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Sell your screenplay!
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Step 2: Make a list of agents.

If you've read any books on screenwriting, you probably know that The Writers Guild of America, West (WGA) offers an inexpensive list of agencies that represent screenwriters. Unfortunately, the list is next to useless for two reasons: (1) it's often out of date, and (2) it lists only the agencies, not the people who work in them.

The best source of agents' names, addresses, and phone numbers is the Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory, which is published in February and August of each year. The directory costs about $50 per issue or $80 for a year's subscription, plus a few dollars for shipping and handling. And it's worth every penny of the price if you're serious about a screenwriting career.

The Hollywood Agents and Managers directory contains detailed listings for every literary and talent agency that does business in Hollywood. Look up the William Morris Agency, for example, and you'll find two columns of agents' names and specialities. This means that, instead of writing a "Dear Sir or Madam" letter, you can write a personal query to an agent who specializes in "motion picture/literary" (screenplays) or "television/literary" (TV writers).

The publishers of Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory also produce the Hollywood Creative Directory, which lists producers and studio personnel. But initially, you'll be searching for an agent, so you can save HCD for another time.

TIP: The mega-agencies like ICM and William Morris tend to be less than friendly to new writers, although it's possible that your query might be discovered by an ambitious newcomer in the mail room. You're more likely to find success with the small to medium-sized agencies that can't afford to have a full-time secretary who does nothing but send off "We're sorry, but we don't read unsolicited submissions" letters all day long.

Step 3: Write or phone.

When you've compiled a list of agencies that handle screenplays, you need to write a compelling query letter that will catch an agent's attention and show that you're a talent to be reckoned with.

As a general rule, your query letter should be no more than a page long, or two pages if you use generous margins. Our sample query letter shows how to grab a prospect's attention with a succinct, businesslike, but lively presentation of a compelling premise.

When you've written and edited your query letter, send it off (with a self-addressed stamped envelope) to a dozen agents. Each letter should be personalized--it should read like a letter to an individual, not a form letter.

Wait a few days, then take another look at your letter. Make any changes that you wish you'd made before sending off your first batch of queries, then send out another batch--this time to two dozen, three dozen, or even four dozen agents. (Why so many queries? Easy. You'll be lucky to get more than a handful of "yes" responses even if you send out 100 letters.)

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