Selling Your First Screenplay

Dear Script Doctor Eric:

I’ve written my first screenplay and am looking to sell it.  Can you please tell me the best way to do this?  Should I write a query letter?  Synopsis?  Treatment? Is there a certain format for this?

Pat Screenwriter

The above is a fabrication (Who is named Pat Screenwriter?). I do, however, receive a variation of this letter about a few times a month.  Hopefully this post that can help answer these questions for first-time screenwriters looking to sell their screenplay.

If you’ve just completed your first script, congratulations!   You’ve accomplished something a lot of people here in Los Angeles talk about doing, but never actually accomplish.

Thanks Eric, it feels great.  So how do I sell this sucker?

Hold on a second.  I said it was a good accomplishment, not that you were ready to make a six-figure salary pounding out scripts for J. J. Abrams.

First, have you read my post Help for New Screenwriters? If not, please check it out – I wrote that post with first-time writers in mind.

Done reading but still want to sell your first screenplay?  Don’t take this the wrong way, but it is highly unlikely that your first screenplay will be at the level it needs to be to sell.

Screenwriting is complicated art that – like anything – takes many years and many screenplays to get any good at. I’m not trying to discourage you.  If you love writing screenplays, you should keep doing it.

The key word in that last sentence is “screenplays,” with an “s.” Get a few scripts under your belt before you start pounding the pavement.  You can always come back to that first screenplay and make it better.

And believe me, it can always be better. (Don’t believe me?  Send your script through one of my screenwriting services and I’ll show you just how much better it can be. :))

But if, in spite of my warnings, you’re STILL determined to sell that first screenplay, well, fine.  To answer your questions, in general, there aren’t hard and fast rules about treatments, just general guidelines.  The best way is to find five or six examples and pick the best one for you.

As for query letters, I’ve written about that on my site.  Check out one of my most popular posts: How to Write a Query Letter

However, my specialty is helping you make your screenplay so good it should sell itself, NOT teaching you how to sell screenplays.  My friend Ashley has dedicated his entire site to the question of selling your screenplay.  Check out his site and especially the post How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a Nutshell)

If you’re a new screenwriter, I’m honestly not trying to discourage you.  I hope you do catch the screenwriting bug and pound out two, three, four screenplays a year…

Then you’re begin to understand how much there is to learn.  :)



6 Responses to Selling Your First Screenplay

  1. Lin says:

    Good points, but writers have sold first screenplays. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to suggest that “any” first screenplay, regardless who wrote it, will not be good enough to sell. I think it depends on the writer, their talent level, understanding of the craft, etc. A more accurate statement would probably “not likely” to sell.

    Also, with screenwriting being so subjective, how can you say for sure that you can make anyone’s screenplay better? Better definitely or better in your opinion? I don’t ask this to be disrespectful or sarcastic. It’s a real question.

    What qualifies you to say you can make anyone’s screenplay so good it will sell itself?

  2. Eric says:


    Thanks for the response.

    I agree, it is possible to sell your first screenplay, and there are some very famous examples of “first” screenplays selling, so it happens once in a blue moon…which is why I wrote, “highly unlikely.”

    Can I make every screenplay better, or was that just a snappy sales line I thought I’d throw in there? :) Ha. Well, you’re right – I HAVE read a few screenplays that I probably couldn’t make BETTER, just DIFFERENT, or subjectively better. But by a “few” I mean a “few” out of more than a thousand. So the odds are pretty high that the screenplay can be improved.

    And most professional screenwriters will tell you that it takes many, many drafts of a screenplay to get it to a place where it can sell. So when I get a script from a writer who says, “This is the first / second draft of my first screenplay,” the odds are very, very low (but not impossible…) that it CANNOT be improved.

    To answer your last question, I said that my specialty was helping you, the writer, make YOUR screenplay so good that it SHOULD sell itself, not that I would do it. I’m here to help, motivate, guide, and give you the tools to do it yourself. And even then, of course, there are no guarantees.

    Which is one of the reasons I’d rather new screenwriters understand that it’s a long process, not an easy path to wealth and fame. And that the most important part is that you ENJOY it.

    As for what qualifies me to say any of this, including how , I’m a script reader and produced screenwriter. Have you read Who the Heck is Script Doctor Eric?

    Hope that helps, and sorry for the mistakes and the long winded nature of this response. As a famous writer once said, “Apologies for the lengthy replay – I didn’t have time to write something short.”


    • Gary says:


      Don’t you mean on your reply “The odds are very low that it cannot be SOLD”? You wrote the odds are low it cannot be “improved”.

      Just noticed, and thought I’d point that out.

      • Eric says:

        Hi Gary,

        Sorry, I was writing quickly and a few ideas may have been thrown out all at once.

        Actually, I mean what I wrote. It was a continuation of the response to Lin’s question, “…how can you say for sure that you can make anyone’s screenplay better?”

        It is rare when a script is so good that it CANNOT be improved. This is ESPECIALLY true for the work of writers first starting out.

        Hope that makes sense!


    • Lin says:


      I wasn’t looking to be sarcastic or mean-spirited. Not my nature. Just asking. I agree with you. I’ve been at this for many years and I agree, it does take many drafts to get it right.

      Maybe one day you could write a blog on “drafts” because I think many beginning writers get the term “draft” confused with “page-one rewrite.” Personally, I prefer the term “pass.” I probably do a minimum of five or six passes (this doesn’t include the pass right after the brain-dump draft) before I feel comfortable with the story, then I start to look at the various areas of the script — plot, structure, character, motivations, dialogue, theme, etc., and then I do passes for each. Then there’s the smoothing out pass to make it all fit together properly. That’s about 12 drafts, which I think is good.

      I think the number of drafts necessary to get the script solid varies from writer to writer, so I’m not one to pin a static number on all writers.

      Another blog could be the crazy idea that needing multiple drafts to get a script right is a negative reflection on the writer’s skill, talent and intelligence. The more drafts it takes, the less talent you have. I know writers who think that way.

      • Eric says:

        No offense taken.

        These are some great ideas for future posts… Perhaps we might discuss them in the podcast as well! :)