How to Sell a Screenplay:
6 Proven Strategies to Make a First Sale

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Sell a Screenplay
March 9, 2022 198 comments
How to sell a screenplay - selling scripts

Want to know how to sell a screenplay in today’s tough market? 

So, you’ve finally finished a script you’re proud of. Congrats. But are you now trying to figure out how to sell a screenplay? In this post, we’re going to take a look at the very best six options to help you do just that.

We’re not saying that selling scripts is “easy.” There are no guarantees attached to any of the steps in this post. But if you apply yourself rigorously to each of them (for as long as it takes) selling a movie script should become that much easier.

The ONE THING you need before learning how to sell a script in Hollywood. 

To get the maximum benefit out of this post, remember that you should first be writing screenplays that sell. Once you know how, get together a portfolio including at least two stellar screenplays. Complete with synopsis and query letters, ready to go.

You can read more about how to get together a portfolio in our post on How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Guide to Unlocking Your Career.

Once you have a portfolio together that’s received a glowing review from a friend in the industry, or a “Recommend” grade from a script coverage service, the real work when of selling scripts begins…

So without further ado, here are the six best options regarding how to sell a movie script that you should know about.

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How to sell a screenplay strategy #1: Try to get a manager not an agent. 

Agents have become something of an enigma because of the Catch-22 situation that your script won’t be read unless you have an agent, but you can’t get an agent until you sell a screenplay.

And somehow getting an agent has become a kind of holy grail among aspiring screenwriters. But this approach is all wrong. In reality, agents only exist so that a deal can be made and processed between you the screenwriter, and a producer, production company or studio.

An agent’s job is to make deals happen. And most of the time, this is only going to happen when a screenplay is seen as commercially strong and marketable. Since screenplay agents only get 10 percent of whatever deals they put in place, they will only make any money if the deal is big enough.

Screenwriting agents only make enough money to have a career on mid to high level deals. Doing a deal on a script sale of $100,000 is lucrative as long as they do a lot of them. And most will only represent screenplays and writers if they find a script they can easily sell.

Stop chasing agents, start chasing managers.

Screenwriting managers, however, are a different entity altogether. They will—the good ones, that is—help you become a better writer. They’ll help develop your scripts, offer feedback, work with you, build your network, name drop you around town, etc.

Most managers will even help you get an agent—but only, of course, if they think the agent will know how to sell your screenplay.

If you want to break into Hollywood, then seeking out screenwriting agents may be a necessary step in doing so. But only later on. Rather than spending all your energy trying to find an agent who you think can “launch your career,” focus on getting a literary manager instead.

We have put together a list of the top 130+ screenwriting managers currently working in Hollywood. You can read about and find the list here: Screenwriting Managers List of the Top 130 Managment Companies.

How to sell a script strategy #2: Seek out producers and execs. 

Another smart option when it comes to selling scripts is to find a producer. If you can get your script into the hands of one, they may want to get involved with raising money.

A development executive (also called creative executive) will often be approached by a producer with a script and it is then their job to persuade the studio to back it. However, because they work so closely with screenplays and help develop them, they’re obviously well worth targeting also.

How do you contact producers and execs? 

Where do you find producers and execs who you may be able to sell your script? There was a time when searching for them used to be done using hard copies of the Hollywood Representation Directory and Hollywood Creative Directory. This method, though, has been rendered obsolete by the internet.

The best way to find people is by signing up to IMDb Pro. It costs $20 a month (or $150 a year.) But you do get a free trial to test it out. Once you’re on there, you’ll have access to the contact details all of the production companies, studios and execs in Hollywood.

The idea then is to seek out those who work on similar projects to your own who you may be able to sell your script. Keep in mind what genre (or mix of genres) best describes your script and target like-minded people.

If you have a great music-based drama screenplay, for example, check out who financed and developed Sing Street and Whiplash and focus your queries on them.

Create a plan-of-attack spreadsheet. 

Take all of the information from IMDb Pro and put it into one giant spreadsheet. List the names of all the managers, producers, companies and execs you want to approach.

Create columns for outcomes, follow-up actions and results. It’s often a good idea, however, to not go for the actual person you want to make contact with. Instead, contact their assistant or someone lower down the food chain who may be more open to dialogue.

Take the first fifty names on your spreadsheet and, as with our Screenwriting Managers list. But remember to find out what their company’s submission policy is before submitting your query.

You may also wish to give them a call instead of emailing in order to establish more of a personal connection. Selling scripts, however, is much like selling anything else, and so if you’re not all that confident on the phone it may be best to stick to email.

How to sell a screenplay strategy #3: Try selling scripts through networking. 

If you want to learn how to sell a screenplay, you also need to learn how to network. It’s just a part of the business that every aspiring screenwriter needs to get to grips with, no matter how unappealing it may seem at first.

While a screenwriting manager may be able to open doors for you, you’re also going to have to create your own opportunities. This means getting out there and meeting people.

Start by creating a list of everyone you know who’s somehow connected to the industry. Or, at best, someone you know who knows someone connected to someone in the industry. The amount of scripts sold over the water cooler each year are a testament to the fact that Hollywood is built on relationships.

Do you need to move to Los Angeles to start selling scripts? 

If you don’t already live in Los Angeles, consider a move. It’s not do-able for everyone, however. But in LA you’ll find it much easier to meet industry people and give selling a screenplay a real shot.

You’ll be able to easily attend conferences, screenings, writing groups and festivals and easily make connections. Not to mention hang in the same coffee shops as managers, execs, producers, actors and other writers every day as you work on your latest screenplay.

Getting to know actors can also be extremely beneficial. They don’t have to be Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling. But if you can get a moderately well-known actor to read the script, they may be interested in playing a role. Once they’re attached, it’ll then be that much easier to attach other parties, such as a producer.

Yes, you may be able to hit people up on Skype nowadays, but face-to-face contact is often the very best way to get your career moving. Here are four bad reasons screenwriters give for not moving to Los Angeles (and why you should ignore them.)

How to sell a script strategy #4: Utilize online pitch sites. 

As well as going the more traditional route when it comes to selling your screenplay, the websites below can help you sell scripts online.

how to sell a screenplayThe Blacklist.

If you want to know how to sell your screenplay online, the Blacklist is as good a place as any to start. The site began as a survey in 2005 when Franklin Leonard surveyed around 100 hundred film industry development execs about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been made.

Now screenwriters are able (for a fee) to upload their scripts to their database and monitor the volume of interest it receives from industry executives. As we said, a great starting point in figuring out how to sell a screenplay online. Check out the Blacklist >>

how to sell a screenplayIMDb Pro.

Signing up to this site has become an industry standard procedure for any writer wanting to know how to sell a screenplay.

It costs $20 a month (or $150 a year) to do so and then you’ll have full access to a huge database of managers, producers, execs and actors who you may be able to interest with a query letter or phone call in your script. Check out IMDb Pro >>

how to sell a screenplayInkTip.

Over 400 films have been made by producers from scripts and writers found on InkTip. In fact, they’ve had 3200+ scripts optioned, while helping 400+ find representation.

With over two decades in the industry, InkTip has been a reliable resource for screenwriters. They work with a mix of independent producers and larger companies including Hallmark, Zero Gravity, Hello Sunshine and Anonymous Content. Check out InkTip >>

how to sell a screenplayInternational Screenwriters’ Association. 

This site is packed full of ads seeking screenwriters for sitcoms, web series, sci-fi movies and everything in-between.

All you need to do is sign up for membership with the ISA and then start submitting your resumes to the gigs. Check out the International Screenwriters’ Association >>

How to sell a screenplay strategy #5: Enter screenwriting contests. 

The market has become kind of swamped with contests, but be discerning and create a list of those three to five you think are the best fit for your script. Placing highly in one of the top screenwriting contests out there can really help you with selling a screenplay and do wonders for your career overall.

Follow the link to read our recommendations for the best screenwriting contests out there.

How to sell a screenplay strategy #6: Apply for screenwriting jobs. 

Tread carefully here, but sometimes selling scripts can be as simple as reply to an ad on a screenwriting bulletin board. You can find some very interesting (and legitimate) ads on sites looking for screenwriters and screenplays.

We’ve already put in the work for you and collected together these screenwriting jobs sites, but as we say in the post, be wary of any posting asking for your money or time without any recompense.

The art of selling a screenplay by querying industry professionals. 

When it comes to selling a screenplay, resist the temptation to fire off an email three days later enquiring if they’ve read your script. If you don’t hear back, give it three weeks before following up with a short and polite email.

If you do hear back… It’ll probably be with one of five responses:

“Can you send in the script?”

“Can you send in a synopsis?”

“This isn’t for me, but what else do you have?”

“Sorry, I’m not interested. Good luck.”


What to do after you’ve made contact. 

If you receive any of the first three responses, send off your work and again give it a few weeks before following up. If nothing comes of the leads you’ve created, it usually means there’s a problem with (a) the initial query, (b) your script or synopsis (c) your follow-up.

Ask for feedback and get back to work. Keep writing and repeat. There’s no point sitting around waiting for one of these people to give you your “big break.” In the meantime, keep writing new material, honing your skills, networking and expanding your portfolio. Then repeat the process of how to sell a script listed in this post all over again.

Selling a movie script is really a mix of sticking with it for the long haul and pure luck. It really depends how much you want it. If this is something you feel born to do, stick with it and the chances are you will succeed. After all, many writers took decades before they finally started selling scripts.

Learning how to sell a screenplay is not an exact science but, if your work is good, and you diligently test these options, you will do it.

On the other hand, not everyone is cut out to ever begin writing screenplays that sell. If you give selling a screenplay your best shot and years later still haven’t gotten anywhere, maybe it’s not.

The most important question, though, is, Are you still having fun writing? 

How to sell a script frequently asked questions. 

Q1. How much can you sell a screenplay for? 
A. “How much should I charge for a screenplay?” “How much do screenplays sell for?” Great questions, and ones that don’t have a single answer. But, as a general rule for starting writers, what you’re paid for a script is solely based on the budget it’ll cost to make it. A writer is generally paid 2 percent of whatever the budget is (that’s what most reps ask for). Let’s say you write a $500,000 indie script. You should, as a starting point, ask for 2 percent of the budget (in this case $10,000) as the script purchase price. And the same 2 percent rule is applied to any amount greater than $500,000. We also have a post called Script Development 101: Option Agreements, Development Deals and More that explains the financial aspects of selling scripts in more detail.

Q2. Can you sell a screenplay without an agent?
A. Yes! Anyone can sell a script to anyone they like. There’s no legal requirement for writers to have an agent before selling a script. But one of the most common misconceptions among newbie writers is the notion that you need an agent before you can start selling scripts. In fact, an agent will only help you negotiate a good deal once you’ve found an interested party. So what would actually be more beneficial while looking to sell a script is a manager.

Q3. How hard is it to sell a screenplay? 
A. It depends how good your script is. If you’ve written a poorly formatted, 140-page mess, it’s never going to sell. On the other hand, if you’ve written a fantastic script, really done your homework on how to sell a script and then gone out there and marketed it to death, it’s going to be infinitely easier. Not easy, but easier. “If you build it, they will come,” as Ray says in Field of Dreams.

Q4. What books would you recommend to learn how to sell a movie script or TV show?
A. The obvious classics are William Hague’s Writing Screenplays That Sell and Hal Ackerman’s Write Screenplays That Sell: The Ackerman Way. Lee Jessup also has a great book on marketing and selling scripts called Getting It Write. For more general books on the craft of screenwriting, check out our blog post: The 12 Best Screenwriting Books That’ll Help Kickstart Your Career.

Q5. Can I sell my idea for a movie or TV show?
A. Unfortunately, no. If you come across any website offering advice on how to sell a movie idea, get out of there. Fast. Any write can come up with a great idea, but they’re essentially meaningless on their own. It’s the execution of that great idea in a feature script or TV pilot that’s what’s valuable.

Q6. How do I sell a script to Netflix? 
A. If you want to learn how to sell a script to Netflix, we have an in-depth article on the subject here.

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How to sell a script in today’s market: Conclusion. 

As you probably know, no one really has a definitive answer on how to sell a screenplay. Every professional writer has a different angle on selling scripts and a different story of how they broke in. But the options in this post will hopefully set you off in the right direction.


What do you think of our recommendations on how to sell a screenplay? Or have you already started selling scripts? What’s your breaking-in story? How did you go about selling your first screenplay? Let us know in the comments section below.

selling scripts

Liked this post? Read more on how to sell a screenplay…

How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Guide to Unlocking Your Career

Screenwriting Managers List of the Top 130 Hollywood Management Companies

How to Get a Screenwriting Agent and Manager in 10 Proven Steps

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