Writing - How Successful Writers Sell Their Manuscripts
( Originally Published 1922 )
The lour Ways to Sell a Manuscript.—There are four ways of selling stories and photoplays: (I) selling under con-tract; that is, preparing a certain story or play at the editor's order arid request; (2) offering your manuscript in person to the studio or magazine to whom you think it is best suited; (3) submitting your work through the mail; and (4) selling through the aid of a Literary Agent, or Bureau.
i. Selling Under Contract.—As far as the beginner is concerned, there is no need of discussing the first method. Only writers of well-established reputation ever are commissioned to write a certain style of play or story.
Some extremely popular authors have contracted to supply various magazines and studios with their entire output of work for a fixed period ; but, inasmuch as reputation is the primary prerequisite, the method need not be discussed.
2. Offering a Manuscript in Person.—No time need be wasted on this method. Editors are busy men; they do not have time to devote to interviews. The chances are that both you and your work will receive slight consideration if you attempt to sell it in person. If you go to an editor with your work in hand, the chances are that he will reject it with-out giving it a fair chance—unless you are well-known, but, if you send it to him through the mail, it will be given as much of a chance to prove its merits as any other script, no matter whom the author.
This brings us to the third method of selling.
3. Selling Through the Mail.—This is perhaps the most common way to dispose of manuscripts. Where one manuscript is sold by either of the above methods, perhaps a thou-sand are sold through the mail.
Don't be afraid to mail your script to an editor for consideration. Very rarely indeed is one lost; and if you keep a carbon copy of everything you send out, you won't even need to register your letter.
For some incomprehensible reason, many beginners are often possessed with the absurd notion that editors steal work. To the experienced editor this is laughable. I do not believe there is a magazine in the country that would steal any part of a submitted story. Editors are absolutely honest and trustworthy. Why shouldn't they be? Is there any reason in the world why a magazine editor should steal a manuscript, face future disgrace and unlimited expense through publicity and legal redress, when he can buy all the good productions he can use at regular rates, and be on the safe side?
True, I have heard it whispered in dark corners that some motion picture studios have in the past made use of ideas sent them without purchasing the scripts in which they appeared. In fact, it is said that a certain "reader" in Los Angeles—employed by a well-known film company to pass on all submitted manuscripts—took the plot of a submitted script and sold it as his own. But justice soon overtook him. To-day he is a wandering outcast, living in disgrace as far as the motion picture industry is concerned. So, you see, even photoplay editors do not tolerate theft.
The motion picture industry is young; naturally it was, in the beginning, infected with pirates; but the day has passed when a writer need be afraid of submitting anything to any reputable film manufacturer. They will treat you "square."
4. Selling Through the Literary Agent.—Many successful authors sell practically their entire output of stories and plays through agencies. Different agencies have different methods of procedure. As a rule, the author leaves the question of price to the agent. He may, however, set a maximum and a minimum price to be paid for his work. In addition, he generally makes a deposit to cover cost of postage to and from various editors. This, of course, he would be required to pay himself if he submitted his own work. In addition to the postage, he is required to pay the agent a commission usually from ten to twenty per cent.—of the price his work brings.
This method has many advantages over all others. The agent keeps in close touch with all magazines and studios; he has their requirements at his finger-tips, so to speak; he knows the fine points with respect to editorial tastes, needs, and peculiarities, so knows exactly to whom to submit—a thing few writers know, not having the time or the inclination to study market requirements; he knows which editors are over-stocked; he saves the author the embarrassment and trouble of selling—a thing he is rarely capable of doing well—thus giving the author more time for his writing; and, as a rule, the agent is able to secure a higher price than the author.
Some of the greatest writers in the world have indorsed literary agencies. Thousands of writers have succeeded through the help of the agent when they had hopelessly failed on their own behalf. There is no reason in the world why you should not offer your work for sale through an agency if you desire.