"Unsolicited Submissions"—You Don't Mean Mine, Right?

A staggered stack of movie scripts, with a raggedy red bow on tip, sits on a wooden porch near a French front door.

No matter how long or short your creative career has been, you've seen the phrase: "No unsolicited submissions." Here are some FAQs to help you decide if and when to press "send" or otherwise share your creative content with other people — if even you're already a working professional.

What is a "submission"? A submission is the sharing of any creative content with another person, spoken or written.

What is "creative content"? An idea, overview, summary, synopsis, pitch, presentation deck, beat sheet, outline, treatment, script, or other form of original storytelling, regardless of the length of the material, the number of items included, or the form in which it was shared.

What is "solicited"? Solicited means the person you want to share your content has specifically stated, "Tell me about/Send me" whatever form your content is in. Ideally, this is in writing, and it may come with conditions (e.g., via your representative, after signing a release form/waiver, etc.).

What is "unsolicited"? The person you want to share your content with has NOT specifically stated, ideally in writing, "Tell me about/Send me" whatever form your content in.

This last one is the key. "Solicited" submissions are affirmative, active requests for your material. If the person has not actively stated, "Send me this," then they have not "solicited" it. If they have not solicited it, don't share or send it in any form or at any time, including:

  • When you're introducing yourself at a professional event
  • When you're connecting with someone over email and want to share or update them on your latest work
  • When you're about to take content out to shop it
  • Any other time at all

This applies even if you're an established but currently unrepped professional. This applies even if the person is a close friend. In my roles as a development executive, I've had friends immediately email me projects that I'll never know if they were a fit. Because you're required to immediately delete unsolicited content (or a system tool does, or the assistant or coordinator does before you've ever seen it). I've sometimes sent clear steps on how to properly submit, and I've rarely been taken up on it.

My tip is, if you've got a friend in a position that could be a fit for your content, don't lead with sending them that content. Instead, just as you would with a stranger in the same role, lead with, "What are you looking for right now?" and "What is the best way for me to submit it?" The benefit of that friend isn't that they'll make your project regardless of its brand fit (they probably can't and won't) — it's that they'll share the extremely critical information of what their company is buying directly with you. Let's add those questions to the list:

Why isn't the person I sent my unsolicited content to getting back to me about my submissions? They're not allowed to. They only accepted solicited content.

What should I do instead of sending unsolicited content? Ask what their current content mandate is and what the acceptable way is to submit. Usually, it's through an established agent or manager, sometimes it's through an established entertainment attorney, and sometimes it's through your signing a release or waiver acknowledging that they have a lot of existing projects and other projects in consideration that may be similar to yours. (Which, trust me, is astonishingly true, no matter how specific your story is. And that's okay.)

What if I don't want to sign a release or waiver? If that is the only option available to you, and you don't want to, absolutely do not. Accept that it is a requirement for that particular outlet, and remove that outlet from your list. Or keep an eye out for other avenues into that outlet, including pitch sessions, competitions, etc.

What if the person I want to send unsolicited content to is my friend? Be even more careful and respectful of their role because, ideally, you're their friend, as well. Don't put them into a situation to act or appear unprofessional in the eyes of their organization.

Can my rep send unsolicited content on my behalf? They could but they usually don't. They simply ask if they can send a sample or project, and the executive or producer says, yes. Voilà. You're in the weekend read.

Of course, you can do that, too. Before sending something unsolicited, which will potentially mar your relationship with the recipient, try asking if you can send it. Sometimes people just say, "Yes." And you, too, are in the weekend read.

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DMA is a veteran entertainment and tech executive and strategic consultant. She is the author of Write It, Pitch It, Sell Your Screenplay and The Show Starter Reality TV Made Simple System, both taught in media programs nationwide. DMA is a career-long member of the Producers Guild, TV Academy and American Mensa and is the founder of Korgi, digital "superboards" with the templates, training and tools you (and your team) need to succeed.
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