I hear this question all the time. Sometimes it’s even harder to answer than ‘How do you write a screenplay?’ Agents are busy people and most of them don’t read new work. All I can do is tell you how I found mine, and give you 8 solid tips to make you irresistible.
At the point when I was crossing over from being a script editor to being a writer, a friend in a tv production company introduced me to one of his friends, who was an agent. We met, and that friend started representing me for a while, and it all worked out.
After a while it stopped working out, and we parted company. I spent perhaps 2 years unable to find representation – and this was at a time when I was doing perhaps 4 full pro jobs a year writing big tv shows in the UK.
It’s really not that easy to get on a quality agent’s books, you see.
Then I went for a meeting about another TV show called New Tricks. After a few weeks batting story ideas back and forward it became clear I wasn’t going to convince the producers I was right for the show – but the producer liked me and my stuff enough to recommend me to an agent.
So, really, both times I’ve found representation, it was the way I recommend you find anything in this industry:
As I’ve said so often, and as this little story makes clear, the making of friends within the industry should be your primary marketing activity.
People often ask me what I think about this this agent, or that agent, or whether I would recommend they sign up with XYZ who offers representation for what seems to be a very reasonable reading fee…
To be perfectly honest, I’m not very in touch with most of the agencies out there. I have Julia, and I’m very happy with her.
But I do know there are awful lot of pirates. Personally I would never pay anyone a reading fee. They should be making money from selling their clients’s work, not by charging prospective clients who aren’t earning yet.
Here are some things I know to be true.
1. Be a Sniper.
Never send your work blindly, in a sort of scatter gun approach. It’s basically just a waste of time and money. Odds are you will waste energy, face rejection and end up generally dispirited. You need to optimise your success by being prepared – to know the lie of the land where agents are concerned, and how to sell your skills and yourself. Do the research first…
2. You think you’ve got raw talent? The commitment? Well prove it.
What can you show a potential agent? Have you more than one story to show the agent? Have you a portfolio of work? Have you actually sent in a number of sketches to a radio show, which have been broadcast? Have you a strong online following on your blog? Have you had any short stories published? Have you written for the theatre?
Demonstrating that you have the talent to write and can come up with ideas is like having a good CV or resumé to get you to a job interview. Being able to produce a portfolio of your work demonstrates you are a storyteller and that you are enthusiastic.
It’s possible to get an agent even if you have just written one (great) work. But remember that agents are a long term working relationship. Unless this one mighty script is stunning, having just the one piece isn’t going to get you through the agent’s door.
3. Know which in medium you want to write.
Writing for television is different to writing for film and may influence which agents you choose to approach, especially if they specialise in one field or the other. It may be reflected in your personality – television may require you to be more of a team player, film writing may allow more independence of character.
4. Prove you can relate to people
Your personality may also be a reason why an agent takes you on. If this long-term business relationship is going to work they will usually need to get on with you as a person, for a very very long time, through all sorts of bad patches.
You may have to bare your soul to the agent, and discuss uncomfortable subjects: the agent’s fees, why you need to have a writing commission now so that you keep the roof over your head. Or why exactly you won’t be able to deliver the screenplay to schedule.
Being able to get on with an agent may be a deciding factor – and may well foreshadow your ability to get on with producers and directors.
if you find an agent, but you don’t know whether it will work out, it may be better to sign up, especially if you are not being offered representation anywhere else.
5. Understand their side of it.
Agents receive a lot of requests each year from writers asking for representation. In reality, established agents will want to do a good job for the talent they have recruited, and if they are good at what they do, then they are unlikely to have a high turnover of clients. This means an agent may only take on a couple of new clients a year, and isn’t frantically looking for new writers to represent.
A good agent will certainly want to keep an eye out for any promising new talent, but will also know their own capabilities and how many accounts they can manage sensibly.
This means that any submitted material will be read, but the agent is more likely to consider a client on recommendation from other writers. This means that it is worthwhile you extending your network of friends and developing contacts, especially with writers who are already represented.
Unfortunately, like so many other aspects of this industry, success is as much about knowing the right people as it is about creative talent.
Agents may keep track of screenwriting courses, to see if there is any talent coming through. If you are considering signing up for a formal course, for example at a film school or at a university, it may be worthwhile asking about the success of their alumni, what contacts the educational institution has with the industry, and whether they can help with finding representation.
6. Approach agents directly. And do your homework first.
Phone the agency and ask three questions:
Is the agency currently taking on any new clients? If the answer is no, don’t be upset, but thank them for their time and put the phone down.
If the answer is yes, what sort of material is the agency looking for and how do they want it sent in?
Is there a name you should send it to?
Some agents may prefer to have submissions made on paper; others may prefer them e-mailed. Make sure you know which is preferred. Have someone proofread your work before sending it in – first impressions can be important.
7. Be prepared to wait. And don’t fret.
It may be worth a quick call, especially if you sent it in the post, to check that the envelope has arrived. But otherwise, don’t pester the agency. It can make you look desperate, and it won’t endear you to the agent. After six weeks without a response you can think about a brief – ‘have you managed to read my stuff’ note. Same again after three months.
8. Spread the love.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket waiting for this one agent to get back to you. While they are reading through your work, contact other agencies and send in your work to them too. It’s great to be in a position where you have the luxury of being able to turn an agent down! And if more than one agent wants to represent you, you know you have a bit of leverage.