A reader in Michigan writes with a special request: “I know in the last year or so the Author Enablers commented on sending in your manuscript to more than one agent at a time. As I recall, they said to do it one at a time. I need ‘proof’ of this for my daughter-in-law.”

As long as you don’t set out to deceive anyone, it is acceptable to make submissions to several agents at once. We like to think of this in terms of high school dating: you can play the field as long as you haven’t promised anyone to go steady. But then we both sucked at high school dating. Those humbling memories aside, you should be OK if you state clearly in your query letter that you are making multiple submissions.

Of course, if you already have a professional relationship with an agent, you should do the brave thing and “break up” before seeking another. Remember to return that ID bracelet. And we definitely advise against simultaneously sending the same query to several different agents at the same agency.

Dear Author Enablers:
You two do a great job answering all our questions! I would like to know if an aspiring screenwriter has to have a platform to sell a script? Also, is animation written the same way as any other script? Do they have bidding wars with scripts?
Ohio, Illinois

Thanks for the shout out, Dolores! We decided to toss this ball to a couple of pros, since (ironically) we had no idea how to answer your questions.

According to L.A. comedy writer Tony Goldmark, bidding wars for scripts generally don’t occur unless you’re already an established screenwriter. “Sometimes ‘established’ only has to mean that you won a prestigious contest,” says Tony, “but usually you have to have considerable hit-making screenwriting experience.”

The process of screenwriting for an animated film can be quite different than for a live-action feature, Tony tells us. “Animation is a bit more complicated, because in addition to a screenplay, the entire film must be storyboarded by a team of story artists, whose job is to essentially draw every shot in rough comic book form. Sometimes the screenplay inspires the storyboards, sometimes vice versa—it varies from studio to studio, and often from project to project. DreamWorks, for example, storyboards every film in its entirety first, then hires screenwriters to adapt those storyboards into a script, giving them the mandate that they may not alter more than 30 percent of the work that has already been done. But as far as I know, such a script would still have the same format as a live-action script,” Tony says. “The biggest problem with breaking into animation, especially with a new idea, is that animation is such a collaborative group process, more often than not requiring a fully equipped studio loaded to the brim with creative people, so most if not all of each studio’s new ideas come from in-house.”

Devo Cutler-Rubenstein, producer/screenwriter and former studio executive, adds, “If there is an established market—i.e. a successful comic book, book, novel or play that can be the springboard for an adaptation—that can help a fledgling writer. Animation is written for features, and for some TV series, in the same format in terms of building a story, structure, character development, theme, etc. But characters may be a bit more extreme due to the ability to show them doing extraordinary things with out a lot of special FX in an animated format. Take UP!, for example. That movie had a great story, but could not be done as live action.”

“Bidding wars occur when an agent or manager is able to get ‘heat’ on a script and/or novel and/or play and/or news article and/or true story. There has to be something about it that is incredibly unique or time appropriate. It is usually established writers, but sometimes a spec comes along from an unknown writer (novelist or screenwriter) and the agent creates heat for a bidding war to occur.”

Look for Devo’s helpful articles on the subject: “Script Criteria Checklist” in Movie Maker and others here.

Big thanks to Devo and Tony. We’re off to dig the heat lamp out of our basement to shine it on our platform.

With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Sam is the author of How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons; National Women’s Book Association Award winner Kathi is the author of And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You. Their book on publishing is scheduled for release in 2010. Email your questions (along with your name and hometown) to authorenabler@aol.com or visit their blog.

September 2009 column.

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