You Bagged A Literary Agent, Now What?

Michele Wallerstein has just released book called “Mind Your Business” to help screenwriters navigate the treacherous waters of the industry.

Many novice writers believe that once they have found representation, they only need to worry about writing their next script because their agent will take care of the rest. Not so. As a former agent herself, Michele claims that she only performed 10% of the work since she only earned 10% commission. Having an agent must be earned, it isn’t a birthright. During your emerging years, you are exclusively your own agent so you already should have developed a level of marketing skills.

Although it’s true that agents always handle the physical negotiations and deal making, you are still expected to network. Networking is not the same as stalking. Get yourself out there, so people can put a person to the writing. It makes you a personalized, bankable commodity.

An agent can introduce you to executives, but it’s up to you to nurture these relationships, follow up and network. Networking can be discussing films over coffee, golfing, fishing, chess or bonding over any social activity. Become a part of their loop.

Agents come in many shapes and sizes. Boutique agents generally favor emerging writers, while the larger ones represent established ones. Big agents certainly poach proven writers from the smaller ones, but the relationships also change, not always for the better. Michele compares changing agents to changing deck chairs on the titanic. You essentially reset your career when you move onto the next tier of agency.

Smaller agents tend to read more and nurture their newer clients. They are more accessible. The large ten percentary agents only serve to book you and collect their commission. Cold, hard business. Managers however, may help you develop your script until it’s ready to go out or come on board your project as a producer. Many top tier writers have both because each has complimentary skills.

With the current state of the spec script market, you must still keep writing original ideas to be viable. Although the chances of selling your script are similar to winning the lottery, they are more likely to land you a writing assignment than a sale.

Question script sale prices as they are quoted in trade magazines. A million dollar script does not indicate a single check to the writer for that amount. They may earn $5-10000 to sign on and perhaps a $30-$50000 fee for the first draft. After this point, other writers may rewrite you, depending on the nature of your step deal. If someone wants to purchase your script outright, they will hand you the million dollar check, but you have no further rights to the property.

Don’t harass your agent with hourly/daily emails, texts or phone calls. Leave them to the business of selling you. Selling a script takes much longer than selling stocks, so constant contact is not the best use of your time. However, if you have finished a new spec script, a producer’s interested in your work, you’ve placed in a competition, or offering new pertinent information to your agent to make you more attractive to the marketplace, by all means contact them.

Like all business relationships, keeping your agent will work of they continue to procure work for you. Once this dynamic fades away, move on. It is typified by them not returning your calls or emails. Your agent may be concentrating on other areas such as new media or preoccupied with a more lucrative writer.

Firing anyone is never pleasant, especially if it’s your agent (and friend). Discuss negative situations with them before they spiral out of control. When you’ve decided you’re jumping ship, write them a straightforward, factual letter giving them 30 days notice of your intention to dispense with their services. Never make it personal, even if it is. Keep it strictly business.

If you’ve previously discussed issues that remain unresolved, your decision shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. It is generally advisable to secure your next agent before firing the first one to ensure continuity of representation. Remember that your first agent will remain the agent on record for projects they brokered for you and will continue to be entitled to commissions. You may not be able to remove them entirely from your life, even if they’ve never sold any of your work.

Despite the current dearth of feature script sales at the moment, Michele still advises writing them as writing samples because the scope of film is so large. Although TV income can be more consistent and lucrative, you are always constrained by limited slots and dwindling numbers of staff writers.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. So now you have one more important relationship to feed and make behave.
    I work primarily with novelists in the publishing industry, not screenwriters. One key difference is that novelists don’t get many chances for “writing assignments” (or for soliciting pocket change while playing an instrument as musicians can).
    What might be similar, however, is that the agent relationship can be hot at the start and then can taper off, especially if the author doesn’t sell quickly among the agent’s usual contacts. The image is a helpful one that the agent’s commission indicates his or her percentage of the work. Thanks.

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      I also understand that novelists’ agents tend to be more proactive in developing material as opposed to many screenwriters’ agents which simply ink the deal.

  2. I am presenting a SEMINAR in Sherman Oaks on May 14th for writers titled: “WHAT DO YOU DO NOW?”
    For information go to the March page on my blog at:

    Hope you and your readers will attend.
    Please RSVP at:

    See you there!

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