Tracking Your Screenplay Submissions: From Contests to Execs
With the deadlines for The Nicholl, AFF and the TV network fellowships happening pretty much NOW, this seems like as good a time as any to do some much-needed housekeeping and get your submission tracking in order. With that in mind…
For many writers, embarking upon their screenwriting career offers the opportunity to look forward to attaining a slew of shiny new objects: Writing that first undeniable script. Registering their first screenplay or TV pilot with the WGA and the US Copyright office. Winning a screenwriting contest. Getting his first manager. Landing her first staff writing gig. So exciting! But not everything a writer has to do to administer and manage his screenwriting career will be quite as sexy. And chief among those? Tracking your screenwriting submissions. It’s not pretty or exciting or fun, but it’s absolutely necessary for the health and cohesion of your business.
At the beginning of one’s career, it doesn’t seem quite that complicated: You have one great script? You submit it to all the big screenwriting contests. Check. But as your writing progresses, as you develop your body of work and amass worthwhile writing samples, as more years produce more projects and more relationships produce more destinations for submissions, first to competitions and TV writing programs, then to potential reps, then to industry executives, tracking your submission, amassing the simple roadmaps of which script went where, becomes key to the administration of your business, in which your screenplays and TV pilots are the products that you peddle.
Don’t get me wrong: Every writer is eager to get to the point where there’s an agent and/or a manager at the table, overseeing all of this. But it’s important that you remain, throughout your screenwriting journey, the greatest champion of your own career, the person who knows the ins and outs of it best. Therefore, to the best of your ability, you want to be able to know which screenplay was submitted to whom, when and where.
In the earliest stages of your career, when you are, for the most part, just submitting your screenplays to screenwriting competitions, that’s when stakes are at the lowest: You may submit to, say, Final Draft’s Big Break contest two years in a row because you forgot that you had submitted the year before, but other than money (and the potential disappointment of not winning the big prize not once but twice) there is really nothing else to lose. It’s with the TV writing programs, with submission to potential reps, and then to industry executives in the professional space, that double submitting and poor tracking can appear unprofessional and hinder your odds.
Therefore, I recommend for writers to track their submissions on multiple tracking spreadsheets, as different submissions will require the tracking of different elements. This may seem tedious at first, but in the long run it can mean the difference between appearing highly professional and organized, or appearing like someone who is not quite as serious about things as they should be.
Let’s break it down: In order to best explain this, I am including some sample screenshots. Additionally, at the bottom of this blog post, you will find a bullet list of what to track for each category.
However, I do have one big caveat: There is no one way, or one format, in which to do this. It is not set in stone what you should include in your tracking spreadsheet, or that you should create your spreadsheet in a simple Excel doc or a more complicated, online AirTable database, or any other format. It’s about whatever works best for YOU.
Contest submissions are the simplest: Track the contest, the year, and the material you submitted. As years pass, you may decide to make some changes to a particular screenplay and resubmit, or realize that you failed to submit a particular screenplay to as many contests as you should have, and choose to make that right.
It’s with the TV writing programs that it starts to get complicated: Not only do you want to track what pilot and/or spec (if applicable) you submitted; you also want to track your accompanying essay subjects, so that you never end up writing a new spin on the same old topic, having forgotten that you already explored it in an essay once before. Remember, when it comes to the TV writing programs, for the majority of those lucky enough to be accepted, applying is a multi-year effort. Many apply anywhere between 2 and 7 times before getting in. While it would be great to get in on the first try, it is, statistically, highly unlikely. Therefore, you want to properly track your materials in order to ensure that your submissions continue to be fresh and impressive.
The same is true for the feature writing programs. Track not only which screenplay you submitted on which year, but also any additional materials you are submitting: Treatments, essays and letters or recommendation should all be tracked in a central repository. Not only do you want to keep it straight for the submission itself, as program administrators often track what applicants submit year over year; you also want to keep straight who you are asking for letters of recommendation, so that you never forget and appear to take their support for granted.
For those aiming to create industry inroads online, it’s important to track pitches and queries, be they through online portals such as Stage 32 and Roadmap Writers, or query sending services such as Virtual Pitch Fest. Pitching an executive, agent, or manager twice is not only costly, it also makes you look highly disorganized. Therefore, you want to make sure to track who you pitched to or queried, through which service, which project you pitched them or provided the logline or written pitch for, and what the outcome or feedback was. Should those approached become meaningful and you find yourself meeting with or communicating further with the contact, migrate them to the appropriate spreadsheet tracking rep subs or exec subs.
Once you start approaching reps, be they agents or managers (though if you’re not sure who to approach first, you should check out my blog posts: HOW TO GET A SCREENWRITING AGENT and HOW TO GET A SCREENWRITING MANAGER), and whether through referrals, in response to a contest placement or via query or online, you want to be sure to track those as well. For many screenwriters, it takes longer to get signed than they expect; therefore, you want to be able to take new material to reps who previously responded to your voice but not a particular script, and also share with them any good news such as acceptance into TV or feature writing programs, as well as significant contest placements (to identify the screenwriting contests that matter, check out my blog post DELUSIONS OF SCREENWRITING GRANDEUR). Track the rep, their position and their company as those can change; additionally, stay on top of how you initially connected with them, be it through a referral or a query, as well as any material requested and next steps.
Finally, you want to track your material that is being or has been submitted to any industry companies, be they production companies, studios, networks, financiers or others. However, you want to track the executive your material is submitted to rather than the company, as it is, in most cases, the executive you form a relationship with. When it’s your rep that’s doing the submitting, it may be a bit tougher to get a complete picture of everywhere your material has been sent, as not ever rep likes providing complete “subs lists” to their clients (though they absolutely should). For those who are fortunate enough to receive those, be sure to track everywhere your material has been submitted. In lieu of those, track the companies with which you met, be it for general, staffing, or possible assignment meetings. This is also where you should track any executive you were able to get a meeting with yourself. Be sure to record date of meetings, projects submitted or pitched, as well as any possible next steps.
Many of these spreadsheets may seem like a bit of a bear to initially assemble; the sooner you get started the better, and it’s never too late to get started, even if it does mean taking a few hours or a few days and a lot of sorting through emails to get everything put together effectively. Remember, your tracking tools are part of your business administration tools. And no one has more to gain from the thorough management of your business than you.
- Contest name
- Contest year
- Title of submission
TV Writing Program Submissions (per year):
- Program name
- Pilot submission
- Spec submission
- Essay topic
- Additional materials
- Letters of Rec
Feature Writing Program Submissions (per year):
- Program name
- Screenplay submission
- Additional materials
- Letters of Rec
Online Pitches (per year):
- Pitched/Queried through
- Project pitched
- Next Steps
Rep Submissions (per year):
- Rep name
- Previous/other projects pitched
- Submission date
- Next steps
- Next steps due
Executive Submissions (per year):
- Executive name
- Material submitted
- Material submitted through
- Meeting? (yes/no)
- Meeting type
- Projects pitched
- Next steps