I get loads of emails from people and some get repeated quite frequently, from stuff about my reading services, to craft and even “agony aunt”-style advice, so I thought I would compose a list of my most frequently asked questions via email. Enjoy!
Do you read novels?
Yes I do! Demand is not as high it seems for spec novels as spec scripts, that’s all (features and shorts are especially popular, though TV series get a look-in too these days). I actually started BY reading novels at a literary agent’s many moons ago: the agent in question got a few movies, but mostly novels, so I had a crash course in a three month work placement. It was fun. Most of the novels I read were about women killing their husbands or fathers, weirdly – though I haven’t had another like that in five years! Funny how it goes. Most of the novels I get these days are either fantasy or science fiction, with historical/romance a firm second. If you want to submit YOUR novel to a literary agent, then it’s best to include the first three chapters (*roughly* 15,000 words, though there’s no cap on this: I’ve read longer AND shorter) plus a one page synopsis to get them interested, rather than sending the whole caboodle. On this basis then, I recommend to novelists that I read their first three chapters and help them with their synopsis. I usually do this on my “Development Notes Plus” package, but of course can quote writers on what they want based on wordcount. Email me for more info.
Do you read treatments, shorts and synopses?
Again, absolutely to all three. My tariff for this is loosely based on £2 a page for shorts (or treatments) with a cap on £25, though this can depend on what kind of feedback and/or support the writer is looking for. I recommend the one page pitch of course, so I will read a synopsis several times for a writer and we can bounce it back and forwards for a time and fee we agree between us. Of course, writers who submit several shorts, synopses or treatments (either at the same time or come back to me) get discounts too.
I’m a writer who absolutely hates writing treatments. If I tell you my story, can you write it for me so I can then go to script myself?
No, sorry. I don’t have time to write this kind of preparatory work FOR writers, because it’s inevitable I’m going to see your story completely differently to you and it would take forever.
I can’t get the hang of synopses or one page pitches AT ALL, but I’ve got a script ready to go. Could you read it and write my synopsis for me?
Absolutely, I’ve done lots of these for people. If you email me your requirements and script we can agree to a quote that suits you.
How long will the turnaround be on my script if I send it to you?
You never have to wait longer than two weeks. It’s usually a lot less than this. I can confirm ETA of your notes or report when you send it to me. If on the *unlikely* occasion I’m unable to undertake the work as I’m swamped, I will refer you to another reader – but always to one I’ve used (and paid for!) myself and been happy with.
Is format, spelling and grammar really that important?
Personally, I always think it’s better to be safe than sorry – never let Nazi readers out there reject you for not “looking right” on the page or carelessness with spelling and grammar. However, I always the first to say it’s the writer’s prerogative. I also say to scribes: don’t get “hung up” on format. If your script is REALLY good, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Also, I’ve never heard of a writer getting rejected for having just the one MONTAGE laid out incorrectly or a couple of words mispelt. I would however always recommend getting rid of the ultimate Reader Pet Peeve, the mixed tense.
Which contests are worth entering?
The big four for me for features has to be Final Draft Big Break, Bluecat, Scriptapolooza, American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest. What I like about Bluecat above the others is you get written feedback and I’ve always found mine constructive. There’s the British Feature Screenplay contest too now; I’ve never entered that, but I have entered their Short Screenplay Competition. Other short script competitions of note include Super Shorts and Virgin Media Shorts. There are plenty more worth looking at, however: just Google for others’ experiences of these.
Is it worth doing a university course in screenwriting?
The market is flooded with MAs in screenwriting, so it’s worth doing your research: ask people who have done the course how they rate it. It’s also worth considering what you think you will get from it: if you think it offers a golden ticket into professional writing, forget it; it won’t. If however you want to have a safe environment to hone your craft and have the money to pay for it, why not? If you don’t have the money though, don’t despair. I’ve actually learned far more from script reading than I ever did at university – plus there are loads of opportunities to add to your knowledge with short courses if necessary. Most importantly however you need to get yourself out there, making contacts, collaborating with people. No piece of paper can give you that, you do it yourself.
What screenwriting books, if any, would you recommend I read?
I’ve said it before and this is the last time! ; ) I can only tell you what I like, which are: Writing Drama by Yves Lavandier, Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond Frensham, (he also has a blog, here) Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters (or get the old skool version for FREE, here). All the blogs too are invaluable. There’s lots you can get from other screenwriting books and websites, but I’m personally a big fan of script reading: you can’t go wrong with it AND it’s free. Even a totally mad, rubbish script will teach you what NOT to do. For more info and links on this, read Danny Stack’s great post about script reading here.
I don’t know if I should send you my arty drama or rom-com since you like horror so much/ you’ve said you don’t like SF much, you might not get mine.
Always send to a reader you feel comfortable with. I can tell you however I LOVE arty drama. Also I never go *against* a script on the basis of genre – in fact, I’ve read several rom-coms and SFs I’ve liked a lot in the last year. I’ve always thought it best to try and “turn” someone who isn’t keen on a genre, which is why I always send my bloodthirsty horrors to a mate of mine who writes romance. If we like each others’ stories, they must be okay!! Besides anything, you don’t know who you’ll get in the big, wide world. But as always, it’s up to the writer.
Once you’ve read my script, can you let me know if I have any talent?
NO! I’m just a script reader, I’d hate to be the person who puts you off writing for life – it goes against everything I believe in. Whilst it’s true I’ve read some terrible scripts over the years, I’ve never seen one completely devoid of anything good at all: even the most turgid narrative has a funny joke or interesting moment, however fleeting. Besides, when you start your scripts WILL probably be rubbish. I know mine were. You’re learning, chill out. Besides anything, you should be your own biggest fan, there will be enough rejections without you rejecting YOURSELF as well!
I’ve got a meeting/pitch and am freaking out. What do I do??
Make sure you prepare. NEVER go into a meeting room knowing nothing about the agent or prodco you’re meeting with. Also, make sure you remember what you sent them and if it’s changed at all since sending it – nothing worse than talking about something and looking like a nutter ‘cos it wasn’t in their version. If you’re pitching, do whatever it takes to feel comfortable: I always take index cards in case I forget what the HELL my story is about. It’s okay to ask questions of people you’re meeting with if you’re not sure what they want – often a producer or whatever just wants to meet you to check you out. Let them buy you a coffee/pint/whatever – you’re the impoverished writer. ; ) End of the day, just be yourself and know you’re good – you wouldn’t be there if you’re not.
What’s in the best scripts?
I wish I knew… But let’s put it this way: in just under eight years of script reading, there have only ever been four scripts I’ve put on a pedestal as “the best”. They were all by professional writers who’ve been honing their craft for many years and all quite brilliant in their way: one was a woman-in-peril thriller; another was a biopic; one was a Shakespeare adaptation and the other was a horror. The horror is responsible for a recurring nightmare I’ve had now since I read it, that’s how good it was.
I feel rubbish about writing and get nothing but rejections or worse, complete radio silence. Am I crap?
You will get stacks of rejections and get ignored more times than you care to remember. I gave up counting when I got to one hundred. I must have got a hundred more since AT LEAST and will no doubt get hundreds more. The important thing to remember that everyone gets fed up about getting rejected – you’d be a right weirdo if you didn’t! Another important thing to remember is that even professionals get rejected – it’s not all dancing in the fields and fluffy bunnies once you get past a certain point. It’s a tough life sometimes, but it can also be good: so to get the highs, you have to put up with the lows. Sometimes the lows seem to last forever, but the tide will turn. If you have consistent feedback on something that you need to change, it is a good idea to address it – but often it’s just a question of preference. Don’t try and change to suit anyone. Be yourself and trust yourself to get there. Harder than it sounds, but we ALL know what it feels like.
Remember: if you have a question for me or the blog, send it in! Examples, more info and contact here. Have a good weekend!