Getting Representation: Do’s and Don’ts
Part 4 of the BREAKING IN: REPRESENTATION series.
Every unrepped screenwriter or television writer is eager to get out there and find a manager (or agent, though I do advise new screenwriters to get a literary manager first pretty much every time) who will advocate for him in the space and help him carve his path to a professional screenwriting career. After all, it’s literary managers who have been anointed the industry’s talent scouts in recent years, who have a proven track record in taking their writers from emerging to professional, be it by exposing a feature spec to the industry, developing a pilot to perfection, or helping the writer attract an agent (who can then help with both staffing and selling) to their team.
As top literary manager Jeff Portnoy told me when I interviewed him for my book BREAKING IN: TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES:
“Managers tend to serve as, to use a sports analogy, scouts for the agencies. It’s our job to be out there, judging screenwriting competitions and TV writing competitions, meeting writers and developing material. And then when we feel the writer is ready we reach out to the agencies and the agencies hopefully will sign them, and then together as a team we go out to the town with the material and get the writer meetings.”
As is with everything else, it’s best to adhere to standard industry etiquette and appropriate behavior when seeking and maintaining interest from a manager or agent. In order to shed some light on those, below is a quick list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to attracting representation:
- DON’T reach out to representation, or have someone refer you, until you have material that is vetted (i.e. signed off on by a reputable consultant or reader or an industry friend who is a working writer, showrunner, or development executive), ready to show, and a body of work behind it.
- If you are fortunate enough to win or be named finalist in a large screenwriting contest, DO make a push for representation touting your recent win, despite the state of the rest of your body of work. It’s important to capitalize on those wins!
- DO vet material before you send it to representation for consideration. Vetting resources include reputable consultants or readers, working writers, development or current executives. Why vet the material? Because unless the rep loves the concept and gives you specific notes (which hardly ever happens with non-clients) you don’t get a re-do.
- DO research managers and agents before you approach them, and definitely before you meet them.
- If an agent or manager agrees to read your script DON’T pester them. Even though they requested the material or gave you permission to send it, they do not owe you a read. Follow up a few times (I usually recommend 3-4 soft email follow ups over a 10-week period), but if they don’t get back to you, then either they read the script and didn’t like it, or, more likely, didn’t get around to it.
- DON’T assume that if you haven’t heard back from a rep who has your script that it must mean he hated your material. Industry folks generally let you know when they did the work, even if they didn’t respond to the material. The more likely assumption is that the script was de-prioritized as time went by, and probably never read.
- DO present yourself professionally. Reps are looking for clients whose calls or emails they are happy to receive, writers who they would be comfortable putting in a room with industry executives and friends, rather than ones who annoy them before the relationship has been cemented.
- Unless you’ve already secured their services, DON’T call an agent or manager. They have a long phone sheet to attend to every day, and your name on it will only provide a distraction and take valuable time from their day. The best follow-up is done via email.
- If an agent or manager provides feedback on your script, DO accept it graciously, even if you don’t agree with it.
- DO start fostering the sort of industry relationships with other writers or industry executives that can become valuable referrals now, even if your material is not yet ready for show time. Remember, people want to help other people that they like, rather than those who reach out only when they need something.
- If querying an agent or manager (which you can learn more about in the blog post SCREENWRITING REPRESENTATION: TO QUERY OR NOT TO QUERY?) DO lead with the headlines: what competitions you’ve won, what programs you were granted entry to, or which film school you just graduated from.
- If querying an agent or manager, DON’T bother mentioning any successes that may be meaningful to you but not to the industry (such as winning an unknown screenwriting competition or only making the quarter or semi-finals in a highly regarded competition, unless of course it’s The Nicholl).
- DO send thank you cards after initial meetings and holiday cards every year. Little gestures can go a long way in the industry.
- DO keep potential reps in the loop on recent successes. Placed well in a highly regarded contest? Finished a new script that’s getting a lot of positive feedback? Drop a quick line to a rep that might have shown interest in the past. Even though they will likely not respond, they are keeping an eye out for writers who are prolific, determined and consistent.
- DON’T take rejection as an end to the relationship. Even if an agent or manager says that your material is “not for me” or that they “couldn’t connect with it,” they may welcome you to send them your next script, which you should take them up on!