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Writers on the Verge: The Screenwriting Agent Game

Every writer wants an agent. Otherwise, why would this be the single most frequently asked question I get? Time and again: How do I get an agent? Am I ready for an agent? Will I be better off if I have an agent? My answer is always this: You want a screenwriting agent, but why? Is it the right time? Are you in the right stage with your career and your material? Sure, every writer out there feels a boost to their career and trajectory once they're represented. Heck, some writers feel like it's better to be repped by an inactive, overwhelmed and, worse, disinterested agent than not to be represented at all.

The right question is not: How do I get an agent? Instead it goes something more like: At what point of your career - posturing and ego aside - will you benefit from having an agent?


You might think that the time is right. That the time is now. But let's consider this one.

The reality is that everybody wants an agent at every point of their career. What better situation is there than having somebody else, somebody well known and connected, peddle your screenplay on your behalf? First off, it's time to put that myth away. Agents will only put so much time and attention into something - and more importantly someone - they don't already know they can sell. Agents are there to book revenue, to paper the work. Until you are a proven commodity, they will only expand so much energy on your behalf. After all, that's what their business model necessitates: They have to book revenue, bring in the money, do their part to pay their company's overhead. Pursuing projects and deals from their proven, already-paid writers is the surest way to get there.

When you're looking for an agent, consider not just what you want to have, but rather what you have for the agent to sell. An agent can do little with a writer who does not have material ready to sell and ready to sell TODAY.

For clearer understanding, lets break it down this way:

You want an agent

Everyone trying to break in wants to have an agent. The question is, ultimately, as an unproduced writer, why would an agent choose to invest their time in you? Remember, an agent's job is not to develop a screenwriter; It's to "paper" a deal. As far as most agents are concerned, their involvement with you is something that should have a purpose greater than a conversation starter or the padding of your creative resume.

You need an agent 

Needing an agent, beyond just the hope that an agent will help you evolve from this stage of the your career to that, is based on something very simple: You have a marketable, popular genre screenplay that has been vetted, read, dissected, revised, then dissected and revised again. And if not a marketable screenplay, than a screenplay with a meaningful attachment: A name director or actor who wants to be a part of the project and thereby brings it instant credibility and interest. In short? You have a screenplay that is ready to sell or place. This is the time when an agent can come into the picture in service of your career. Agents are there to negotiate the deal. For a writer yet to conquer their first sale or option, or a create significant buzz around one of their scripts, an agent's services will be required ONLY when there is a screenplay you have to sell or a job (be it a TV staffing job, assignment, or otherwise) that you are able and desired to fill. If your material has not been vetted, covered and analyzed, don't bother to send it to an agent. Only send an agent a screenplay when you received 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinion that you are, indeed, ready for showtime. Agents are servicing 40-60 clients at any one time. You want to put your best foot forward with them every time, or they will move on to another writer, produced or otherwise, whose potential and quality shows promise of worth.

An agent wants you

An agent will want to represent you when you have something they can make a deal on. Or, in the very least, something they know they can build some massive buzz on, in order to get you onto one of the coveted lists such as The Hit List or, more impressively, The Black List, which will open the doors to TV staffing jobs and writing assignments, as well as create a valuable following that could eventually facilitate a script option or script sale. As mentioned earlier, the job of an agent is to get you work. Not to help you develop the work that may eventually get you the work, a function that falls much more under a manager's purview. You have something to sell? Something with a little buzz? Some doors opening for you? That is the time you can really benefit from an agent getting involved on your behalf. An agent is at their best when they can negotiate on your behalf.

What should you do next? 

Assuming you're not ready for an agent, what is next? Consider finding a manager whose focus is on the development of his or her writers and their material. Management companies, specifically the small boutique ones, will work with you extensively to develop your material and make sure that you have the right script to bring to market. And if you're not able to get the attention of the top managers in a particular company, don't fret. In some ways it's to your benefit to attract the attention of a junior manager, who will work tirelessly to develop your talent and thereby build a name for themselves. Unlike agents, they have the resources and the incentive to develop a strong writer even without guarantee for returns. These days, everyone wants to find the next Evan Daugherty. The next Ben Magid. The next hard working writer who came up with a strong manager helping to optimize their voice and content for today's marketplace. Or better yet, keep writing, keep networking, keep improving your craft. You keep getting better and putting marketable work out there, sooner or later you will win that contest, make that contact or get the buzz that will garner your work the representation attention it deserves.

Pitch agents and executives at Screenwriters World Conference in NYC April 5-7, 2013!


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