Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, May 2, 2014

Writer Tip #8: The Query Letter

You've just written the next million dollar spec script or perhaps the Great American novel, but no one is going to read it until you master the art of the query letter.  Agents, producers and publishers are flooded by over the transom material.  Their first impulse is to delete your email.  You've got to hook them fast.

Here are a few query letters that worked for me.  What do I mean by worked?  It doesn't mean that I actually sold the property.  The work has to sell itself.  The sole job of the query letter is to get you reads.  And the ones below succeeded.

The first letter is my query for my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."  It wasn't my intention to approach publishers.  I wanted to find an agent to take the book to publishers.  However, I got lucky.  I found Sheri Williams' email on a list of agents.  I sent her the query and she responded that she was no longer an agent.  She was now a publisher.  She asked if she could still read the book.  I said yes, and the next thing you know I'm scheduled for a release on July 28, 2014.  This email had a generic opening.  If I knew that an agent was looking for a specific kind of book, I would create a custom opening:

My name is Sean Paul Murphy, and I would be honored to have you represent my manuscript.

I am a winner of the $50,000 Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays in 2012.  I have written twelve produced feature films.  My films "Hidden Secrets" and "Sarah's Choice" were Top 10 CBA Sellers in their category.  My cable pilot "Brother White" was the third highest rated premiere on the UPtv cable network, and my film "Betrayed" recently won an Emmy.  I know how to entertain, enlighten and uplift the conservative, evangelical audience.  This book will do all three.

"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" is my true, inspirational tale of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined.

This is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel aimed at the Christian lifestyle market.  It is the perfect book for Christians who are either falling in love or dealing with heartbreak.  The book also offers hard-earned lessons for people who have contemplated suicide or experienced the suicide of a loved one.  It asks the toughest possible questions of God, and ultimately reveals the joy that can be best found while living obediently in the center of God's will for your life.

I have taken the liberty to attach my pitch.  I would be happy to send you the completed manuscript.

Next is a pitch letter for my script "The Grid."  The script was a couple of years old.  I pulled it off the market because some producers told me that the public was too disillusioned by the Iraq and Afghan wars to buy into this story.  However, the subject matter became suddenly very topical because of the NSA spying scandal.  This query worked very well.  I got a number of excellent reads.  Some people are still considering the script.  If you notice, I don't even bother mentioning my feature film credits.  Instead, I played up my real life experience working in the intelligence community:

Did you ever wonder what the NSA could do with all of the data it is gathering?  "The Grid" will show you.

After the death of his daughter in a crossfire on the mean streets of Baltimore, billionaire defense contractor Simon Pike hires former Special Forces Captain Bill Rausch to destroy the city's drug gangs.  Pike's main tool in the battle is "The Grid" -- a complex intelligence interface that marries voice and visual recognition programs with data mining and cellphone GPS positioning.  Rausch and his crack team use The Grid to make the streets safer, but they slowly realize they are simply pawns in a larger, more sinister plot.  "The Grid" is a relevant, fast-paced action thriller torn from today's headlines.

I am a 2012 winner of the $50,000 Kairos Prize for Screenwriting.  I also have extensive real-life experience as an independent contractor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter Intelligence Division.  A narrative film I wrote for them, "Betrayed," recently won an Emmy.  I was formerly represented by the late Stu Robinson at Paradigm.

If you would like to read "The Grid," please contact me.

Why, you may ask, do I mention my late agent Stu Robinson, who died over a decade ago?  Once, in a conversation with a producer, I mentioned I had been repped by Stu, who was quite well-known.  The producer said I should always mention Stu.  It proves I am the real deal -- a member of "the club." 

Okay, okay, you say, it's easy for you to write a pitch letter.  You have awards and credits to brag about.  Well, that wasn't always true.  Here's the pitch letter from 1990 that won Stuart Robinson's attention (I save everything):

I have written a screenplay you may want to read.

"The Long Drive" is the story of a former president who is trying to escape his celebrity because he feels that he failed to live up to his high, self-imposed standards while in the White House.  He eventually comes to grips with his dilemma during an impromptu road trip that he makes accompanied by two Secret Service agents, who each have some problems of their own to sort out.

"The Long Drive" deals with a subject that has never been explored in a major motion picture.  It is an apolitical, dramatic character study with comic overtones.  It is a story of bonding and friendship, and of disillusionment and renewal.  In the hands of your organization, this could be a big and important film.

My writing background includes work as a freelance copywriter and a feature writer for a regional publication.  Some of my other screenplays are currently being read by Cinecorp, New Line, Pan Arts, the Mount Company, and UBU Productions.

If you are interested in reading "The Long Drive," please write or call me.

That's the letter that pretty much started my professional career.  My previous writing experience consisted of the product descriptions used in some retail television commercials and some movie reviews for a weekly singles newspaper in Delaware.  Within a couple of weeks, my script was sitting on the desks of A-List Hollywood actors, directors and producers.

Still, it would be twelve years before the premiere of my first produced feature.....

So you might as well start pitching now.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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