Industry Update: Is This the Right Time to Approach Reps?

At the start of every year, I get one question more than any other: When is a good time to start reaching out to representation?

By reaching out, we’re talking queries, cold outreach, etc.

And by a “good time” we’re not talking generally about the writer’s career (as in, after she has x number of scripts ready to show as part of her body of work, or after she’s gotten a referral or a significant contest win) but rather: The year has started. I am ready. My scripts are ready to show. When is it a good time to start on a targeted approach to reps?

Whether seeking a screenwriting manager for the first time, looking to make a change to the writer’s current team, or building onto momentum from the year that passed by extending or making a whole new push for management, January is always a month where, coming strong right out of the gate, emerging writers look to get the year started by trying to make headway with representation and, most commonly, managers. 

In a “regular” year, when asked “When is a good time to start reaching out to representation?” I would usually say: Late January. After Sundance. The point? Wait until such time when most reps (and, as noted above, by reps I mean managers, who often become the writer’s first industry advocate) get caught up on the start of the year, read the drafts their current clients have sent them over the holidays, connected with industry friends and followed up on open items with film and TV execs. Then and only then would they likely have the bandwidth to start looking at potential new clients again, and be more receptive to referrals. They might even be looking for a particular type of writer to bring into the fold, or a particular sort of script for which they’re sensing an appetite in the industry. But this is not a regular year. Not by any stretch. 

Before I go any further, let me just say this: Nothing written in this blogpost reflects any sort of permanent change in the literary management landscape. This post is written in January of 2023, and reflects the current climate in the industry, and in representation specifically, brought on by industry forecasts as they relate to the emerging writers space. 

So this year, when writers with industry-ready pilots and screenplays that they are eager to get out there to reps came charging out of the gate started asking me:

When is a good time to start reaching out to representation?

My response was: 

Wait. Barring a few exceptions, this is not the time, for good or bad. 

So… why is that? 

As 2023 gets going, the industry is looking down the barrel of a writer’s strike that may or may not come into effect once the WGA’s contract with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) expires come May. With all the changes that have taken place over the past decade in how television, specifically, is made and how writers are paid, writers are fighting for very important things that directly impact the writer’s income and quality of life, so a strike will be seriously considered if no agreement is reached by the two parties negotiating. Now, we’re not there yet as negotiations have not yet begun in earnest, but the eventuality of a writer’s strike is not, in any way shape or form out of the question. 

And here is how this is effecting emerging writers’ prospects – who have not been previously represented or who have not had significant industry wins – of securing representation at the start of the year: 

Rather than taking on new “developmental” clients (i.e. writers who require more development then writers who are more seasoned and/or working) who may not yet have a proven track record with Open Writing Assignments or TV work, agents and managers across the board seem to be focusing almost entirely on getting their existing clients working, and earning money, NOW. Before a strike happens. There is an urgency to get everyone who can get one some sort of a contract, a job, a paycheck. Reps are focusing on their existing clients, people they have been working with for some time, whose voices they know well, whose careers they are already invested in, and who bring to the table an industry track record, and relationships that can yield jobs. 

One manager told me over dinner last month: “Right now, because of the strike, I’m reticent to take on anyone who doesn’t have a clear and direct path to employment.” 

For the most part, though I am sure that there are exceptions, managers by and large seem to be taking less time considering new more developmental clients and providing the sort of time and attention needed to get them industry ready, and instead investing more time in monetizing their existing, working or close-to-working client base, knowing that May or June or even July or August could bring a strike, and that strike could mean a work stoppage. And in earnest, I started seeing this in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2022 when writers who won big competitions and who got significant traction for their work were having a significantly harder time then they should have securing an established industry rep to work with them. 

That said, I am also certain that there are still exceptions, and that there are a few managers still considering new writers, particularly in the feature space. 

Additionally, there have been a number of managers still in the earlier stages of building their client list who recently opted to pack it in, let go of the clients they did have, and leave the industry. I suspect that this is happening to those who don’t yet have the sort of clients who could allow them to make a consistent living off of their commissions, and the prospect of not only fighting for their clients, but also, then, buckling down and hanging tight in what could be a long, protracted negotiation, could be too much to take. For context, the 2007-2008 WGA strike lasted 5 long months. 

The good news? This is temporary. It is not going to last. Once we know how the strike shakes out, things will return to a more balanced normal once again. The industry will forever need new writers, new talent, new stories and points of view to bring into its world of storytelling, and whether the contract negotiation is resolved without a strike, or a strike does indeed happen and causes some work stoppage over the span of a long negotiations, I have no doubt that reps will once again be a lot more approachable after the dust settles. 

Until then? This is a great time to continue developing your craft and your body of work. To get exposure for your pilots and screenplays. To submit them where you can and build momentum. It’s the right time to get out, build and expand your network, solidify and grow your community. For non-WGA feature writers, this is also a great time to approach independent producers who would be right for your work. And for anyone eager to approach representation once the dust settles? This time allows you to do the sort of in-depth research and prep work needed to create the interest you want when the time comes to once again reach out to your targeted managers list with your industry-ready and vetted pilot or screenplay. And if you win a big screenwriting competition, or are awarded a prestigious TV writing fellowship? In that case all bets are off, and you go for it and approach those reps even if the timing is inopportune, because you have to make the most of every opportunity. For every rule, there are exceptions.

If there are managers you would love to connect with who are taking pitches online? Pitch to them, knowing that they may  be reticent to sign anyone at the moment, in which case you should absolutely try them again the next time you have a new completed project on your hands. And if there is a strike? Then there might be a slew of reps unable to do much more than sit on their hands, at which point and time a representation approach could turn out to be advantageous.

If you read all of this and decide you still want to give it a shot before we know how this will be resolved? That is entirely in your hands, and there may be a few managers, especially those still constructing their lists and business, who may be more open to read – and sign – than others at the moment. Just remember that once you’ve sent out queries for a screenplay or pilot, you should not send them to the same audience again in six months if you’ve not heard anything back. In Hollywood, “no” is often delivered as silence over time, and even in times like these, we have to adhere to that. 

The bottom line? This year might require an adjusted approach than you previously considered but that does not mean that there aren’t still plenty of ways to move your screenwriting career forward in the year ahead: Writing things. Making things. Submitting things. Connecting with people. Creating a comprehensive strategy – that may or may not include approaching representation in the very near future or later in the year – for the development and construction of your screenwriting career, and following through on it.