TWIC: Should You Seek a New or Established Manager?

This Week in Coaching – Week ending 12/6/19.

The other day, I was talking to a client of mine, a genre writer who has recently placed well in a number of big screenwriting competitions, who came to seek my advice on a couple of specific questions he had in mind ahead of his upcoming manager search.

The writer was informed; had done his research and knew the names of the up-and-coming managers who have, in the last few years, managed to make a name for themselves. But he also knew the names of veteran reps, many of whom have been at this, breaking in new writers, building and overseeing careers, for multiple decades.

He had two questions for me, the first of which was this: 

Should I look for a young, up-and-coming manager, or an established veteran?

Here is what I told him:

While there is no question that a veteran manager the likes of Larry Shuman, Alan Gasmer or Aaron Kaplan can work wonders for a new writer seeking to pave significant inroads in the professional space, there is something to be said for those young, hungry managers who have something significant to gain from their client’s success. This is not to say that seasoned managers can’t be fantastic advocates; I simply find that when the writer and manager are at similar career stages, both building reputations and careers and eager to get to the next level, that’s when hustle shows up and good things can happen.

In my experience, younger, hungrier managers who have been at it long enough to have significant contacts in the professional space and a reputation for being able to find diamonds in the rough on more than one occasion do tend to have a bit more hustle (across the board) in them, and many will go to extreme lengths to break in and promote their writers in the professional space. This is by no stretch true for every young manager out there, but the ones who are a step or two behind the likes of Kailey Marsh, Jeff Portnoy, Jarod Murray and Lee Stobby, who not too long ago were just starting out and have since established their own successful  careers, are the sort who can help push the writer to the next level.

The writer also wanted to know this:

Is it best to seek out a manager who is known for representing only writers who write in my same genre, or a manager who has a more diverse list?

While I do understand the initial instinct to secure a rep known for working with talent in your same genre , I find that such situations can also create competition for the writer with the other scribes on the manager’s list. What do I mean? If a manager gets a call from a studio exec that they are looking for a scribe for their next low-budget horror piece, the writer wants to be top-of-mind when the manager considers who of his writers he might want to submit for this. If the manager reps only a handful of writers whose work fits the bill, and at least half of those are otherwise occupied at the moment, then it’s a no brainer, and it’s likely that the writer’s name will get in the mix. BUT if the manager only reps horror writers, many of whom he has been working with for years, a new writer would have to then compete with all the other writers on the managers list in order to be submitted. This is exactly why you often find managers passing on promising new scribes because they already represent someone whose voice and interests are all too similar to someone else they represent; they want to ensure that every single one of their clients is not at risk of getting lost in the shuffle.

While I do like managers with a diversified list spanning different genres and formats, it’s important to remember that not every manager represents every type of writer in every genre out there; some managers favor TV writers over scribes who spend the majority of their time writing features. While some embrace genre whole-heartedly, others go on record as ones who steer clear of (for example) YA, fantasy or comedy, based on their own sensibilities. Some managers want to focus on selling and setting up material; others have a more career-building approach to them (which is not to imply that setting up a project would not be career building).

In the end, you won’t always have a choice; you will be able to get interest from one rep, and it’s gonna be up to you whether or not you want to work with them. The critical thing when signing with anyone is that you have a clear strategy in mind, and understand what to expect from them.