Dear screenwriter friends. Your approach is all wrong. The real questions you should be asking is “how does an agent get you?” The answer. By being fabulous. They will track you down and beat a path to your door if you’re good.
Getting an agent is certainly integral to your career when those six or seven figure deals are being negotiated, or you want to get your script read by high end production companies. Despite their apparent usefulness, agents are only essential after you’ve advanced to being a produced screenwriter.
When you’re sending out query letters, it is foolish to concentrate solely on agents. Why not write to producers and managers as well? Unless you have a track record, I recommend going out wide. Managers tend to have fewer clients and often guide your career by recommending which scripts you write, which producers you should approach etc.
Some agents prefer to be called to discuss your projects and you and a screenwriter. They generally publicize how they wish to be contact, if at all.
Agents I’ve spoken to generally acquire new clients by personal referral. Before you start complaining because you don’t live in L.A., a referral could come from a recommendation from a screenwriting competition, a producer who’s read your script, but isn’t right for them, a business associate, or even another client of the agency. People are always talking behind your back, singing your praises and generating buzz about you. They want to be the one who discovered you, the next screenwriting sensation.
Living in L.A doesn’t guarantee automatic access to agents. In fact most agents claim that they aren’t actively searching for new clients. Clearly this isn’t always true, but they need a gatekeeper. Reading scripts isn’t like auditioning for “Americal Idol” when a producer assess the quality of your singing within the first 5 seconds and makes up their mind. Although many agents make up their mind about your script within the first 1 to 3 pages, they often read the entire script to be certain of your ability. This takes considerably more time. There’s also the small matter of whether you can form a professional working relationship.
Once you’ve bagged an agent, you still must be proactive in your career. Although they are meant to procure work for their clients, you must still market yourself independently. You can’t sit back and relax. Always update your agent who you are approaching or want to approach. This is advice I’ve heard from top shelf produced writers.
There’s a new contract in town called “riding in an agent’s hip pocket“. It means there isn’t a formal agreement between the writer and agent. However, a writer can use an agent’s name when pitching their projects, and agents can informally pitch your project as well. It’s like a de facto marriage; all the fun without the commitment. If your project gains traction and wins a sale, then you need to get legal.
Your job is clear. Write well and get read as widely as possible.
Victorious writers win first and then go to war, while defeated ones go to war first and then seek to win — Sun Tzu