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:
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So, say on a whim you send in your unpublished novel to a studio.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.