Friday, December 16, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part Two: Coverage

by R.S. Mellette

When last we left your intrepid novel's journey through Hollywood, it had just been logged into the tracking software and sent to the Story Department, where it sat patiently awaiting a reader.

Readers are people who basically write book reports for a living. They read whatever is submitted, from Steven Spielberg's next project to the janitor's best friend's niece's creative writing assignment that her parents know will be the next blockbuster.

The report they write for your submission is called "coverage."

Coverage is always 3 pages long. Page one has a header that includes: Type of Material (Screenplay, Manuscript, Novel, Article, etc.), Number of Pages, Publisher/Date, Submitted by (agent, manager, production company, author), Submitted to (that's the person who works for the Studio), Analyst (the Reader), Title, Author, Submission (Project, Speculative, Sample), Circa, Locations, Drama Category, Elements.

That last one is key. That's where any attachments will be listed. If that's left blank, and the submission is a spec—meaning a speculative script hoping to find a producer—the result will be a pass. At least on the studio level.

Below the header is the log line. This is one or two sentences written by the reader that sums up the whole story. Hopefully, this will read just like your elevator pitch. After that is a straight plot synopsis that runs about a page and a half. On the last page is the comment section where the reader writes a brief review.

Back on the top page, there will also be a little chart like this:

Excellent Good Fair Poor






Project: ____PASS____ Writer: ____Consider___

There is an unwritten rule that all submissions to a studio without talent attached will be given a PASS. No one in the corporate world wants to put their kid's college tuition on the line for a risky project.

For this reason, you should never submit anything directly to a studio.


Remember that tracking software? The coverage for your project never goes away, and your work won't be read twice—not without some major pull, and even then it's given "comparative coverage." That means the same reader reviews their old report, reads your new version, and writes new coverage that talks only about the changes. Both sets of coverage are then sent to the executive who requested it.

So, say on a whim you send in your unpublished novel to a studio. Since you've got no clout behind it, they automatically pass. The analyst makes sure to write in the coverage good reasons for the pass. Your review will not be a good one.

Then, your sell your manuscript. Two years later it's a minor best-seller and your agent submits it to the same studio.

The first step of logging in a submission, is to check to see if it hasn't already been read. If it has, the assistant will print a copy of the old coverage, clip it to the nice new hardcover of your book and put it in their boss's inbox, skipping the Story Department entirely.

In other words, you're screwed.

In Part Three, I'll discuss ways to avoid bad coverage.


JeffO said...

So, I'll hope that *when* I get published, my agent will know how to navigate the tricky realm of Hollywood. Ha ha.

I always find it interesting, btw, when you hear about something getting optioned before it's even published.

Great insights. Only in my wildest dreams do I imagine the Hollywood treatment, but it's really interesting to hear about, thanks.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - that's a complicated process - I had no idea! Thanks for the info :)

Nancy Naigle said...

Wishing lots of manuscripts the magic CONSIDER over the holidays while readers are feeling joyful.
Hugs and happy reading.
Love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense.

JoeB said...

I just sent my series concept off to California to get a coverage prepared for it. Some of the things they told me they will be looking for include:
Concept, Story, Characters, Dialogue, Visual appeal, and the Commercial Potential. Then it will be summarized into what they see happening with the series. Each item will be scored separately and I suppose it will be given the Pass or Accept.
Like you said, it helps to have talent tied to the submission. Fortunately, I already have two well known talents accepting if I can get it accepted.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a great Christmas present.

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