The Good News Blog Post: Representation
Over the many years I’ve been coaching and the many blogposts I’ve written, no one has ever accused me of sugarcoating anything. In fact, my loyalty to portraying things as I perceive them to be in this industry has drawn the ire of many a writer over the years. So when it came to me that I actually have what I perceive to be good news to share with emerging writers looking to get the interest of a literary manager, I decided to jump on the opportunity.
But before I do, let’s just acknowledge that this blogpost is being written in the thick of the 2023 writer’s strike, one that is both important and necessary. And I 100% support the WGA writers strike. This blogpost is meant to educate writers looking to secure representation while adhering to WGA mandates during this strike. It does not encourage writers to pitch, sell, or negotiate with any struck companies or personnel from struck companies for the duration of the strike.
All that said… Here’s what I’ve got:
For almost a year now, a new writer landing a literary manager has been more of an uphill battle than any other time in recent memory. I’m never a fan of “it’s never been harder to… ” but let’s just say… It wasn’t good! Late last summer, and with the writer’s strike looming, literary managers and agents seemed to turn their attention to one thing and one thing only: Getting the writers on their existing lists working. Any interest in reading new, emerging writers seemed to diminish significantly, if not go away all together. In fact, by the time 2023 rolled around, most of my writers who were seeking representation decided to hold off on approaching reps by queries or online pitches, as the effort seemed to produce little to no results. The only occasions in which writers seemed to get any real interest from a potential manager was when a valued referral was involved, but even then, while it may have landed the writer a meeting, it didn’t get them representation.
(I know, I know! This is a good news blogpost. But in order to really get the good news of it all, context is important. So… )
Long before the strike deadline, some cracks in the management landscape were showing: In late 2022/early 2023, a number of young managers (and by young I speak of youth as it relates to their representation journey, rather than their age), who were not yet able to build up a robust roster of clients who could bring in enough commission to see them through the strike, packed up their bags and moved on to greener, non-industry pastures. The last few years have been chaotic already with the writer’s action against agents in 2019, Covid in 2020 and the ongoing recovery, mini-rooms and changing business models, so it’s not hard to understand that some not-yet-established managers wanted off the merry go round.
And then, on May 2nd, 2023 the writer’s strike began. There is no question that this is an incredibly important strike. The WGA is fighting not only for it members working in the industry today, but also for the next generation of writers. The WGA directive to both members and non-members has been clear: Strike is all about deprivation, i.e. depriving struck companies (members of the AMPTP, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) of writer’s services (such as writing on an assignment or working in a writer’s room) and products (original spec screenplays and pilots). In other words, current and future guild members who want to remain in good standing with the guild are instructed not to discuss or share their work, from logline to a completed screenplay, with industry producers who are members of or work with struck AMPTP companies and their employees. That means no submissions, no pitches, not even generals. Which is a lot of what keeps writers busy throughout the year.
Literary agent and management companies are following suit, supporting their WGA clients in their quest for much-needed improvements and adjustments to the WGA’s MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement). In non-strike times, a rep’s job is to read scripts, provide notes, and most importantly advocate for their clients in the professional space, be it by sending out original work, setting up pitches, or by submitting them for staffing opportunities and/or open writing assignments. Which is to say: Now that the strike is on, a lot of literary reps are finding themselves unable to tend to major aspects of their jobs, some of which take up the majority of their time.
Around the 3rd week of May, I started hearing from my friends in representation. Suddenly, they had all this time on their hands. While they provided their clients with notes, calmed worries and engaged in ongoing development (which reps are allowed to do as their companies are representation companies rather than producers), the industry-facing elements of their work that went beyond maintaining their contacts ground almost to a halt. There was really no point to, as a manager friend put it, take an exec out to lunch to tell her about a writer they may or may not be introducing to her months and months down the line. So they were reading scripts again. They were taking meetings. Which, considering the drought in signing new clients that started in full force back in the fall of 2022, I was delighted to see.
And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding (and this is where the good news comes in): I’m happy to report that in the past few weeks alone, two of my writers were signed, while a slew more are getting read and taking meetings with reps who have expressed interest in their work, making this, finally, a great time for anyone seeking representation. My own calendar includes a slew of lunches and coffee dates with friends in representation who have up until recently been too busy to get together.
Now, this doesn’t mean that reps will sign anyone with a promising idea or a stack of papers that resembles a pilot or screenplay; the bar is still high as managers are looking to use this time to identify, develop relationships and work with writers that they will continue to be enthusiastic about long after the end of the strike. But if you’ve spent some time developing your craft, submitting to competitions and building up momentum for your work, developing a pitch to share with managers online, building your manager target list for a query push or fostering relationships that could come in handy as far as those all-important referrals are concerned, this may just be the right time to make your play. While the first requirement is to be able to show off what you can do on the page, you may find that managers are much more willing to read – and potentially sign – writers who are new to them now than they had been leading up to the strike.
That said, if you are able to get read and are fortunate enough to get signed during this time, do not expect any rep worth their weight in gold to get your material out to the industry before the strike is over. It doesn’t matter if you’re not currently a WGA member. Managers across the board are rightfully standing in solidarity with their clients and the guild. Therefore, if you do secure representation during this period, expect your new rep to look to develop existing or new material with you which they will then take out to the professional space only once the strike has been resolved.
And there is a caveat to all of this: While the strike does not look like it will wrap up in the coming weeks or immediate future (predictions have ranged from the strike resolving by August all the way to concluding some time in December), I do expect reps to stop – or in the very least slow down on – reading potential new clients when the strike is settled, at which point they will turn their focus to getting their existing clients working again, as well as getting material from their new clients out.
So? What are you doing this summer? If you have a great screenplay or pilot that’s vetted and industry-ready, it might just be time to put together and execute your representation strategy. For more READ THIS, sign up for the next installment of my free, live STRAIGHT TALK series with literary manager Jeff Portnoy, or sign up for CAREER COACHING.