the sales of this work.
For example, spell out what the book is about, so you limit the claims of what’s similar, the same subject matter, or what’s directly competitive. To illustrate, if your book is about caring for dogs, state this, so you are free to write books about other pets or animals generally or even write a humor book with a cartoon dog character. Or say you are writing a serious book about the criminal justice or political system. You might clarify what your content covers, so you might be free to do a true crime book or memoir of a criminal or politician. In other words, consider what you want to write about in the future, so you can specify in this clause the particular nature of your book, so any restrictions only applies to that.
In some cases, this section may also specify that you have to give the publisher a first option on any related books, or a first option generally. In this case, where you are writing about a related topic, you might agree to submit the book, with the understanding that within 30 days, the publisher will either publish on the same terms as the first book, but then you have the right to pitch the book elsewhere. Another variation on this first option clause is that the publisher has the right to match any bona fide offer which you get from another publisher.
It seems reasonable to include such an option when the book is related or a follow-up book to the one the publisher is publishing. But ideally, request that any first option clause be deleted from the contract, because it can be a hassle to have to submit books to the publisher on other subjects, particularly if these are books that wouldn’t be of interest to the publisher. Moreover, if your book is being published by a small or medium sized publisher, you want to be able to find a larger publisher for subsequent books.
In any case, publishers will normally agree to delete any first option clause, and if not, this could be a deal breaker. For example, I publish books on a wide variety of topics, and I would not want to limit myself with a right of first refusal or option clause, and as long as the book is not directly competitive with the book they are publishing, I have found that publishers readily agree to delete the clause.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Should You Find a Publisher or Self-Publish
A question that writers frequently ask is whether to find a publisher or self-publish a book, since the world of publishing has become so competitive and yet easier to get published than ever due to new technologies. Today, there are over 1 million books published each year, the vast majority of them self-published, although the average self-published book sells about 150 copies or less a year.
Ideally, if you can find a publisher, this provides the credibility of having an established publisher. Also, a publisher will already have channels of distribution for getting your book to the market. While modern technology makes it easy to publish a book – even in a matter of hours once you have the finished manuscript, the big hurdle is distribution and promotion. So even if you can make more for each sale with a self-published book – commonly 50-70% of the purchase price, compared to 10-15% of the net sales price with a book from a publisher, the problem is you will usually sell much less.
Thus, if possible, it is best to find a major, or even a medium or small-sized publisher, unless you already have a big network or targeted market for your book, and you have the time to handle the distribution, marketing, and promotion yourself. However, it is also very competitive to find a publisher today, since aside from liking your manuscript, most publishers want an author to have an already established platform, which means having national visibility and a strong following in the social media, such as on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Still, some publishers are willing to work with a new author if they really like your book and see the potential for building a platform quickly. Then, too, if you are willing to do more to help with promotion, such as by hiring your own publicist or arranging a tour to several cities, this can help to tip a publisher in your favor.
Accordingly, it is a good idea to first see if you can find a publisher before you self-publish, either by contacting a publisher directly or through an agent. While many editors at the bigger publishers want authors to come to them through agents, editors at smaller and medium-sized publishers are commonly open to deal with authors directly. In turn, as an equery service which sends out email letters to publishers and agents, the Publishing Connection (www.thepublishingconnection.com) can help you quickly contact several hundred editors and agents in a single mailing through a targeted email which is personalized to each contact using your own email. You don’t have to spend dozens of hours assembling a list of editors or agents to contact and then individually sending out each query letter.
Then, interested editors and agents will typically ask to see a proposal with introduction to your book and one to three sample chapters. As a result, even if you have completed your manuscript, create a 10-15 page proposal to provide an overview of your book, along with a chapter by chapter outline, review of the market, bio information, and a promotional plan for publicizing your book. Commonly, agents and publishers will ask for this if interested in your book, so you should be ready to respond with this within one to two weeks of sending out your query.
Sending out a query can also help you test the waters, even before you have written your manuscript, to see if there is sufficient interest to write it. Then, if you don’t already have a proposal, be ready to quickly write it and one or two sample chapters, so you can follow-up in a timely way.
While you will commonly hear back in response to a query in a day or two, sometimes within hours, it will generally take several weeks or a month or two before a publisher will decide to publish. It is usually best to wait and not self-publish during this time, since self-publishing will generally kill a sale, unless you can show a huge number of sales, which can then gain you an even better deal. However, for most self-published books, this kind of volume is rare, so it is best to wait – or if your self-published book has had limited sales, you can always change the title for your book and submit it as a new manuscript.
In the event you don’t find a publisher, you can always self-publish, market, and distribute the book yourself. But ideally, unless it is a book with a special niche you can readily target or you are doing speaking, seminars, or workshops or have a website where you can sell your book, start by looking for a publisher first.
* * * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
The Steps to Write Your Book, Find Publishers and Agents, and Get Published
Here’s a quick overview of things to keep in mind when you write your book, look for publishers and agents, or decide to publish your book yourself.
Writing Your Book
• Collect your blogs, articles, or journal notes into a book
• Use transcripts from your workshops, seminars, or talks to groups
• Do interviews and have them transcribed
• Develop a chapter by chapter outline for what to include and target future blogs, articles, journal postings, interviews, etc. to fill in each chapter
• Dedicate 1-2 hours a day for writing, or consider a ghostwriter
What You Need to Pitch Your Book to a Traditional Publisher
• If your book is fiction and you are unpublished, you normally have to complete the book, plus create a 1-2 page single spaced synopsis.
• If your book is nonfiction, you generally need to write a proposal plus 1-3 chapters to submit to agents and/or publishers, even if the book is completed. The beginning of the proposal is generally 10-15 pages, and includes an overview of the book, chapter by chapter outline, and plan for completing the book. It also should include a market and competitors section listing similar or related books already published, the publisher, and how the book is doing; an author’s bio; and an author’s platform section, indicating what PR you have gotten in the past and how you can help support the book in the future.
• Unless you already have an agent or knowledgeable rep pitching your book, you need to write a query letter or have one written for you to send to publishers/editors and/or agents.
Contacting Publishers and Agents about Your Book
• If you can contact publishers or agents at conferences, workshops, and through personal referrals, that’s ideal.
• If you already have an agent, make sure your agent is continuing to pitch your book; you might also propose supplementing what the agent does by making some contact with publishers yourself; some agents will welcome this; others not so much. If you do make some of your own contacts, be sure to check with your agent in advance to make sure not to contact anyone your agent has already contacted. Then, keep your agent aware of the responses, and refer any editor or publisher who expresses interest to your agent for follow-up.
• If you feel your agent is no longer actively representing your book, it’s time to end your agreement and find a new agent or pitch the book yourself.
• If you plan to query traditional publishers and agents, don’t self-publish the same book, unless you have a very powerful platform and can build large sales for this book. Publishers don’t want to publish a book that already has been published, unless there are big sales.
• A good approach is self-publishing a book to build your platform and sell it yourself; then pitch a follow-up or related book to mainstream publishers and agents.
Sending an E-Mail Query to Publishers and Agents
• If you don’t have an agent or personal connections for contacting agents or publishers, an e-mail query can be an effective way to contact them.
• You can contact a large number of editors and agents with a personalized query, so they respond directly to you. We can help you send out these queries to hundreds of agents and editors based on your type of book.
• While many editors at major publishers want submissions by an agent, some will accept queries from writers and some will make exceptions for a really good query letter.
• When you send a query don’t include attachments or graphics, since a regular text query is more likely to be received and read, but you can include links to a website. Editors and agents often will not open any attachments due to fears about viruses, trojans, and other malware.
• Keep your query letter short and to the point, since a successful query letter is typically about 300-400 words, and no more than 500 words, and includes these key components:
1) A strong subject line to attract interest; it should indicate specifically what your book or script is about and be in upper and lower case, Title Case, or Sentence case.
2) A short summary statement of 1 or 2 sentences highlighting what the book or script is about and what makes it especially interesting and salable.
3) Two to three paragraphs describing the plot of a fiction book, the main topics covered in a nonfiction book, or the main plot points in a script.
4) A sentence or two about the book or script’s key selling points and why the book or script is marketable to your main audience.
5) A short paragraph about your own background, including what may have inspired the book or script, and recent highlights about previous publications or films, writing, and relevant work experience.
6) A sentence or two about any PR or promotion you have already gotten.
7) A final sentence indicating if the recipient is interested, you would be glad to submit a more detailed synopsis, proposal, sample chapters, or the complete manuscript.
8) Be prepared to follow-up within a week or 10 days with a proposal, synopsis, sample chapters or complete manuscript, or a script treatment.
9) Include personal contact information at the end, including your name, company if any, city, state (full address and zip is optional, though good to include), website if you have one, phone, and email.
Self-Publishing Your Book
• A simple low-cost way to publish your book is as a Print-On-Demand (POD) book through CreateSpace and Kindle, though there are multiple services with various pricing plans. You can use one of their templates or design your own cover, and you can order as many or as few books as you want at about 1/3 of the retail price.
• Generally you need the final copy formatted according to the publisher’s guidelines in a WordDocument or PDF, with appropriate margins and any graphics or photos in the text.
• While you can self-publish yourself, we can guide you through the process or set up everything for you.
• Keep the pricing low to attract sales – about $9.95-14.95 is a good price point for a paperback book; $2.99 for an e-book.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Turning Your Blogs into a Book or Your Book into Blogs
Repurposing is a great way to maximize the value of what you write. Through repurposing, you put something you have written into different formats. For example, the material you put in a blog can also become an article, a chapter in a book, or even turned into copy for a press release or a script for a video. You may need to do a little rewriting to adapt the material for different formats, but otherwise, you are using the same content in different ways.
One type of repurposing that is especially useful for writers is turning a collection of blogs into a book or book proposal – or using material from your book to create a blog series based on these excerpts. Once you create a book or book proposal, you can then find a publisher or agent for your book or publish it yourself. Or use a blog from your book to promote it and sell more books. I’ve done both – several of my recent books started out as blogs: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life published by ABC-Clio, and Transformations: How New Developments in Science, Technology, Business, and Society Are Changing Your Life and The Battle Against Internet Book Piracy, both published by Changemakers Publishing.
The creation of a book from a blog requires more thought and planning, so I’ll discuss that first. I’ll talk about how to go from a book to a series of blogs in a future blog.
Turning Your Blogs into a Book
Any collection of blogs can be turned into a book. Just combine 10 to 20 of them together to create a book of 10,000 or more words – about 50 or more pages, and voila, you have a book.
However, to create a successful book which you can self-publish or pitch to publishers and agents, think of a good theme and title for the book. Then, write your blogs on that topic with your book in mind. Another consideration for a book is that the blogs shouldn’t be too closely tied with current news events, since that will date its appeal, and such blogs are more appropriate as blogs or articles or turned into a press release.
If you already have a series of blogs which pass the long-term appeal test, consider how they might be combined together into a single topic. If the blogs are on disparate topics, they might be more appropriately divided into two or more books, and it is best not to stretch a subject too broadly so more blogs will fit. Doing so may be too scattershot for a book, since readers generally look for books on a particular topic. So choose a theme that fits for each group of blogs.
If you don’t already have a blog series to organize into books, think about a subject you’d like to focus on, and write your blogs as if they will be chapters in that book. Create an outline to organize the topics to write about and avoid covering the same topic in different ways, since that doesn’t work in a book. You need to provide new information in each blog, since you will be collecting them together into a single book
Figure on writing about 700-1000 words for each blog, since this is currently Google’s formula for writing blogs, so they are used to help direct traffic to your website.
Self-Publishing or Finding a Publisher for Your Book
If you plan to self-publish, once you have around 10,000 words or more – about 10-15 blogs, you can turn them into a book. One way to do this is to create a Word document, and use headings for each blog title, though call them chapters – ie; Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. followed by the title. Use “headings” or “headers” from the Word style sheet for each chapter heading. Then, those headings will automatically turn into your Table of Contents. If appropriate, divide these chapters into sections, such as Part I and Part II, and label them with a title for that part. Also, include a section “About the Author” and contact information.
Once the book is set up in the Word document, you can format it for printing, such as in a 6”x9” standard paperback format with a .75 margin. But that’ll be another blog on how to self-publish your book.
If you want to find a publisher, you need a proposal to pitch the project, since normally an agent or editor will ask to see this if interested after you send your initial query letter. This proposal should include about 10-20 pages upfront which includes an overview of the book and its market appeal, a chapter by chapter outline, the author’s bio, the competitive marketplace, any past PR, and plans to support and promote the book in the future. Then, include 2-3 sample chapters/blogs.
Even if you have written the whole book, you still normally need a proposal with a few chapters, so unless the editor agent requests the complete manuscript, send the proposal and sample chapters first. Or if the whole book is requested, include the introductory material in the proposal.
In your query letter, briefly describe your book and then offer to send a synopsis or proposal, and if you have completed the book, mention that you can send that, too. However, don’t send an attachment with your query letter, since many people don’t open initial letters with attachments, because of concerns about viruses and malware. So wait until you haven gotten a request for more information from your query letter.
* * * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D
What to Expect and Watch Out For in a Contract
If you have an agent, he or she will normally handle the contract arrangements in consultation with you and make recommendations on how to present your material and the best publishers to contact. Agents are typically familiar with the usual contract provisions and what they can ask for and negotiate to get you the best deal.
If you don’t have an agent and have a good offer from a big publisher – say a $10,000 advance or more, it can be worth working with a lawyer who has handled book contracts with publishers, though don’t work with a lawyer not familiar with the publishing industry, since they can make demands that are more excessive than usual and kill a deal. You can either hire the lawyer to negotiate for you if the offer is high enough, or obtain the lawyer’s advice on whether this is a good contract and what you can ask for if you negotiate the deal yourself.
But what if, like many authors, you don’t have an agent and have an offer from a publisher — usually a small or medium sized publisher – who is offering a small advance – commonly from about $1000-3000, or even no advance. What should you do, since bringing in a lawyer will commonly cost about $500-1500, and this will be a substantial portion of the advance, or even more than it? Following are some things to consider, though this is not legal advice. If in doubt, consult with a law book or get second opinions from books on book contracts or other writers who have signed books.
– The contract should include a statement that the copyright will be in the author’s name. Usually, the publisher will agree to register the copyright in your name, but if not, you can easily do this with the copyright office — $35 for an individual copyright; $55 if there are more than two parties on the copyrighted work. In some cases, a contract may state that the publisher will obtain the copyright in the publisher’s name. If so, seek to have this changed to registering the copyright in the author’s name, since the registration in your name will make it easier, if the work goes out of print or you get back the rights, to find another publisher for the work or publish it yourself, because you still own the copyright – you just licensed its use to the publisher.
– Specify the approximate length of the manuscript and the delivery date. These arrangements will commonly be discussed before the publisher draws up a contract. Be sure the manuscript length is a reasonable goal for your manuscript. While there is some flexibility from the length specified in the contract, give or take about 10,000 words, publishers will ask you to edit down a manuscript that is too long – and usually you need to do it rather than the publisher’s copy editor, unless it is over the expected word count by a small amount and the cuts are obvious, such as cutting down long quotes. If your manuscript is too short, the publisher is likely to ask you to add more information, or could possibly reject the manuscript entirely, whereupon you may have to pay back any advance.
You also need a realistic delivery date based on the length of the manuscript, how much research you need to do, and how long it will take you to write any chapters not completed in addition to those in the proposal to sell the book. While the delivery date can sometimes be extended, check in advance to determine how flexible this date is, because if you don’t deliver the manuscript by the agreed upon date, your publisher may be delayed in meeting the planned publication date, which could reduce PR efforts. The publisher could also cancel the contract for the lack of a timely delivery, obligating you to return any advance. Commonly, these clauses also specify the time the publisher has to publish the accepted work – usually 12 to 18 months, and if not, you can request back the rights.
– Submitting the manuscript. Normally, a contract will specify how you should submit the manuscript and any additional components, such as illustrations, photos, or table of contents, and an index, by the specified delivery date. At one time, publishers expected hard copies, but now, many publishers are fine with an electronic copy, though some may ask for a hard copy, too.
Commonly, the author is responsible for preparing the index, though some publishers will do this and deduct the cost from the last half of the advance or future royalties. Indexes aren’t always necessary, but if they are, figure on them costing about $500, with index costs from professional indexers of about $2.50-$3.50 a page (based on the page count in the published book). One way to cut down the cost is if you go through the manuscript and pick out the key words and provide a list of them to the indexer, figuring on about 300-500 words on your list, which can bring down your costs to about $150.
– Accepting and Publishing the Manuscript. This clause provides the publisher a way out of the agreement if the publisher finds the manuscript unacceptable. Commonly, the publisher will advise the author what to do to fix it, but if the author can’t or doesn’t want to do so, the publisher can reject the manuscript. Generally, the author can keep any advance already paid, since the assumption is that the author has been working in good faith on writing the manuscript, though some publishers will ask for the advance back. Alternatively, some publishers will only ask that the author repay them if he or she finds another publisher. If the publisher doesn’t publish the manuscript within a certain time, rights in the manuscript revert to the author, along with any discs or copies of the manuscript given to the publisher. In this case, the author does not have to return any advance.
While these clauses are fairly standard in laying out the length of the manuscript the author is expected to deliver, when, and what happens if the author doesn’t deliver or the publisher doesn’t publish within the time specified, there is some room for negotiation. In particular, you might ask to only deliver the manuscript by email attachment or on a disc, which will cut down your time and costs for the delivery. You might also ask the publisher to cover the costs of any index if required or at least not charge you until future payments are due rather than taking the cost out of any remaining payments on the advance.
Another strategy is to state that the index is unnecessary, so there are no costs for either the author or publisher. Still another point you might negotiate is the length of time for the publisher to publish the work, such as requiring publication within 12 months rather than 18, or even 6 months, if the publisher has a short turn-around time.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D
Making Special Arrangements for Clients
While you may have certain prices and policies that are the usual way you work with clients, at times clients will ask you to make certain changes or exceptions, and it can be hard to decide whether or not to agree to these changes. Following are some common scenarios and how to deal with them. You have to judge whether you want to accept a proposed arrangement, or come back with an alternative proposal, and then any agreement can be like a negotiation.
In general, it is best not to change your usual policies, since you have been following them with most or all of your other clients and you have found these policies work. Still, there are times when it is reasonable to accommodate a client’s request.
– A long-time client – or a new client – claims financial difficulties. He or she claims to have run into financial problems or has had upheavals in life, so he or she hopes to pay less or pay on a deferred basis. As a first step, decide if you trust this person’s claim. If it’s a long-time client, this is probably the case, but with a new client, the claim may or may not be. As some writer associates have found, sometimes people will plead poverty or hard times to get you to reduce your prices, while they may have no difficulties paying for other products and services. If you don’t trust the person’s claims, explain that these are your prices, and you have your own financial commitments and make your living doing this, so you can’t reduce your prices, but you will be glad to help them when they are ready.
However, assuming you trust that the person is having difficulties, it makes sense to work out an arrangement you both feel comfortable with. One simple approach is to offer a discount to help out – such as less 20-40%, which can help the client and leave him or her favorably impressed to want to work with you again, or perhaps give a testimonial for your product or service.
Another approach is to get at least a percentage down – say 10-20%, defer the rest, and work out a payment plan, such as 10-20% of the total each month until paid in full. In this case, get a signed agreement form, so it is clear the person still owes you the money and how much.
Still another strategy is to consider barter, if the client has services or products you can use. In this case, arrange the barter based on the value of the other person’s products or services if you were to buy them, and value your own services in the same way.
– A prospective client says that he/she thinks your prices are too high or that others have said this. Here I think the best strategy is to stress the value of what you are offering and point out the level of experience you have had that makes your service valuable. You can also point to testimonials you have gotten and indicate that you have had these prices and arrangements for many years. This strategy can be especially effective if you are offering a unique product or service which is hard to duplicate. This approach may not always work if the prospect is determined to pay a lower price or not get your product or service, but it is often better to stick to your guns rather than undercut your own income, since you have other clients who are paying the full price, so you don’t need to work with clients who don’t see the value in your work.
This scenario is like someone going to a store and asking to pay less for a Rolex watch because they can get other watches for less money. If you are in the business of selling Rolex watches, you don’t want clients who think that the Rolex costs too much money; you don’t want to undermine your value proposition to sell for less. Likewise, as a writer, once you determine how to value and price what you are writing, look for clients who will value what you do.
– A prospective client offers to write a testimonial in return for a special deal from you. Unless you are starting out as a writer and need some testimonials and recommendations, this is generally not a good arrangement. It is a variation on the prospective client claiming your prices are too high, but now the prospect is offering you a carrot – a testimonial – in return for paying less – or even trying to get you to do something for free. In this case, your strategy would be much like the way to respond in the “prices are too high” claim. Stress the value of your services or product, and at the same time point out that you don’t need any more testimonials; you already have them from people who have previously bought your service or product. If the strategy works, great. You convinced the client to pay full price for your services. If not, you have turned down a client you don’t need who doesn’t value what you are offering.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Adjusting Your Fee and Payment Arrangements as a Freelancer
One of the great things about being a freelancer, is that you can freely choose what projects you work on, what clients you agree to work for, and what your terms and prices will be. You can also freely adjust your writing and payment arrangements to changes in the marketplace and your own ebbs and flows of business.
But at times this freedom can create some problems when prospective clients ask you to make changes in how you usually work with clients or in your usual prices for the different services you provide.
Generally, set your terms based on the market for what you are doing, taking into consideration the going range of prices and your level of experience. If you are new or relatively new to freelance writing, to be more competitive, set your price below the common standard, say 50-90% what others charge. Then, as you get more experience and have testimonials from clients, you can gradually raise your rates. If you have more experience than most other writers in your field, you generally can charge more than the going rate, and you might test out different rates to figure out the best rate to charge. If you repeatedly lose out on jobs because your charges are too much, consider lowering them by about 10-20% or offer a special discount to new clients or during a certain time period when things are slow.
This occasional special is a time-tested strategy that is often used by retail or online marketers pitching a new program. They tell prospective clients: If you act now or within a few hours or days of getting the offer, you can save money. Another variation on this promotional approach is to provide a series of offers with varying terms, such as setting the lowest price for an advance sale or early bird rate, a slightly higher rate for the next time period, an even higher rate after that, and finally a late bird or at the door rate. Some common graduated steps are from free to $5 to $10 to $15 to $20 for events, such as if you are putting on a workshop. Or you might offer an hourly rate of $75, $85, $100, or $125, depending on how much advance notice clients give you to work on their project.
However, be careful in how often you offer a discount off your regular price, since offering too many discounts will undermine your current regular price, and it will seem like the discounted price is your new one. But assuming you are careful in offering a reduced price, a good time to offer this is when things are slow or you are new to an area or organization. For example, if the economy slows down so there are fewer customers or if this is a slow season for your writing business, which often occurs in August and November to December, a reduction in price might help to bring in some clients. Even if they aren’t ready to follow-through with the material for you to work on at the time, give them the reduction if they pay now for a future service.
Another consideration is whether to charge an front retainer, use a pay-as-you-go system with a credit card or PayPal account, or bill after the work is done. Ideally, when you start a project, especially with a new client, get a percentage down. If it’s a small amount and you are writing something as a work for hire, which is common for writing articles, blogs, website copy, marketing materials, and like, get a down-payment upfront or get the whole thing in advance. This way you know the prospective client is serious, and you won’t get stiffed for a small amount that is almost impossible to collect if the client doesn’t pay. Then, it’s ideal to contain with an advance payment you work against or a pay-as-you-go arrangement, where you have a client’s credit card and charge after you complete each segment of the work.
This retainer arrangement is also ideal if you have a longer project, where a contract is common, and then the payments are typically spread out with 10-25% down, a 20-33% payment after you complete the next segment of the work; get paid another amount to reach 67-75% at the next payment point; and you get a further payment to reach 90% to 100% for sending the client the final project, with the final 10% reserved for acceptance. When you sell a book to a publisher, a two payment arrangement is common, such as getting 50% on signing the contract, and the remainder on acceptance (which is better) or publication, although sometimes, there will be a payment when you are half-way through the manuscript.
While larger companies typically send checks in payment, individual clients commonly use credit cards or PayPal. In this case, either a retainer or pay-as-you-go arrangement works well, so you get paid before or immediately after completing the work.
The billing after completing the work arrangement is best when you are working with a larger established company that only pays this way after receiving an invoice, or with an individual client or small organization, where you have already started working together. Otherwise, with individual clients you don’t know, it can be risky to start with a bill and pay arrangement, since you can bill, but the client can easily not pay. If possible, persuade the client to work on a retainer or pay as you go arrangement. If the client is insistent on a bill and pay arrangement or will walk away, assess if you feel this person or company can be trusted. Then, if you feel this is the case, do only a small part of a larger project to make sure the individual or company likes what you are doing and pays you, before you go on. This way you cut down on your losses in case the client decides not to pay – sometimes due to the client’s own business problems because of a slowdown of customers.
In short, you can be flexible in what you charge and how you expect clients to pay you.
* * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D
Creating a Platform as an Author, Scriptwriter, or Speaker
Today, if you are seeking to pitch a book, script, or yourself to get published by a mainstream publisher, sell film rights for a book or a script, find an agent or manager, or get paid speaking engagements, it’s all about platform.
That means you need a solid track record in your field, expert credentials in what you write or speak about, a high-profile in the print and broadcast media, and a large social media following. In short, in today’s media and celebrity driven world, you need to do something to stand out. That typically means doing your own publicity and social media campaign to create a brand for yourself, whether you write books, scripts, or films, or conduct workshops on some topics.
This platform has become especially important to sell both nonfiction and fiction books to mainstream publishers, though these guidelines are equally applicable to any field where you are creating creative content. At one time, publishers would build campaigns around new authors to establish them in the media firmament. But now, with rare exceptions, that is no more. New authors have to bring to the table their own marketing and publicity campaign, and already have key elements of this campaign in place, such as 50,000 or more Twitter followers.
Occasionally, once unknown people break through the media clutter, when they are discovered through a human interest story that goes viral. Then, agents come knocking on their doors to represent them, and they get offers of publishing and films deals based on their life story, as well as requests to speak at big events. They may even get merchandising offers to feature them in a line of products based on their story. But mostly, the already famous, such as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Angela Jolie, Kim Kardashian, and other household names are the ones who get the deals.
Thus, to stand out yourself, you need to create a powerful platform to get a deal. As Carole Jelen and Michael McAllister write in their book: Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps, “An author’s platform is the most powerful key to success in today’s saturated market, and increasingly publishers are demanding that new authors come to them with an existing audience of interested followers. Authors who are self-publishing have an even bigger need to build an engaged audience.” The same might be said for authors who want to sell scripts or film rights to a book, or for speakers seeking to get booked on the paying speaker circuit.
So what are these elements that make a platform today? They include the following:
1) a personal website which features you and your books or other creative endeavors; and today your website should be optimized to be viewed on mobile platforms;
2) a blog to build a community with your readers;
3) a Twitter account and following, which you should build up to the many thousands; preferably 50,000 or more;
4) a presence on Facebook with both a personal page for your personal brand and a page for your book, film, or speaking topics;
5) an author’s profile and following on LinkedIn;
6) speaking engagements, featuring your live personal appearances at organizations and events;
7) articles published through various publications and websites, including on article aggregator sites, such as Huffington Post;
8) radio podcasts and guest appearances;
9) book or script trailers and video blogs on YouTube;
10) a website for each of your books or creative endeavors;
11) an author page on Amazon;
12) book reviews of your books;
13) a celebration launch of your book, film, workshop, or other creative projects.
You should also send out or post regular press releases, such as through one of the PR services, like PRBuzz, PRWeb, PRWire, BusinessWire, Cision, or ExpertClick. Additionally, make yourself available to promote what you have written or created, and let the media know you are an expert in certain areas, so you get called to comment on recent developments in your field. For example, when I wrote a series of books about crime, I was frequently asked to comment on the latest criminal cases in the news; when I wrote several books about relationships in the workplace, I was often called to comment on work issues, such as complaints about bad bosses and office shootings.
If you write a book proposal, feature what you have accomplished in the areas related to your topic and indicate where you already have a following. For example, in my proposals, I note that I am the organizer and assistant organizer of 10 Meetup Groups in L.A. and San Francisco dealing with writing and films that have nearly 10,000 members. Note any business groups you belong to such as a local Chamber of Commerce. Indicate if you have a speaker’s video and provide a link. As relevant, point up your academic credentials, such as if you are writing or speaking about mental illness and have a PhD in psychology or have worked with hundreds of clients. Highlight the most influential media attention you have already gotten from newspapers, magazines, the Internet media, and radio and TV guest appearances and interviews. Also, consider self-publishing a book in your field to help you gain additional credibility and speaker’s engagements.
In short, think of yourself as a celebrity in the making as you create your author’s brand and platform. If you need assistance with any phase of this process, from writing your book or script to getting published, produced, or promoting yourself, NudgeLine can help.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Do You Really Need a Copyright?
One issue that frequently comes up in workshops or online forums is whether you need a copyright for your film or book. Occasionally people ask if they can use what is sometimes called the “poor man’s copyright,” where you send yourself your material in a sealed envelope, so you can later prove that you wrote it when you did.
First, the “poor man’s copyright” is perfectly useless. It is a myth that makes the rounds from time to time, usually because someone has just heard about it from someone else and wants to find out if it is true. Well, it isn’t. At best it might establish a date of mailing. But there are so many loopholes in that mailing to make a proof of anything problematic. A big problem is that one can easily steam open an envelope or mail an unsealed or empty envelope to oneself, and then put the document in the envelope and seal it up after the unsealed or empty envelope comes back in the mail.
Another misconception is that you need to formally register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to have a copyright. You actually have a copyright from the date of creation once you write your book, script, article, proposal, or anything else. You are similarly covered by a copyright when you draw something, compose music, record a song, or other creative work and record it in written, visual, or aural form, though you can’t copyright an idea or title. A title might be covered by trademark, if you are using it or intend to use it; but that’s a more complex subject, since you can choose from several dozen categories in which to register a trademark, and you can run into complications when you use a trademark in one geographic area and another person creates the same or similar mark in a different geographic area, depending on what categories you each are claiming. But for all practical purposes, if you write a book, book proposal, script or other written materials, you are dealing with copyright law and the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.
So essentially the question you are really asking is: “Should you ‘register’ a copyright?” with the U.S. copyright office. If you are writing a script, there is also a possibility of registering it with the WGA (Writers Guild of America), either in Los Angeles or New York, though most register it in Los Angeles, and some producers and agents/managers may ask you to do this. However, that’s not the same as registering a copyright with the government; a WGA registration is more like just putting it on a list that establishes your date of conception, and then you have to renew the WGA registration every 5 years if you register it in L.A., every 10 years if you register in New York.
By contrast, registering a work with the Copyright Office gives you a registered copyright as of the day of registration. The most efficient and economical way to do this is to register online, which is currently only $35 for an individual copyright, meaning just one item is being copyrighted by one author. If there are more authors or this is a combined registration of different properties, it is $55 to register online. It costs more to go the old fashioned postal mail route — $85 — and it will take 2 months or more to get your registration. Ideally, go through the online system, where you are walked through a step by step process to answer each question about the name of the author, date of registration, and other data. Next, you are directed to pay and upload a file with your material (although you can mail it in instead). Then, your answers are entered into the copyright form which is sent to you in a few months.
The costs can mount up if you have multiple items you want to register, so you might consider whether a copyright is really necessary. Take into consideration the fact that a copyright gives you the right to pursue your rights online or in court, but you have to take actions to enforce your copyright, which can be time consuming and expensive. For example, the most cost effective way of using a registered copyright is to prevent someone else using your material online, such as by sending this information to the offending website owner or to a web hosting company which is hosting a website with your copyrighted material. You just send a take-down notice with evidence of your copyright, and normally the hosting company will take it down if the website owner doesn’t.
However, it is very expensive to take any legal action in court to enforce a copyright, so a registration won’t be of much use if you are seeking compensation from someone who has improperly posted your material online and doesn’t have any money. But if you wait, maybe they will have money or they may arrange for someone else with money to use your material – at which time, you can inform them that you own the copyright and you aren’t giving your permission without a just compensation, whereupon you can negotiate the terms with them if they willing to do anything. Otherwise, you have the basis for taking them to court and claiming statutory damages, which may lead them to drop your material or seek an agreement from you.
In general, given the expense and limitations of a copyright, it is not necessary to register the copyright for a proposal or manuscript. The situation is different if you self-publish a book or if a traditional publisher publishes it and, as is usual, assigns the copyright to you. In this case, the publisher will generally file for the copyright in your name. If not, it is a good idea to file for copyright yourself, especially if you feel the book has a good commercial value for a general audience, since there is more risk of someone using your material or even filing a registration on a copy of your work.
Otherwise, if your work is unpublished, it may not be worth the time and expense, since publishers and agents are unlikely to use your material without you, since publishers generally want you as the author to be front and center to promote your book. And normally there isn’t the kind of money in a published book as there is in a produced film or recorded song. So with a book, unless it just makes you uncomfortable to not register a copyright, I feel it isn’t necessary – especially if you have written many books, because of the high cost involved. Even if you self-publish a book, it may not be necessary to register a copyright, especially if you have published multiple books, so the registration costs are high, since most self-published books average about 150 copies in sales.
So if someone pirates your book, it probably doesn’t matter whether your book’s copyright is registered or not, since it is unlikely you can do much more than send a take-down notice to the multiple sites offering free copies of your book and hope they take it down. If they don’t, it’s not normally cost-effective to try to pursue matters any further.
Likewise, if you write articles it is not necessary to copyright each one, especially when you are making the articles available for free. Just use them for promotional value, though if you combine the articles together into a book and self-publish it, you might get the copyright then.
By contrast, if you complete a script, treatment, or TV series or show proposal, it is a good idea to register a copyright, whether or not you get a WGA listing. Many producers for their own protection will want you to have a registered copyright, and often any NDA document they ask you to sign will have some language about your having only the protection in what you have copyrighted and not in any similar ideas they might have developed in house or obtained from another writer or other party.
Another reason for registering a copyright in the film world is because it is so competitive, and sometimes, if a script reader sees the potential in your idea, it could be shared with others, though it might undergo some further changes in the script. Then you could be out of the loop, although a registered copyright will make it more likely for you to be involved in the project going forward. Or it could lead to a payoff to get your copyrighted material signed over from you.
In sum, in the case of books and articles, it is generally not necessary to get a copyright unless you have high hopes for a large commercial sale or are willing to pursue take-down notices or a court case against someone who copies and sells your book and has the money to collect if you win. But if you write a script, TV show proposal, or treatment, get your material registered, since you will often need it to even get your script considered by producers, agents, managers, or others in the film industry.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
What to Do About Advance Purchase Commitments & Payment from Established Companies?
A recent trend among some major publishers is creating special imprints where writers pay to get published or asking for a pre-purchase commitment of a minimum number of books. These offers are coming from established companies with a tradition of paying writers an advance as well a royalty, even if it’s a low advance, or in some cases a no-advance offer. But whatever the specifics of the deal, the writer has not had to pay anything or make a purchase commitment.
However, now this pay to play offer has come about because publishing has become much more difficult for what has been traditionally called the “mid-list” book by a relatively unknown author. As a result, so sales have gone down, as have advances. What publishers increasingly want and are willing to pay for with big advances are books by well-known and celebrity authors with a high-profile platform.For example, authors like Hillary Clinton may make millions in advances, plus millions more in sales, while advances for mid-list book authors have commonly shrunk to about a third to a half of what they were. So instead of getting $15,000 to $20,000 for an advance, you may get offered $5000 to $10,000, or even less.
Paying lower and no advances are a matter of market economics and reflect the growing inequality/rich and poor divide throughout society generally. In publishing, too, the very successful high profile authors are getting more – often much more — in today’s celebrity and media driven culture, while other authors are getting less.
At least in low or no-advance scenarios, the writer is simply getting less. But in many instances, publishers are asking writers to be like self-publishers who are paying for their publication by committing to buy a minimum number of books. However, when this publishing is by an imprint of a major house, the publisher still is in control, though the copyright as it has traditionally, remains with the author. The main advantage of this arrangement compared to self-publishing with a company which just prints your book and leaves the marketing up to you is that the imprint is affiliated with the major publisher. So the book is normally distributed through that publisher’s channels, rather than being a print-on-demand or e-book available on your imprint or the imprint of the self-publishing company. Thus, with a pay to play deal with a traditional publisher, you may be more likely to get reviewed and distributed, though you are still paying a hefty amount up front, rather than the publisher paying you – or at least not making you pay for publication.
Commonly, these payment commitments range from about $10,000-50,000, which is a substantial amount – and unless your book sells very well, you are unlikely to make all of that money back or turn a profit. For example, one author was offered a deal from Wiley requiring a commitment for 10,000 books, which would cost at least $50,000 to $100,000 depending on the wholesale purchase price to the author. Three co-authors were initially offered a deal based on buying 3000 books, later negotiated down to 2000 books, at $15 each – a total of $30,000, so even if thought Wiley offered an advance of possibly as much as $5000, the authors would still have to pay $25,000 up front for the books. No wonder they turned down the deal.
A publisher’s rationale for this requirement to pay up front for books is that the publisher expects the author to do programs where they can sell high numbers of books, which will be a win-win for the publisher and writer. But if the writer doesn’t have such a platform, the writer will end up with huge piles of unsold books to be stored away somewhere like a basement or garage. Or maybe the books might make a nice charitable give-away.
Perhaps the main advantage of a pay for books arrangement is getting the credentials and bragging rights of having a book with a major publisher, which might open other doors down the road. But if the book doesn’t sell very well because you aren’t able to do much to support these book sales, this credential might not matter very much in pitching future books to other publishers. In fact, the low sales of a previous book might be a disadvantage in pitching the next book, since major publishers usually do little to promote these mid-list books; they depend on the authors to do much or most of the publicity and promotion, so low sales in the past can be a problem.
At least the publishers with these pay to publish arrangements are commonly still somewhat selective in what they publish, since they want to maintain the quality of their reputation. So they don’t offer these deals to everyone, as do the self-publishing companies who are essentially printers. So there is some selectivity. But you still have to pay.
Thus, be cautious when you are offered such a deal. Ideally, it’s best to get a publisher who will pay you to publish your book or at least offers a no advance arrangement. But if you aren’t able to get such a deal, under some circumstances it might be an advantage to go with a pay to play publisher for the prestige of publishing with a traditional publisher, as long as you understand you may get little or none of your payment back, though there is always the chance of getting more.
On the other hand, if a pay to play deal from a traditional publisher is the only option available to you, it might be worth considering self-publishing under your own or a self-publishing company imprint. These prices can range from nothing if you do it yourself under CreateSpace or Kindle or similar platforms to a few hundred dollars for help using these platforms or to a few thousand dollars from many self-publishing companies who charge more. Just be aware that you will still commonly need to do your own promotion and publicity to call attention to your book if you set up distribution through a self-publishing platform or company. But now with most publishers today, even those who pay, you still need to cover most or all of the publicity and promotion. Unless you are already a very well-known personality or celebrity, that’s the way of the publishing world today.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Should You Work as a Co-Writer and Take a Percentage?
Sometimes professional writers are offered the opportunity to work as a co-writer. Should you do it, and if so, what the best way to protect yourself should problems develop.
Co-writing can be an ideal arrangement, when you have long been friends or business associates and you both share a passion for the project. Then, you can bounce your creativity off each other and create a great project together.
But what happens when you are approached by someone who thinks they have a great idea, and now they need a writer to make that happen. In many scenarios, this can turn into a paid project where the writer works as a ghostwriter and is paid on a work-for-hire basis, or possibly this can turn into a co-writing agreement when both parties work well together. A
I believe starting with a work-for-hire agreement this is an ideal arrangement when you are approached by someone you don’t know, because you don’t know how well you will work together or if you will share similar ideas for the book or a film project as it develops. This way, if the person with the project has the budget for it, he or she can maintain control of the project, while you write what the person wants. Then, if the relationship works out and you both want this, you can turn the book or film into a shared royalty agreement. One common scenario is for the writer to finish the project at a lower fee, such as less 25-35%, in return for a percentage of the royalty (commonly 50-50) after anything paid up front is deducted.
Often the situation of a shared royalty arrangement from the get-go comes up when the person with the idea, notes, or a rough draft has a limited budget. This shared agreement can work well, if you soon come to share the writer’s vision of what the final project should be and you feel comfortable sharing in the project. Also, you feel the project has a good likelihood of getting sold, so you aren’t giving up the regular income you depend on as a writer in return for something that’s a risky bet.
However, there are a number of cautions to watch out for in co-author arrangements, when you respond to an ad for a writer to be a collaborator or co-writer. One problem is that you may start off thinking this is a shared project, but then the original author becomes controlling and you start to feel like a hired hand, as happened to one writer who was enticed into doing some chapters for a book by a psychologist. She claimed she wanted someone to be a true collaborator and share the authorship and royalties. But then the psychologist turned into a tyrant, who was very critical of what the writer wrote, because she wanted everything expressed a certain way. Eventually, the writer was able to escape the nightmare with a signed work-for-hire agreement and get paid in full for what he had discounted to be a collaborator.
Another problem when you agree to be a co-writer is that the original author has less and less time to contribute to the project or loses interest, because he or she has other commitments. So there isn’t enough information to complete and sell the project, and the writer is stuck with getting less or nothing, because of agreeing to a collaboration. For example, one writer faced this situation after writing situation when the client writing his memoir suddenly decided that he shouldn’t do this book now, because his psychiatrist thought it wasn’t a good idea. Besides, if he did pursue the book at all, he now wanted to have full control of both the book and the possible film based on it. Fortunately in this case, the writer was also able to turn the collaboration into a work-for-hire situation for the work already done and get paid accordingly. But in many cases, a project simply dies at this point, and the writer doesn’t get paid.
The other big problem with a collaboration is that when the project is completed, it may not sell or may only bring in a very small advance which is less than the author would get paid for simply writing the book, proposal, or script as a ghostwriter. Then, if there is a very low or no advance, any future work on the project has to be done essentially on spec.
Thus, given all these potential problems, my usual approach is to start off as a ghostwriter for at least the beginning stages of the project. Then, if the project is in a field I normally write about and we both feel a co-writing arrangement is desirable, we sign a co-writing agreement, and I reduce the total costs on the project by 25% in return for sharing in the proceeds should it sell, and thereafter, the original author is paid back in full for anything paid to me before we share in the royalties 50-50. This kind of deduction before sharing royalties is a typical arrangement, and I have found this kind of approach works best for me.
What’s best for you? I suggest treating each co-writing arrangement on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the topic, how much you like both the project and the author, and the potential for selling the book or film and how much a sale is likely to bring, versus what you would make as a ghostwriter, since normally the most you will earn on most books and films is what you are paid as an advance. Then, too, consider your own income needs and whether you can afford to take a chance on getting less up-front as a co-writer, and whether being a co-writer from the get-go is the only option, because that’s all the original writer can afford.
* * * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Should You Begin Writing Anything Before a Payment or Contract?
A big issue for many writers is what to do after you get a publishing or job offer. What if the publisher or employer has a tight deadline, and to make the deadline you have to start writing before you get a payment or a signed contract? Should you get started and risk not getting paid or not getting the contract? Or should you wait, which could mean losing the job or the contract?
The answer is, as they say in the law, it depends. What to do depends on such factors as how much money is at stake, how much work you have to put in before the promised payment or contract arrives, and how solid and trustworthy the individual or a company is that you will work for. Then, too, consider that the person hiring you could change his or her mind or that the client might be a subcontractor for a client, so if the ultimate client doesn’t pay or changes his or her mind, you could be unpaid for any work you do before you receive any payment on the project.
I began thinking about this issue after I was hired by a client who was putting together a book and website for another client. Initially, this subcontractor just wanted a book and wanted a proposed fee for writing it. But after I bid and got the job, the subcontractor said he wanted a website included for that total amount. Not wanting to lose the job, I didn’t say anything about the change, figuring the website write-up would only take a few hours. Then, since the client had a short deadline on the website copy and his staff couldn’t send the contract and check until the following Monday, I agreed to start on Friday.
In making this decision, I even turned down an offer for a credit card payment, since Master Card would take 4%. But after I edited the Frequently Asked Questions section and got the go-ahead to do more, I found the instructions about the website copy unclear, and after I turned in a few pages for feedback, the subcontractor called to cancel the contract for both the book and the website. He said he didn’t have time to do any more reviews and no longer wanted me to do the book, so he wouldn’t be sending the contract or advance check. But I had already spent about 5 hours unpaid on the project.
At first, the client tried to get out of paying me, though ultimately he agreed to pay, saying my offer to accept $500 for the work I had done “sounded good,” though later he sent me a check marked “In protest.” After it went through, I decided it best not to respond to explain anything. “He’s just messing with you,” another writer told me. But the incident got me thinking about payments and contracts generally.
I’ve worked with dozens of publishers where it can take several weeks or even a month or two to get a finalized contract, and the payment often doesn’t arrive until 30 to 45 days after that. But the deadline for submitting the copy means I need to start writing it before the contract arrives. Whenever this has happened, my experience has been that the contract does arrive and so does the payment.
In some cases, where the publisher has a no-advance contract, so the first payment will be several months after the book has been successfully published, the book has almost always been published and eventually I have gotten royalties. So with established publishers, working before the contract or payment arrives has usually been fine. But with smaller publishers, such an agreement can be very iffy. The publisher has no initial investment, and so the publisher can easily decide not to publish.
I and other writers have also generally had success in getting paid after doing some work or completing a project with larger, established companies. Commonly, they hire a number of writers, as well as other employees and contractors, and have a policy in which writers do the work and submit a bill to get paid – generally within 10 to 30 days. Usually there is an agreement describing what is to be written, sometimes called the “deliverable,” and the writing usually begins after getting the contract, with the payment following within a short time after delivering the work.
However, when it comes to writing for individual clients or small companies, that’s when problems arise, and there can be little recourse if the individual or company doesn’t pay, especially when they are based in another state, or worse, another country. It takes time and effort to go to small claims court, and you can’t use small claims court for an out-of state or out-of country client, plus you can encounter many difficulties in trying to collect even with a judgment from a debtor who doesn’t want to pay.
Thus, I have come to realize that in working with private individuals or small companies, it is best to either get a retainer or set up a pay-as-you-go arrangement using a credit card. Then, whether or not you are getting a contract, don’t do any work until you are paid in advance. Clients may express a concern about paying you and then not getting the work, but they have an easy way to complain and get a refund if this is the case, by appealing to their credit card company or to PayPal. But if you aren’t paid, you don’t have the option. You have to depend on the client’s willingness to pay.
It may be fine to arrange for a check, credit card, or PayPal payment after you do the work once you have established an ongoing trusting relationship with a client. But until then, initially, it is better to get paid before or at the time you do the work, however the client wants to pay (check, credit card, PayPal, or even cash). As one writer associate put it, “I don’t put pen to paper until I am paid up-front and receive any signed contract that’s required for the project. And if the client has a tight deadline making it difficult to get me the payment or contract, then that’s the client’s problem. He or she should do better planning. I simply won’t write anything until I have at least a partial deposit or retainer up front.”
So that’s my recommendation. Use a “pay to play” approach in dealing with individuals and small companies, and try to get this arrangement with larger companies if you can, but if not, take the chance they will be good for the money, after you do some or all of the writing. You may lose out on some writing assignments from individuals and small companies as a result. But you will save yourself a lot of problems from clients who don’t pay after you have done the work.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Protecting Yourself from Piracy
Since the development of the e-book and its growing popularity, the problem of piracy has become pervasive. The reason is that it is easy to copy and pass on ebooks, and a growing number of piracy sites have made these available. And many other sites which sell ebooks for authors and publishers have pirated books uploaded by others and they remain there, until the site owner is made aware that the material is pirated and is asked to take it down.
Even using digital rights management (DRM) does little good, although it is designed to prevent a user from transferring a file from one platform to another or sharing that file with others.
However, pirates can easily break that code. Also, it is now relatively inexpensive to scan a print copy of a book to make a digital file. I had a series of books scanned for only $2.50 a book, since the cut up pages can be put through an automatic feeder; there is no longer any need to scan them by hand.
Another difficulty in stopping piracy is that the dedicated pirate sites are often located in other countries, and the owners of these sites can easily put up new sites under another name. Moreover, once a book is pirated by one site, it can easily be spread to multiple sites – making the problem of getting one’s books off of pirated sites like a game of whack-a-mole – hit the mole down at one site, and it quickly pops up in another.
So what can you do to protect yourself from piracy? While you probably can’t overcome the problem entirely, here are some things you can do.
1) Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is easy to register online for only $35 for a single application; $55 for two or more authors. This registration will give you the authorization to send out takedown notices, though trying to enforce a copyright through legal action is unlikely.
2) Inform your publisher to send out a takedown notice or send out this notice yourself to the website owner. If the owner does not respond in a reasonable time, say 10 days, send the takedown notice to the service hosting the website. Normally, the hosting service will take down any infringing material within a few days, since if it doesn’t the service can risk being shut down or being blocked by search engines. You can also send a notice to Google about the violation of your copyright, since Google will lower the search rankings of websites that sustain a number of complaints, and if they get enough complaints, they will block those sites entirely. There are specific requirements for what to include in these notices which you can find online or in my book THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET BOOK PIRACY.
3) Find ways to adapt to this piracy to promote your writing or sell other materials, such as by including information in your books that direct those reading them to your website where you have other protected materials for sale or you are selling your writing services to others. Some writers also use piracy as a way to spread their name generally so they have a higher profile in selling other books to publishers.
While it is probably futile to pursue any litigation against the pirates yourself, since any action is extremely expensive and time-consuming, and only the bigger publishers acting individually or with other publishers can afford to do this, as did John Wiley in suing a pirate site in Germany for one of its Dummies books, at least there is some consolation in the risks of obtaining pirated books. In some cases, individuals obtaining these books end up with malware that opens up their computer to identity theft or corrupts some of their data. And sometimes pirates are targeted by a larger publisher or by law enforcement when their actions are especially egregious or they are involved in uploading or downloading material to one of these targeted pirate sites.
In sum, make sure your book is copyrighted by your or your publisher, send out takedown notices as you can, do your best to use the piracy to promote or sell your other work, and feel some satisfaction in knowing that many pirates will suffer their just deserts in the end.
* * * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D
Working Out a Co-Writer or Ghostwriting Arrangement
Co-writing and ghost writing arrangements for both books and scripts can be great when you and your co-writer or lead writer have a shared vision for the project and you bring to it complementary skills. Besides writing my own books and scripts, I have worked with several dozen clients on co-written projects.
A first step is understanding what the person seeking a co-writer or ghost writer wants and clarifying what you will do. In reaching this understanding, determine this person’s goals – is this to be a proposal for a books and some sample chapters, a complete book, a treatment for a film, a complete script, or whatever else the person wants written.
Also, work out the financial arrangements, including whether the client will be paying for this as a work for hire or as a co-writing arrangement, or if this is starting out as a work for hire, which will be transformed into a co-writing project if you mutually agree. Then, too, determine how the client will pay – based on a per word or per page basis or an hourly rate – and if it is per page, clarify approximately how many words per page this will be, based on the type font you are using.
Additionally, determine up front how the client will pay. Some like a contract, where you get a certain percentage down (ie: 20-33%), another percentage after you complete a certain amount of the manuscript (ie: another 20-33% after you complete ¼ to ½ of the manuscript), still more at the next percentage point, and at the end. Another common alternative is to use a pay as you go model, where the person pays you a set amount via PayPal or check for each segment of the project before you do it or where you charge that person’s card a certain amount before or after you do each section.
With more established companies, a common arrangement, if you don’t have a contract for money up front for each section of the project, is for you to bill the company, after which they pay you within 10 to 30 days. And usually they do. While such a billing arrangement may be fine with larger established companies or with a client with whom you have an ongoing long-term relationship, I don’t recommend this for new individual clients, especially if you haven’t met them personally or they are in another state or country. The big problem is that you can do the work and they don’t pay you. Then, you have little or no way to collect, because the client is out of state and this is too small amount to pursue through legal means, plus then you still have to collect if you win.
Sometimes clients may argue that they don’t want to pay anything up front because they aren’t sure that you will complete the work or that they will be satisfied. One good response to that is to assure them that they are protected if they pay you by credit card, because they can ask for and obtain a refund from their credit card company for non-completion of the project, whereas you have no such protection if they don’t pay you. As for their comment that their payment hinges on whether they will be satisfied, this could be a red flag that you are dealing with a difficult person who is hard to satisfy, and they could refuse to pay you for that reason, too.
To deal with that issue, I generally respond that I don’t work on spec and that I can limit what I do to a small number of pages (say 5-10 pages). Then, they can provide me with their comments so I can revise what I have written if necessary, and if satisfied, they can give me the go ahead to do more. But otherwise, I get paid for what I do, and I will do everything I can to make sure they like what I am doing, before I do more.
Another arrangement I will enter into with some clients is an initial co-writing agreement if the project is in my field and I think I will like working with this person, if the person insists on such an arrangement to do the project. Then, I will deduct 25% from my usual charges in return for a credit and splitting any royalties or fees for selling the project, after deducting whatever the person paid me upfront, though I give the client the option of turning the project into a work-for-hire before pitching it for sale by paying me the additional 25%. But ideally, I prefer to start as a work-for-hire arrangement with the option of turning this into a co-write down the road. This way, it is very clear that client is in control from the get-go, and as the project goes along, we can mutually determine if a co-writer arrangement would be mutually beneficial. Otherwise, the client is in the driver’s seat, steering the project, so he or she knows the destination, and my role is to help the client get there. The advantage of this arrangement, I have found, is that there are no problems of co-writers discovering they have different shared visions of the project as they go along, since it starts with the client’s vision and can always turn into a co-write if this vision is shared.
* * * * * * *
GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D.
Pitching Your Script with a Query Letter
If you have family or friend connections with producers, agents, and managers, that’s ideal for opening doors to showcase your synopsis or script. Likewise, if you go to a film industry conference and can make a pitch to an industry professional that can start the connection process. But if you don’t have such personal or professional connections, the query letter is the way to go. You may also need a query letter to follow-up after you make an initial contact through a referral or from a phone or face-to-face meeting.
The basic rule for writing this letter is that you want to keep it short and to the point, as well as point up any special credentials you have as a writer, such as being already produced, obtaining some financing, or having a name actor already interested in participating. Think of this query letter as a marketing letter, in which you want to quickly and powerfully get across your message, so the recipient wants to positively respond to you.
When you send this letter, don’t include any attachment, such as for your synopsis or script, and don’t include any graphics or photos, because recipients commonly will not open such emails, due to fears of Internet viruses, trojans, and other malware. Another reason for not sending a detailed synopsis or script is for your own protection, since you don’t want to reveal details about your script, until you have established a paper trail through an email response. This way you can show that you have sent a synopsis or script to a particular person. Then, too, by not including this detailed information, the recipient also feels the protection of knowing this material is only being submitted upon request and is not being made available to a large number of people who have gotten your pitch. Though you can include links to a synopsis, treatment, or script on a website without arousing the concerns due to sending an attachment, it is best not to do so, unless this is a private password protected link, in order to protect your copyrighted material and show the recipient that you are doing this.
There are various formats for writing these letters. One common one is to specifically indicate each topic included in your letter – most notably the following:
– a Logline,
– Genre description,
– Short Synopsis, describing the story, major plot points, and main characters,
– Appeal of the Film,
– Author’s Bio, including any special credentials in the industry.
Another approach is to use these topics as a guide to writing the letter, which is the approach I have used both in pitching films and books.
In either case, begin with a compelling subject line in which you sum up the genre and essential story of the film in about 10-15 words and note any special credentials that will make the recipient want to read your query, such as: “written by a multi-produced writer,” “based on a true story in the news,” or “with a budget to hire a writer.”
Then, after you include the major topics noted above, conclude with an invitation for the recipient to ask for a synopsis or complete script, and end with your contact information, including a phone number, email, address (or minimally your city and state), and any website.
As noted in a previous article, don’t go into too much detail about the plot or be very vague and cryptic about what the story is about. You want to find that middle ground between telling too much or not enough, so you provide the gist of the story and make the recipient feel compelled to ask for more.
Another caution when you write your bio. Primarily highlight your credentials that relate to the film industry, such as if you have been a produced writer, written and directed any award winning short films, graduated from a recognized film school, or won some prestigious competitions for screenwriting. Avoid listing all kinds of non-relevant or early experiences, such as where you graduated from college or your jobs in other fields, unless they are the setting for your script.
And don’t say things like “the members of my family loved my script” or that “this is my first script” or “I hope this will lead to a career in screenwriting,” because such comments sound very amateurish. Then, too, avoid any outpouring of emotion or sales hype, such as saying you think this is an “amazing breakthrough” or “unique one-of-a-kind, never done before” script. Such gushing comes across as non-professional and overly pushy.
Conversely, don’t come across as overly humble, such as by thanking the recipient for his or her time in reading this letter, since you sound like you are begging, asking for a favor, or unsure about the potential value of your script to the recipient. Instead, think of the pitch as your offering the person the opportunity to work with you on producing a great script, though that sentiment should be implied, not stated directly. Rather simply invite the person to contact you if interested in getting a copy of your synopsis or complete script.
Finally, even if you think of yourself as a great writer, consider having a professional write your query letter, since this is a marketing pitch letter, which is a very different type of writing than writing a script.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Turning Your Book Into a Film
Do you think your book has film potential? If so, it may be possible to turn it into a film. There are several ways to make this happen, and some traps to avoid. Here are the main points to consider and steps to take.
– Does your book really have good film potential?. A first consideration is whether your book really has the potential to be a film. The mediums are very different, so remember that a film is all about action and dialog. It depends on what can be shown on the screen, and a film loves conflict and drama, so if your book has a lot of interior thinking by a character, a lot of philosophical reflection, or a lot of social commentary, it may not make a good film; or at least much of that will have to go out. While some films have a voice-over narration expressing a character’s thoughts or tying the story together, that has to be done sparely so the film doesn’t become too talky and cerebral, which doesn’t work well in a film. So before you put a lot of effort into trying to turn your book into a film, consider whether it really will work in this medium, or what you have to drop from the book to make a viable film.
– Has your book been published, and if so, is it by a mainstream publisher or does it have a strong sales record? Another big consideration for any film producer, agent, manager, investor, or director in deciding whether your book might make a good film is how well it has done in the market place. It is rare for a company to buy the film rights to an unpublished manuscript, unless it is written by an author who already has a successful track record or comes from a publisher who feels the book will have great sales potential once released. So normally, if you have an unpublished manuscript or a self-published book with limited sales, you may find it difficult to sell the film rights now and you may need to develop the script from your book, and then sell that. It can help if you have taken an unpublished manuscript to the next level by publishing it yourself under your own imprint. But then a film professional will want to know what success you have had in promoting and selling the book. So your track record will be very important. Thus, the more you can up the sales figures or get publicity for the book in the print, broadcast, or Internet media, the more that exposure can help you sell the film rights to a self-published book, assuming this meets the first criteria of having good film potential
– If you have a book published by a mainstream publisher, do you have the film rights to sell? When you sell your book to a mainstream publisher, the contract will include all kinds of subsidiary rights that the publisher is acquiring along with the book. Typically these will include the film, video, and dramatic rights, where you split 50-50 with the publisher unless stated otherwise. So commonly, in entering into a contract, you have to request to exclude those rights to own the right to sell your film, or the publisher will have that right. When you work out the contract details, talk to your publisher about whether you have the right to initiate a deal with a film producer, agent, or manager for the film rights, after which they can finalize it to comply with your contract. Or sometimes before or after you have signed the contract, you can work out an agreement, which might be added to the contract, to give you a greater percentage of any deal if you find it, such as giving you 60-75% of any income derived the sale of the film rights. A still better solution unless your publisher is in a position to aggressively pursue film or video rights to your book (such if your deal is with big company like Random House, which has its own film licensing division) is to get those rights deleted from the contract. And commonly a publisher will be glad to do that if they have no plans to aggressively seek out a film licensing deal – which is the cast for most small or medium sized publishers. Then, once you clarify your ownership and ability to sell film rights, you can attempt to do so.
– Should you attempt to sell film rights or write a script based on your book and seek to sell that, or do both? Another big consideration is whether you should pitch the film rights to your book, write the script and pitch that, or pitch either or both to prospective buyers. While there are no firm rules, here are some general guidelines.
– If your book is by a well-established mainstream publisher or you have a good sales record as an independent publisher, you are in a good position to pitch the film rights; then if you find an interested producer, agents, or manager, they might assign a tried and proven screenwriter to adapt the script, or you may be given a chance to first do this yourself.
– If your book is still in a manuscript form or has been published by yourself or by a small publisher with limited success, writing the script yourself – or hire a screenwriter to adapt the book into a script for you. Then, you can pitch the script based on your book.
– If you have a script to pitch, you might try doing both – pitching the film rights and/or the script in order to up your chances of getting a film deal. In this case, you offer the producer the option of getting the film rights or the script or both. This way, if a film pro likes the book but not your script, he or she might option the film rights or perhaps draw on your script but bring in an established screenwriter to pump it up.
So exactly how do you pitch the film rights or adapt the script from a book? The next series of blogs will deal with those issues.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
The Importance of Poster and Screener Cover Art
In order to properly position and promote your film, you need very good, professional-looking art work for your poster and screener cover, and later this poster art can be used for your home video cover, sales on your website, catalog sheets, and other materials.
Having good art will help your film stand out, convey what it is about, and show you have a good film, since you have taken the care to make it good. Also, whether you pay to have a professional design your art or have some who’s very good with graphics on your team, good art conveys the high value placed on the film, which is important when a distributor seeks to sell it. By contrast, if you have amateurishly looking art, that will detract from your film, no matter how well-done, by making your film look like an amateur effort, since the value of the art transfers to the perception of the quality of your film. Consider this art like a book or music album cover which helps sell the book or album.
To choose someone with the kind of style you like, look at the prospective designer’s portfolio – either through a personal meeting or online. To help determine the look and feel of your film, look at some covers and posters for other successful films in your genre to see the approach used. For instance, if it’s a horror film, you will probably want dark, somber tones that convey mystery and danger. You may want to incorporate images of ghosts, injuries, weapons, or other sorts of destruction and fear are conveyed in your film. As an example, if your film takes place in a haunted house and nearby cemetery, where many characters are attacked or die, incorporate images of the house and gravestones, along with people falling down and perhaps bleeding onto the cellar steps or graves. Alternatively, if your film is a romantic comedy, use light colorful graphics to convey that this is a happy, humorous film, and perhaps feature the romantic couple having fun together. For more specific guidelines, go to a store that rents or sells videos or look online where these videos are on sale to see the posters or covers. While the big video stores are gone, many videos are available at your local supermarket, drug stores, or other venues.
Once you have chosen your graphics artist or have narrowed down your search to a few artists, start with some sketches to illustrate the concept or concepts you are considering for the final art. It can also be helpful to get some feedback or suggestions from others on how they see the film’s poster and cover. In some cases, you might use a preliminary poster that you previously used in pitching the film to interest cast and crew to participate, and that can be a starting point for your final poster and cover.
Besides the title for the film, include the names of the lead actors on the poster art, and you might additionally include a short catchy line, sometimes called a “tag line” or “slogan”, which sums up what the film is about, if it adds to the image. Alternatively, whether you use this tag line on the poster or not, you can readily use it on the back cover of the screener box or in your promotional copy, such as my suggested line for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE: “If all seems lost, would a suicide party help?”
Before you finalize the art and any slogan or tag line, it’s a good idea to test it out not only with some cast and crew members, but with others who are following the progress of the film. For instance, the SUICIDE PARTY director posted two possibilities of a final cover — one with the fireworks over Vegas, the other with Vegas coming alive at night — on Facebook and asked people to share their comments and preferences. The result? The fireworks over Vegas image was the clear winner, so that’s the image he decided to use, though as of this writing, the tag line and whether to use it on the cover is still being tested.
Once you have this final art selected, use it for the poster, screener box cover, postcards, press kit cover, website, and anything else with graphics for the film, since this image will become like a brand for your film. Having great art helps to not only show it’s a great film, but you reinforce the film’s image in the mind of potential distributors, buyers, the press, and the public, and show it’s an exciting, professionally done film, thereby furthering the odds that people will want to promote, sell, and see it.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
There are two approaches for assessing distributors. One is do an assessment before you contact distributors to decide who to contact in the first place. The other is do this review after you have contacted many distributors, such as through a personalized email query blast where you describe your project and ideally include a link to a trailer, after which some distributors express interest in learning more.
Unless you have personal referrals or have met distributors at an event, such as a conference or workshop, I prefer the email query approach as more efficient, since you use the initial query to target distributors who might be interested. Then, if you get a high level of interest, you can assess the distributors to decide those to follow through with by sending them a screener and promotional materials. You can readily add additional distributors to his initial list. Or simply send all the distributors who have expressed interest the screener and promotional material, and do your assessment afterwards of the remaining interested distributors .
Whatever your initial approach, doing the assessment in advance to decide who to contact or doing it afterwards to decide which still-interested distributors to consider making a deal with, here are some factors to consider in making your assessment and selecting a distributor for all or selected channels and territories.
One approach, especially if you think your film is good enough to go theatrical and you are willing to make the necessary investment for marketing, is to look at the success of these distributors with previous films, as well as whether they distribute your type of film. For example, some distributors specialize in action/adventure films, others in sci-fi, documentaries, comedies, or drama, and some cover most types of films. You want to target those that best fit your film in making initial queries or discussing your film’s prospects after distributors have expressed interest.
One good source for assessing distributors is looking at their profile on IMDB (the International Movie Database) to see how many films they have distributed, when they did so, what type of films these were, and how well these films did. After you review their profile and get a list of their films, you can check the listing for each film to see its description, the cast, and the film’s current rating. You need a professional IMDB subscription to do this, which is around $20 a month, so sign up if you don’t already get this.
That’s the kind of assessment I did in arranging distribution for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. After I sent out an email query and about 20 distributors expressed interest and wanted to see the screener, I forwarded their letters to my director, who had previously filmed and distributed over a dozen films, so he could review and rate the distributors. He then came back with his report, indicating which distributors had the best track record after eliminating those who had only distributed a few films, and in one case, only a single film several years earlier. You can’t always get this kind of information from the directories of distributors, so you need to do this checking.
If you have a choice of multiple distributors, this approach can help you find the distributor who is likely to do the most for your film, due to his or her past performance. However, you still need to evaluate the contract and deal you are being offered to determine if that is still the best distributor for your film.
For example, if a good distributor wants a 50-50 deal, while a distributor with only a limited track record wants 35%, it may be better to give up a greater percentage, since, as my director put it, “Thirty-five percent of nothing is nothing.” On the other hand, many distributor deals are for 35%, especially if a distributor feels you have a strong film, and some new distributors may turn out to be very eager and hungry, so they will be very proactive in pushing your film.
Another consideration is whether a distributor expects any money from you for P&A (promotion and advertising) or E&O (errors and omissions) insurance.
Another approach if you want to go theatrical is to look at which distributors are most active in distributing films playing at theaters, along with the genres, grosses, and the number of theaters in which these films have played. This way you can rank the distributors for your type of film based on their box office performance, taking into consideration both the number of films these distributors have represented and the films with the highest grosses.
While you can get the weekend box office grosses for nearly 100 films a week for many previous months, I would suggest just using the Weekend Domestic Chart for the past month to make your analysis more manageable. While the big budget grosses as might be expected are from big studio distributors and their affiliates, some independent distributors have respectable showings of $50,000 or more at the box office, and some have films which have gotten $15,000 or more. Take into consideration the total grosses and how many days the film has been out, so you can more realistically assess how well a film has done during its box office run.
For example, when I did this for the four week period from November 21-December 12, 2014, I found the following distributors for the most films in all genres, although when you do this, limit it your genres. All of these genres include the following:
– Black Comedy
– Romantic comedy
– Multiple Genres
Based on these listings for this period, these distributors had the highest grossing films, and most of these distributors had multiple films in different genres. I have listed the distributors based on their total grosses for at least one film. In doing your analysis, keep track of the number of films from a distributor, the genre, and the individual grosses.
Gross of $2 Million or More
– 20th Century Fox
– Paramount Pictures
– Walt Disney
– Focus Features
– Fox Searchlight
– Weinstein Company
– Open Road
– Sony Pictures Classics
– Roadside Attractions
– Sony Pictures
– Magnolia Pictures
– Samuel Goldwyn Films
– Lorimar Motion Pictures
– Cohen Media Group
Gross of $100,000-$2 Million
– IFC Midnight
– China Lion Film Distribution
– MacGillivray Freedman Films
– Counterpoint Films & Self-Realization Fellowship
– Area 23a
– Eros Entertainment
Gross of $25,000-100,000
– International Film Circuit
– First Run Features
– Music Box Films
– Dada Films
– Aborama Films
– Drafthouse Films
– Oscilliscope Pictures
– Rialto Pictures
Since this list comes from only one month of box office listings, other distributors may show up if these listings were drawn from other months, several months, or a year.
And what if you don’t have the luxury of choosing among many distributors, since you only have very few offers, even only one? Then, make the assessment based on whether you want to select this distributor at all or either wait for another distributor or self-distribute your film, at least for a awhile.
In sum, if you have one or more distributors to choose from, in making an assessment, factor in the distributor’s track record along with other considerations to decide which one or ones to go with for your film. To make the best choice, the art of picking the right distributor or distributors (including the right foreign sales agents or agents) can be an involved, time-consuming process – from finding interested distributors to finding the right one or ones to work with. But it’s important to make this assessment carefully; it’s like entering into a short-term marriage, and if it works, you want to renew it; if not, you move on and look for other possibilities. Just carefully assess your options, in light of what’s realistic for your film, so you start out with a good marriage for your film.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Knowing What to Expect and Say in Approaching Distributors
Once are ready to approach distributors, how do you know what to expect based on your type of film?
First, decide what is realistic for your film, aside from making the best presentation you can with your trailer, screener, synopsis, and press materials. In general, if you have a low-budget independent film with no names, you can expect many distributors not to be interested, or only interested in non-theatrical outlets, unless you have a very unique project with strong production values and have gotten a lot of interest through a PR campaign. This is where any showing at a top tier festival or a string of awards at other festivals can help you land a top distributor. There are a small number of films that have risen above the pack by standing out in some way, such as The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. But these are the one in a million breakthroughs.
As much as you may want a theatrical release because of the added attention and prestige it brings to distributing a film through other channels, it is often not the best approach for most low-budget films. That’s because of the high costs of such a release and the lack of financial return from most theatrical showings, unless there is a big box office success, since there is a low return for each ticket sold. The theater owner typically takes at least 50% and sometimes up to 75% when the film is first shown until it makes a certain amount. So you may not make back the expenses for the release. The main value of the theatrical release is that it’s like a promotional loss leader at a retail store to get customers into the store where they’ll buy more. As such, it helps to create more interest for viewers to buy or rent the video or look for it on Netflix or other outlets, including your website for DVD sales. But the release can be economically unfeasible. And some low-budget genre films, such as horror, suspense/thrillers, and action adventure films, don’t normally get a theatrical release – they go straight to DVD, streaming, downloads, foreign, or other types of sales.
Secondly, when you contact distributors about your film, whether in person, by phone, or email, don’t put information about the stars or budget up front, unless you have at least one name star and a budget of $1 million or more. One good approach is to initially tell distributors about the genre and logline to see if the subject is of interest. If so, briefly describe the highlights of the film, such as the major plot points and any press coverage, awards, or large following you have gotten. If you do have a big name attached, put that front and center, and if the budget is over a million, you might showcase that. Otherwise, it’s best not to state the budget until a potential distributor has expressed interest, and if it’s a very low budget, just say it’s under $200,000.
Typically, once the distributor has some initial interest after learning about the project and possibly seeing a trailer, one of the first things they will ask is “Are there any names?” and “What is the budget?” – the questions that most distributors asked me when I pitched them SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Besides asking for this information, distributors will want to see the screener to decide if they still want to distribute the film. Though they don’t ask for this, when you send the screener, it’s best to include it in a box with compelling art work and other information about the film in a press kit, which can often be online as an electronic press kit. When your screener and promotional materials are ready, either mail the kit or send the link, which is what we did for SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Having this professional looking box for your screener is very important. Don’t send your screener in a plain disk cover, which looks tacky and can be a big turnoff. As for what to include in your press kit, I’ll discuss that in a future article.
Do not reveal the actual budget if it’s a very low one, because that can turn off a distributor. Stories like El Mariachi, who has claimed having a $7000 budget for a film that became a multi-million dollar box office success story, are the exception to the rule. And even if you made your film for a very low amount, say $5000 to $25,000, there may be deferred or work for credits deals with the cast and crew that if paid up front would make your budget much more. There might even be specials on locations and equipment used in the film, so you got them for no money or a super low price, but they are worth much more. For example, if you factor in the real value of the work of the cast and crew, the house used as a shooting set, and the cameras and sound equipment used for filming, you might find your budget was actually around $250,000, whereas you paid only $25,000 up front. So in talking to prospective distributors, use that higher number. Later, after you have gotten your deal and gained success for your film, you can talk about the real budget, which can make a great story to get you more press for your film. But initially, a distributor is apt to feel a very low-budget film isn’t going to be very successful and not want to distribute your film.
In deciding on a realistic distribution approach for your film, consider whether you hope for a theatrical deal or not. While a traditional theatrical deal, such as a studio pickup, might not work given the type of film, lack of names, lack of a following, and lack of budget to cover P&A, you might consider a limited roll-out approach. That could lead to future theatrical distribution as well as helping you distribute in other channels, because of the prestige and press value of opening in a theater. This is what some independents do — a “platform” roll-out, where the film is first shown in one or a few theaters. If it does well and gathers press and distributor interest, it expands to additional theaters, or it could be picked up after the opening by a distributor or studio for additional theatrical distribution. Should you go this route, you often have to pay for the theater and local advertising and promotion, commonly about $5000-15,000 for a week’s run, with the cost depending on the theater, location, and any travel expenses for you and/or others from the film to be there for the screening and doing any advance marketing to build the audience. However, it’s best to only go this route if your film is unique in some way, and you have a budget to support a theatrical showing, so it stands out in a crowded marketplace. Otherwise it’s best to skip a theatrical release.
If you decide not to pursue theatrical screenings, let the distributor know you aren’t expecting this, unless the distributor can make a strong case of why to go theatrical. And even if you arrange for a showing in one or a handful of selected theaters, this still might not mean you are seeking a wider theatrical release. Another reason for having a small number of screenings in theaters is to get some press coverage you can use to support distribution in other channels. These showings could also be a way to build your following on the social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, to see your film. Also, you might invite prospective distributors to see your film in a private or public screening, in lieu of or before getting a screener, such as one client who invited several hundred distributors to two showings she arranged for in New York. Should you decide not to go theatrical, look for distributors who are strong in other types of distribution.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Creating a Realistic Distribution Strategy for Your Film
Once you know the different players in the distribution space and the different possible channels of distribution, the next step is creating your distribution plan. To this end, consider the audience for your film, the size of this audience, and how to best reach them. Also, consider the realistic potential of your film and its likely appeal to a distributor or festival audience, so you don’t let your dreams of great success overwhelm a realistic assessment of what your film is likely to do in the marketplace.
Additionally, consider the cost of different types of distribution or entering certain festivals to seek distribution, such as the P&A (promotion and advertising) costs for a theatrical release or entry fees for festivals, along with travel expenses if you win and want to attend. Such expenses are in addition to the expenses for deliverables that every distributor and sales agent will want if they take your film, such as creating different digital and DVD formats for distribution, along with preparing DVD covers and cover art, posters, press releases, and more.
Some people may think, “Oh, I’m just going to crowdfund for the additional money I need,” and that approach can be fine for many films, most notably those that already have a fan base of friends, family, and supporters, so you can raise at least 25-30% of the needed funds from this inner circle. But if your circle is largely composed of other filmmakers, who are seeking to raise money for their own films, hoping for funds from them may be unrealistic, as may be gaining the funds from strangers contributing to your campaign. Moreover, the crowdfunding space has become very crowded these days, with so many people thinking they can gain the money they need this way. But the stats from crowdfunding sites tell a different story – only about 40% of Kickstarter projects get funded, and only about 13% of Indiegogo projects reach their goal, although they may get some funds along the way. Further, you have to factor in the cost of commissions and payment fees on whatever money you raise (about 8-15%), as well as the cost of the perks you are providing to funders. So often it may not be realistic to expect to fund your film through crowdfunding, though some projects do succeed or gain a major proportion of their film’s budget this way.
Secondly, be realistic about what film festivals you can get into, and whether it’s worth waiting to first build up your platform through festival showings and awards in order to seek a better distribution deal than you might get before entering the festivals. Often at my Film Exchange Programs and other film events, I have heard filmmakers who are completing or have just completed their first film say with perfect confidence that “We thought we’d start by showing the film at Sundance” or fill in the name of any of the top film festivals. However, the reality is that you have low odds of getting into these top festivals. For example, Sundance averages 5000 plus submissions for about 200 slots, and in most festivals, the festival staff and directors are apt to give priority consideration to filmmakers they know or to films with big names that bring prestige to the festival. So that leaves about 10-15% of the slots available for new filmmakers, and if you have a low-budget film with no names, you are unlikely to get in.
Even if you do get into one of the big festivals, where distributors go, such as Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes, to get a distributor to see your film, you need to build up excitement about your film in advance. And that usually requires hiring a publicist to promote your film, which costs several thousand dollars. Plus even getting into a top festival doesn’t guarantee you will get a distributor, since the distributors only pick up a handful of films at these festivals. It can help you get a distributor if you can build up enough excitement to get distributors to go to the first showing at a festival, since that’s where more of the deals get done, while a smaller number of distributors commonly show up at later showings. Yet, even if the distributors see your film, there are no guarantees that a festival launch will result in a distribution deal. Thus, with a low budget no name film it can be especially unrealistic to consider getting into the big festivals, and even if you do, you might still not get a distributor. Moreover, with these long odds, you have to wait before releasing your film anywhere else, so you can premiere it at the festival.
What might be more realistic is entering the second and third tier festivals, where you don’t have to premiere, either before or after you get a distributor or obtain multiple distributors for different channels and territories. Your odds of getting into these smaller festivals are greater, especially if the film’s director or top cast or crew personally know the festival director or staff members. Then, you can use that acceptance and any awards to help build your film and company’s platform, and you can incorporate those awards into your press releases or query letters to the media to increase your chances of getting a distributor or press coverage – or getting into more festivals.
As to whether to enter and publicize any festivals where you are accepted or win awards before or after you get a distributor, either is fine. If you don’t already have a distributor, inform the distributors considering your film about any festival acceptances and awards, which might help you get a distributor or sales agent. Attaining a number of festival showings and awards might also give you more leverage to get a better distributor with more clout or obtain an even better deal. Alternatively, if you already have a distributor or sales agent, any festival acceptances and awards can help them market and publicize your film.
One way to decide whether to line up distribution before or after the festival or start with some distributors and get more afterwards for different channels or territories is to approach distributors and agents before the festivals. Then, you can decide what to do, based on the number of offers you get before the festival and the quality of these distributors and agents. If you have an offer from one or more good distributors and agents, great! You can make some decisions in advance and use your festival participation and any awards to support your distributors and agents. Or you can delay your decision until after the festival if you aren’t sure and hope to find other distributors or get a better deal through your festival participation.
As an example, that’s what we have been doing with SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. Once the trailer was available for viewing on YouTube, I did a mailing to invite about 1000 distributors, sales agents, and AFM exhibitors using the query service, Publishers Agents and Films (www.publishersagentsandfilms.com) to tell them about the film and invite them to view the trailer and let me know if they were still interested in distributing the film. About 20 distributors and agents expressed interest, though they wanted to see the screener first – which is typical, unless you have big names in your film. Then, the director and I researched the background of each prospective distributor and agent on IMDB and other sources to see how many films they had previously distributed and how these films had done. Probably, if we have a reasonably good deal from the best of these distributors, we will at least sign some distributors or agents for some territories and channels. But if we aren’t satisfied with these distributors’ or their offers, we will go to some festivals and decide among the interested distributors and sales agents after the festival.
Likewise, you can work on getting distribution before or after these festivals. Just be realistic about what kind of deal and distributor or sales agent you might expect for your film, so your dreams don’t outpace a likely distribution scenario.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
The Many Channels for Distributing Your Film
Today, there are more channels than ever for distributing your film. Since many distributors specialize in certain channels, you may want to consider dividing up the distribution among different distributors, as long as their territories don’t overlap if you have exclusive deals. In other cases, distributors will ask for all rights in all channels within a certain market, such as domestic (US and Canada), foreign (all countries outside of the U.S. and Canada, or certain countries or regions), or worldwide.
Thus, it can become very confusing to sort through who wants what channels in what territories, besides looking at the range of deals offered in terms of percentage split, types of deliverables required, such as DVDs and digital files, and the amount of money needed from you, if any, for P&A (promotion and advertising), or whether you will get any upfront money on signing the deal (which is generally no if you don’t have any recognizable names in your film).
One way to help sort through the varying offers is to create a matrix where you list the required and desired channels for each distributor, along with the territories required and desired. Your matrix might look something like this:
Across the top: All Channels, Theatrical, Home Video, DVD, and so on.
On the side: Worldwide, Domestic, All Foreign, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc.
Then, in each box, list the name of the distributor who has expressed interest in that channel and territory, and note if the distributor requires (R) or desires (D) that channel and territory for the deal. You can also indicate of the distributor wants an exclusive (E) or non-exclusive (N).
As you get expressions of interest from different distributors, you can enter their name in the matrix. Also, review their track record and offers. As you do, you can rate the distributors to create a priority list (such as ranking them from #1 to #5, with the top rank being #1, or rating them from 1 to 10, where the higher the number, the more you like them). Use whichever system you prefer – a ranking or rating system. Then, put that number in the box for each distributor listed, along with whether this channel is required or desired and whether the distributor wants an exclusive or non-exclusive. The result should look something like this for one box: Distributor Smith. #1, R, E; Distributor Jones, #3, D, N.
In making these deals, you will commonly retain the direct sales rights, which means you can sell DVDs from your websites and at screenings, and often you may have the right to sell downloads and streams from your site, unless the distributor wants to restrict such sales. Ideally, it’s best to retain direct sales rights, because you will have a greater profit margin, a faster payment, and don’t have to split your income from these sales with a middleman; you only have to pay the manufacturing and fulfilment costs. Also, by retaining direct sales rights, you can sell other products if you have merchandise associated with your film, such as T-shirts, hats, posters, mugs, soundtrack albums, or a book based on your film. Plus you can sell related products from others that might appeal to your audience, such as books and DVDs, which you buy at wholesale and sell retail. But if you aren’t set up to handle sales and fulfillment yourself, it may not make sense to keep these rights if the distributor wants to do this and give you a share of the proceeds.
According to Peter Broderick, author of “The Twelve Principles of Hybrid Distribution,” in a recently published book: Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution, the major channels of domestic and international distribution can be listed as follows:
Domestic: Festivals, Theatrical, Semi-Theatrical and Nontheatrical, Cable VOD, SVOD, Television, Direct DVD, Retail DVD, Direct Digital, Retail Digital, Educational, and Home Video.
International: Festivals, Television, Direct DVD, Retail DVD, Direct Digital, and Retail Digital, and occasionally Theatrical and Educational Distribution.
Splitting up the rights among different distributors handling different markets can be complicated and time consuming when you get a number of offers to consider. But an advantage to splitting the rights is that you can get better distribution when different distributors are especially strong in a particular channel or channels, so you can have another distributor handle those channels where another distributor is weak. Then, too, as Broderick notes, this approach avoids cross-collateralization, whereby the expenses from one area of distribution are applied against revenues from other areas of distribution.
Also, in splitting up rights, decide if there are certain areas where you want to retain the distribution rights, because you feel you can successfully handle that type of distribution on your own, such as contacting the educational market or selling direct DVDs or digital copies from your own website or from a dedicated site for the film.
In assessing the distributors for different channels, find out which channels they handle well by asking about their track record. That can help you decide which distributor would be best in handling a certain channel. Also, as possible limit not only granting an exclusive, but the term of distribution and the level of performance expected, so you can assess how well the distributor is doing with your film during a certain time period (such as 6 months or a year). Then, if the distributor is doing well, great; you can mutually renew the agreement. If not, you are not stuck in an agreement, and you can either end the contract at the end of the term or for non-performance. These agreements can get complicated, so do have an attorney or someone familiar with distribution agreements review them and make suggestions about what to add or change, as necessary.
Finally, be careful that the rights you give to different distributors for different channels don’t conflict, but are complementary, and that the rights given to a distributor for different channels and territories don’t restrict you from making deals for other channels or territories. Ideally, make all the deals at the same time and try to keep them to the same term, so you can better keep track of when deals expire or are up for renewals.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Finding and Connecting with Distributors and Foreign Sales Agents
Now that you are set up for assessing interested distributors and foreign sales agents (which I’ll often call distributors now for convenience), how do you find them to get them interested and assess the best ones for you?
The main ways to find and connect with them include the following:
– Go to film markets, such as the American Film Market, and meet with exhibitors or obtain their names from a list of distributors and phone or email them after the market, since most of the exhibitors are the biggest distributors or sales agents. The other major film markets, according to an article “Top 14 Film Markets” by Minhae Shim in Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution include Hot Docs, held in Toronto, Canada; the Independent Film Week/Project Forum in New York City; INPUT (International Public Service Television Screening Conference); the National Media Market, in Charleston, South Carolina, and NATPE (National Association of Television Executives) held in Miami. The other major film markets are outside the US and Canada – CineMart in the Netherlands, the European Film Market in Berlin, the Hong King International Film and TV Market, the Marche du Films and MIPTV in Cannes, and TIFFCOM (Tokyo International Film Festival Content Market).
Most realistically, the one to go to is the American Film Market, held in Santa Monica in early November. I attended it several years ago, and have since obtained information on the exhibitors who are listed publically, and I am now a member of the AFM365, which provides a way to contact other attendees during and after the festival for the following year. If you go to this festival, you can get a pass for the whole festival for $795 or for the last 3 days for $295. Either pass will enable you to go to the showrooms, where you can meet distributors, though most filmmakers on a low budget buy the 3 day pass and hang out in the lobby on other days to meet people who are there. You have the best opportunity to meet exhibitors on the last three days, since on the first four days, they are focused on speaking to buyers and making deals to sell their films. If you have a packaged screener, it is best to set up meetings with distributors in advance, although you can also go to their showrooms when they aren’t busy. If they are interested, you can leave your screener and any press materials with them, or get their business cards or other contact information and send the screener later. If you don’t yet have a screener, simply introduce yourself and get their business card or flyers with contact information for follow-up later. And even if you only get their contact information because they are too busy to see them, that’s fine, since you can contact them later by phone or email.
However, don’t expect to make any deals at the AFM or other film markets. Unless you have big names attached, the distributor will want to see your screener first.
– Go to conferences, workshops, and panels which feature distributors and sales agents. This can be a way to personally meet a few of the speakers and panelists who are distributors or can refer you to them. You probably will only be able to say hello and maybe ask a question or two. But get the contact information for later follow-up once you have a screener ready, and in your follow-up, mention that you have met the person at the event you attended. In some cases, conferences and workshops will provide attendees with a directory of distributors, such as a film funding conference I attended several years ago in Los Angeles which was put on by the Independent Film Forum. Whether you meet a distributor personally or get their name from a directory at the event, it’s generally best to send a query letter or call first rather than sending in the screener and any press materials unless requested to do so, since different distributors have different procedures for requesting material. Tell them what you have to send them, and they can tell you what to do next.
– Research the names of distributors in different directories and industry listings. Doing this research can be a time-consuming process, but much of this information is available for free or at a low cost. Here are just some of the lists of distributors that are available:
– Independent Filmmakers Showcase’s “Independent Film Distributors List”
– Video University’s “Video and Film Distributors”
– Indiewire’s “Guide to Distributors at Sundance 2014”
– The Numbers “Market Share for Each Distributor 1995-2014”
– Film Journal’s “Distribution Guide” to Domestic and International Companies
– Insider’s Guide to Film Distribution, edited by Minhae Shim, Erin Trahan, and
Michele Meek, Independent Media Productions, Cambridge, MA.
– The Producer’s Insider Guide to Selling Films – Film Distributors Directory by
If you put “film distribution directories” in Google search, you’ll find even more. You can use these directories to find distributors for your type of film. Then, write to them about your film and ask if they want to see a screener. If they are interested, send it and go from there.
– Use a query service to send a query for you to distributors. Instead of doing all of the research to create a list of distributors to contact yourself, you might use a query service, such as Publishers, Agents & Films (www.publishersagentsandfilms.com), since it has already done this research for you and can send out a query to 1000 plus distributors, including AFM exhibitors for the past two years. The advantage of using this service is the company has gone through all of these directories and created an email list, so you don’t have to spend the 20 or more hours to create your own list. Plus the query goes out under your email using their special software, so the responses go directly to you, and they help you write a good query letter.
That’s what we did in distributing SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE, and 20 distributors expressed interest after our initial query with a link to the trailer. Then, we will send another query once the screener is ready to follow-up with those who have already expressed interest as well as to others, since they may be interested now. Some other filmmakers used this service several times to invite distributors to a series of showings they set up for private screenings in Manhattan.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Finding Distributors for Your Film: What to Expect
I’ve recently started thinking about how to best distribute a film, since I have been looking for distribution for my first feature film: SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE. This is the first of a series of posts which describes what I have learned is the best strategy and what to expect in the offers you get, so you can get the best deal possible, based on what’s realistic for your film. I’ll discuss both DYI (do your own) distribution if you can’t find a distributor, as well as different tracks to consider in distributing your film through different channels. Eventually, these posts will be collected together to create a book on DISTRIBUTING YOUR FILM.
First, know the major players in the film distribution space. The ones to contact depend on what your goals are for your film, such as whether you feel you have a film that merits theatrical distribution, or you want to focus on distribution in other markets. These major players include studio distributors, independent distributors, producer’s reps, and sales reps.
The studio distributors are largely out of the picture for independent films, unless you have a big breakthrough at one of the top film festivals where the big distributors go (Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes, and secondarily Tribeca, and maybe Berlin and Venice, plus some distributors go to South by Southwest. Such a film breakthrough requires not only being shown, but also creating an exciting talk or buzz about your film with an advance media build-up. Moreover, if you are aiming for the big festivals, you have to premier there, which means waiting to find out if you are accepted before you can submit to other festivals. However, the likelihood of acceptance is very small unless you have personal connections, since not only do the big festivals select a small number of films from thousands of submissions, but generally the vast majority – perhaps 85-90% — of those accepted come from personal connections with the festival director or staff, leaving only about 10-15% to be accepted on their own merits. Then if you are accepted, you still have to create that exciting buzz for your film to actually get a deal besides simply showing at a big festival. In short, for most indie filmmakers, a studio distribution deal is unlikely, though possible, should you later develop a great deal of excitement, so the studio distributors want to take a look at your project.
Then, there are the independent distributors, who come in all flavors. There are some who handle theatrical distribution, ranging from those who handle one or two films – generally their own films — to those handling a half-dozen or more. Many of these distributors will also handle distribution in other channels, such as to home video, cable, and foreign sales. Then there are many distributors who eschew theatrical for distribution in other channels.
Often if you want to seek a theatrical release, you will need a budget for P&A, which means promotion and advertising, along with the costs of any files, DVDs, posters, and local advertising, which you need for each theater, which can add up to $5000-10,000 or more per city, though normally you don’t pay the distributor. Rather, you typically make a split of the income arrangement, which is commonly 35-50%, though more often a 50-50 split, and in some cases, a distributor who wants your film enough will advance the P&A.
Some distributors may additionally ask you to have E&O insurance, which refers to “Errors” and “Omissions.” Even though your film is already produced, some distributors may still ask for this, just in case, such as one distributor interested in SUICIDE PARTY: SAVE DAVE explained to me. “Maybe a scene in the film might show a store or company in the background, and they object to the way they are portrayed. So this could trigger a request for a recut of the film or a lawsuit, but your E&O insurance would cover this.” On the other hand, most distributors I spoke to didn’t require this.
While some distributors will ask for worldwide rights, others just want domestic (which includes Canada as well as the U.S.), and some specialize in foreign. So everything is negotiable including what markets a distributor will handle, the percentage split, and how much P&A budget you will need if any.
Another major player is the producer’s rep. This is essentially a middleman who contacts distributors and foreign sales agents on your behalf and negotiates a deal for you. Commonly these reps handle a slate of films for different producers, generally about 5 to 20 other films, depending on the size of the rep’s company. Commonly the rep get 5-10% of the deal, occasionally 15%, depending on what they do. However, the reps should not take any upfront money from you, though some may ask for this. But they should only get an upfront payment if they are doing extra work, such as writing releases and creating posters for you.
According to Ben Yennie, a producer’s rep in San Francisco and the author of The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget, a good producer’s rep can help filmmakers connect with distributors and foreign sales agents, since they have built relationships with them. They can help you get a faster response from them, as well as assess and select the best ones to work with, since they better know the market. They can also evaluate the different offers and handle the negotiations for you, which can result in a better deal for the film. Additionally, they can help you get into the bigger film festivals if they know the director or staff member. However, Yennie cautions that a lot of reps are ineffective and don’t deliver what they promise, so it is important to look at a rep’s track record and expect the rep to give you a realistic assessment of your film’s potential and what the rep can do for you before selecting a rep.
Finally, there is the sales agent, also called the “foreign sales agent,” who handles foreign sales. In this case, it can be very valuable to work with such an agent, since he or she will know the distributors, exhibitors, and other channels in the territory covered, and so will be in a better position to make the contact and negotiate any sales than you. While some sales agents may have a network of agents in different countries, others will specialize in selected areas, so you need to learn the areas covered, as well as the channels in which the sales agents wants to pitch your film. In this way, you can make sure you don’t have overlapping exclusive representation by sales agents who are covering the same territories.
So now that you know the major players, the next step is to assess how you want to position and promote your film in different channels, as well as prepare the materials you need to get a distributor or sales agent, and in some cases, a good producer’s rep.
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Turning Your Script into a Film: From Idea to Synopsis and Script
This will be the first in a series of articles on how to go from an idea to a completed film or TV show, whether you find an agent or manager, a producer or production company to take over your project, or decide to raise funding to produce the film or series yourself. These articles will become a book once completed.
The first step is coming up with the idea and deciding if it merits being turned into a script or TV treatment. Think of your idea like a logline for a film or TV show – a one sentence description of about 20-35 words that sums up what your idea is all about.
At this idea stage, it is good to get feedback from others, and also do a little research to see if the idea is new and hasn’t been done before or at least represents a novel twist on something that has been successful in the past. You can do this research by putting words related to your idea in the IMDB or other search engine. This process will also help you avoid using a title for a film that has already been made. While no one can protect a title, unless it has become a trademark, such as for a franchised series, you don’t want to use a title of something that has been done before. Even though your title is simply a working title, since any company that produces your film may decide on the name, sometimes with input from distributors, you still want to call your film by a new name.
When you run your idea by others, it is best to limit this feedback to trusted people you know, since an idea by itself can’t be protected. You have to develop a synopsis, treatment, or script in order to create a copyright and later register you can register this with the Copyright Office (and some scriptwriters also register the script for 5 years with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), though you actually get the best protection with a Copyright. Once you do have a written synopsis, treatment, or script, you can hear what others think of the idea, and they may even give you some input on how they see the scenes developing, which you can use or not.
Another approach I have found helpful for getting input on ideas or on the later phases of development for a script, film, or TV show is a small focus group of associates in the film industry. While friends and family might be supportive in giving you opinions, the danger is that they may be too receptive to your ideas, because they want to be nice, rather than giving you honest feedback. Also, associates in the film world are usually a good source for feedback, because they are already generally familiar with what works and doesn’t work.
If you aren’t already connected to some people in the film industry, a good way to start is through some local film groups, which may be affiliated with a local art school, college or university with film programs, or a Meetup group for films in your area. Or start a local group yourself and reach out to others in the local film community who may want to participate in such a feedback group. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I already have some Meetup Groups that have a meeting called a Film Exchange about once a month (www.meetup.com/bayareafilmandtvconnection ; www.meetup.com/filmandbusinessconnection; and www.meetup.com/sanfranciscofilmindustry, and I have two groups in L.A. as well, which have assistant organizers.
Then, at the meeting, ask what people think of your idea and take notes. You can pass out a description or read it aloud for feedback.
If you have several ideas, you can use this feedback to decide which idea to pursue next. In this case, you might list a series of short descriptions on a single sheet of paper and pass this out to others individually or in the group, and ask them to tell you which they like the most or don’t like. One good way to do this is to ask them to rank the ideas on your list from 1 (the one they like best) to the highest number on your list (the one they like least). Either let them read the list themselves or read it aloud with them. Finally, review the responses and see which idea or ideas got the highest ranking. If it’s not immediately clear, you can get averages for the rank of each idea by adding up the numbers and dividing by the number of individuals in the group. That’ll give you the average ranking, with the lowest number the most popular idea.
Then, based on this input and your own feeling about which idea you like best, start by developing that. The next phase is to create an outline for your script, and that can be further developed into a synopsis or treatment. Or if you have a more intuitive fluid approach to writing, use your initial idea as a guide to writing the script and develop the synopsis or treatment after that.
In short, find the idea you want to work on, and the next step is to write a synopsis or treatment or write the script. In either case, if you are an unproduced writer, you will generally need a completed script, whatever steps you take next to get there.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
Creating a Synopsis or Treatment for a Film
In addition to writing a complete script, you should create a synopsis or treatment, since many producers, agents, and managers, as well as potential investors if you become a producer, will want to see this. A synopsis or treatment is a way for them to see a little more about the project to help them decide if they want to see the full script.
The synopsis is commonly a 1-2 single-spaced page document in which you feature the highlights of the script. Preferably keep it to 1 or at most 1 ½ pages, and if there is a second page, print out any printed copy back to back, though usually you will send this in a PDF format via an email attachment.
The treatment is basically an expanded version of the synopsis in which you write out the main action in the script without dialogue – or occasionally include dialogue in a paragraph describing the action to help dramatize the story. Perhaps consider this like a condensed form of the script featuring the story-line, without the dialog. . I have personally found treatments unnecessary, since typically, after seeing an introductory letter or having a brief phone or in-person discussion of the project, the producer, agent, manager, or other party will ask to either see a synopsis or the full script, and some will want a synopsis along with the script.
You can write this synopsis before or after the script, and you can always adapt and modify it should you change the script. I commonly write the synopsis before I write the script, since this then becomes an outline I use as a guide for writing the script, though I sometimes make changes as I go along, as the story and characters suggest other directions. Then, I revise the synopsis as I make these changes or at the end of writing the script. Others prefer to write a separate more detailed outline to guide them, while some expand an outline into a treatment that they use to write the script. Still others may write a script with only a general outline of what to write and do the synopsis at the end.
Use whichever approach works best for you. The point is to have a short synopsis you can use when you pitch your script to producers, agents, managers, and possibly investors, whether you use this as a guide for writing your script or not.
There are several ways to write a good synopsis, just as there are several ways to write a good query letter or treatment.
One approach is to create subtitles for the different parts of the synopsis, which generally include these:
Logline – a one-sentence 20-35 word summary of what the film is all about, plus include a phrase about you as the writer if you have industry credits, such as by the writer of (NAME OF FEATURE FILM).
Genre – a phrase featuring the main genres (ie: drama, comedy, sci-fi, etc.)
Synopsis – three or four paragraphs highlighting the major plot points
Appeal of the film – a sentence listing the film’s main audience (ie: women, sci-fi fans)
Author’s Bio – a one paragraph summary featuring your industry credits
Finally, conclude with a call to action by inviting the contact to ask you for further information or see the synopsis or treatment (if you have one) or the completed script.
Another approach to writing the synopsis is to feature these main sections, but combine them into a series of paragraphs. I prefer this format myself, since I like the continuous flow of one idea into another.
If there are many characters or subplots, focus on the main characters and central plot of the story, and include a reference to other plot lines in a sentence or short paragraph that sums up the subplot and relates it to the central plot. For example, you might write something like: “Meanwhile, as Jeremy was going through a series of challenges in seeking to stop the reservoir from overflowing in order to save the town, his fiancée was plotting with her secret lover to stop Jeremy, because they were partners in a scheme to develop the property after the homes were destroyed.”
One of the big mistakes that writers make in writing a synopsis is to cram in all the details about all the plot’s twists and turns created by different characters, which can become confusing and difficult to follow. Leave the extensive plot details for after a film industry professional has asked to see more.
The other big mistake writers make is being too vague or leaving the reader guessing about what happens in the end of the story. While it can be fine to tantalize the prospective viewer with this uncertainty, agents, managers, and producers generally want to know the ending. Some writers try to leave things very vague since they fear someone stealing the story. But the way to protect yourself is by filing a copyright on the script, and if you make the synopsis appealing enough, film industry pros will want to contact you and see the full script, rather than trying to steal the idea from you. Then, too, if your synopsis is so vague that it just seems like an idea, you can’t protect it, since ideas cannot be copyrighted. So don’t just say something like “Jerry received a warning which turned his life around and led to everything else that happened. “ Instead, say what this warning was for and describe what happened to change his life and what he did then.
Once you have a completed synopsis, you are ready to start pitching your script to agents, managers, or producers or you can pitch a completed film based on your script to potential investors.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD
When and How to Write a Treatment for a Film
Sometimes the terms “synopsis” and “treatment” are used interchangeably, but a common way to distinguish them is to think of a treatment as a fleshed out outline or expanded synopsis. As such, it features the major story line of a script, but without the dialog, except for when the dialog is occasionally woven into the text to better explain or dramatize the story. A major difference between a synopsis and a treatment is that a synopsis is normally at most 1-2 single spaced pages, and more usually 1 page, while a treatment may often run to 25 to 40 pages. An outline might be 5 to 10 pages.
Commonly an outline is something you prepare for yourself to help you structure the plot of the story and build in the characters against this framework. Some writers also develop an extensive backstory for each character, which helps to create the character’s motivation and personality. Then, the writer uses that character work-up to inform them as they write the script.
Another approach writing a script is to simply start with a synopsis and use this as a guide, which is what I normally do, although some writers prefer to use the outline or treatment as their guide, and they later write the synopsis for pitching the script. There is no one way that works best, so use the approach that is most comfortable for you.
Where a treatment fits into all of this is if you want to create a more detailed outline that isn’t just a barebones listing of the major plot points in the story. Instead, you include a description of the setting along with the action, and you may provide a summary of what the characters will talk about in each scene, without providing all or most of the dialog, except in relating certain key points in the story, where a particular exchange or line of dialog is important. With this exception, the treatment is mostly a description of the story, which sometimes can read like a novel, although it doesn’t include much or any dialog or the interior thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the characters.
Often a treatment is not necessary when you are pitching a script. Besides responding to a short initial query letter or very brief phone or in-person pitch (about 250-400 words for the letter; 10-15 seconds for the pitch, producers, agents, and managers typically ask for a synopsis or if they want to see more, they may ask for the first 5-10 pages or the entire script. Potential investors will commonly ask for a synopsis and business plan in addition to the script. But asking for a treatment is less common. In fact, in my five years of pitching scripts and getting a few scripts in production or under option, no one has asked to see a treatment. They have all asked to initially see the synopsis, both the synopsis and script together, or just the script.
So why write a treatment, and when should you write one? There are a few times when it is good to do this:
– You are producing the script yourself, and you want to work out more specifically what will happen where, what characters will be involved, and what the budget might be given those details.
– You want to more precisely lay out the story line of the script, before you write the dialog.
– You are working with a co-writer or plan to hire a ghost writer, who will use your treatment as a guide to write the script; or a treatment may be a helpful guide if you want a novelist to expand your script idea into a novel and you haven’t yet written the script.
– You only have a synopsis and don’t have the time or ability to write out the script; so you want to protect the story and characters with a copyright.
– A potential partner, producer, production company, investor, or a person writing a budget wants to see more precisely what happens in the story, but you haven’t yet written the script.
– And perhaps you may think of other uses for a treatment.
In sum, while a treatment may often not be necessary, particularly if you are writing the completed script yourself, there are times it may be useful. And just like the synopsis, outline, or script itself, you can feel free to modify or change whatever you write, as you have new ideas, get feedback on ways to improve the story and script, or find that the original version is too costly to film, so you need another version that is less expensive to produce.
* * * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, PhD