My Rewriting The Screenplay class students are all producing professional-quality scene work as they complete the second draft of their screenplays. It’s very exciting to work with a group of talented writers who have also bonded as a community to support each other’s work.
This week I polished the first 30 pages of The Naked Tango so that it be sent out to agents. My second novel, The Book of Zev, was published by a small independent house, Koehler Books, and did well. My new book has broader appeal, as it is a work of literary fiction as opposed to a thriller, thus I am looking for a wider audience.
To do that, a writer must communicate with potential buyers. The medium is the query letter, which includes a request for representation, a brief synopsis of the book, and a brief bio of the writer. Writing a brief synopsis of your screenplay or book is hard. The trick is to first create an outline of the book, then condense it to create the synopsis. It sounds straightforward, but writing the query letter was probably more difficult than writing the entire book. Marketing is not writing and requires a different part of the brain.
Today’s writer must do their own marketing in order to get their work sold. Both the query letter and the research required to find suitable buyers require hard work, diligence, and follow-through.
The writer must also accept that you must share your idea with your potential clients, which brings with it a certain amount of risk, hence the brevity of the query letter synopsis. My mother was intellectual property attorney so I learned early that you can only copyright the execution of an idea, not the idea itself. The amount of information you share in the letter is a calculated risk. Any project for profit carries risk, and it’s a low risk since no one wants to be accused of plagiarism. Use common sense: No plot is so original that it can be stolen. Ultimately, it’s all about the writing.
A cautionary tale: I have a colleague who wrote a wonderful screenplay, but he hasn’t shown it five years later, because he’s too afraid that someone will steal his idea, no matter how many times I explain that that as it is the quality of the screenplay that will garner a sale.
Be brave! Copyright the work, then take the risk and have the confidence that your work is so good, that once read, it will be irresistible. Think of the query letter as bait. It’s a numbers game, so get busy!
A caveat: This confidence must be earned. Walter Mosley, a great and prolific writer who has had several of his books made into films, describes rewriting as a process where you work through your story many times to fix things until you can’t find anything else to fix.
In the case of The Naked Tango, I got through the third revision only to discover the possibility of adding another event that took the story to a whole new level. Although I’m working in the fiction format, my screenwriting tools serve me well. I got the idea by using my Scripting Techniques.
I do my scripting practice every morning and my “Word of the Day” on Monday was: Accurate. When I free-associated around that word, I discovered that if I aimed to be accurate rather than good, my energy completely changed, all of my anxiety receded, and I was able to go calmly into the Creative Space that I am so eager to share with other people. Apply the word, “accurate” when you start to feel negative or doubtful about whether your writing is”any good.” Cut through the negativity by answering the question: Is what I’m writing accurate, that is true to my vision?
The next Scripter’s Writing Room webinar is Wednesday, March 2nd at 7:00 p.m EST via Zoom. Read more about it on the homepage of my site and email me if you would like to attend.
Here’s to your successful writing,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz