So, You Want An Agent
One question I get a lot is “How do I get an agent?” My first reply is usually, “Do you REALLY NEED one?” If you are a screenwriter and just starting out, then you probably don’t. Here’s an epic rundown of how to get produced WITHOUT the need for an agent.
If you are a novelist, you still might not need an agent. Check out Authors Publish, which carries listings of publishers who accept manuscripts without agents. Alternatively, you may want to self publish – here’s 5 strategies for doing that on a budget.
How To Get An Agent
But okay, you feel you are the stage where you NEED an agent. It’s important to remember agents don’t want just ‘any’ writer. They want to invest their time in clients that are right for them, too. Here’s what you need to be able to offer:
1) Your Submission
Unless stated otherwise on an agent website, you should send:
- A synopsis and first three chapters (novelists)
- A one page pitch and your screenplay (screenwriters)
Make sure you check the submission guidelines. Only include other stuff (such as resumés, etc) if explicitly asked for. Here’s 5 Top Mistakes Writers Make Trying To Get Agents.
There are other things that can help whilst trying to get an agent, listed below.
These may be from producers, directors or other writers. They will have read your work and/or worked with you, so will be prepared to stand by their word for you in this case.
3) Contest wins
You may have won or placed highly (ie. Finalist) in Big Name writing contests. These may include (but are not limited to) The Bridport Prize, the Myslexia Short Story Competition, The Bath First Novel Award, BlueCat, Scriptapolooza, Red Planet Prize, Final Draft Big Break, The Nicholl, Then PAGE Awards. You may have had your work showcased by The Rocliffe Forum or similar. Do note UK agents *may* not be interested in contests on their own, but in conjunction in one of the other elements too).
4) Interest from big name companies
If you can take a deal to an agent, you are much more desirable. This can include publishing deals and options (note: usually not free options). Any other deal on the table such as a successful trial script at another soap or a super successful self-published eBook selling many, many copies a week, etc can also help.
5) Existing Track Record
A track record usually helps. Existing books or TV or Film, usually paid, rather than collaborations or anthologies where no one gets paid. That said, if your piece has done VERY well, especially commercially, this may swing it for you. Note agents may not be interested in short film UNLESS it has done spectacularly well on the festival circuit and has won awards.
6) You’re a professional writer in another field
You may have done corporate work or journalism; have a social media brand; or worked in theatre. You may have written novel tie-ins for existing, successful television franchises. You may have been involved in award-winning advertisements or won awards for your newspaper pieces. You may have worked in the games and toys market. You may have a huge online following on Twitter; or have a blog with many daily hits (usually about a fictional work but also about scriptwriting or associated content); you may have created a new media phenomenon; or you may have toured theatres with your play. You may have done a combo of these.
There Are No Guarantees
Note that none of the above GUARANTEES you an agent! Harsh but true. With so many writers around, the average agent can afford to be picky.
Don’t forget too: lots of very successful professional writers get by fine without an agent. But if you DO want an agent, then here are my recommendations for finding the right one for you:
i) Meet as many agents as possible
I’ve had quite a few agents now and I met all of them in a “real life” capacity before they represented me. I met one many times at various events over a five year period before he represented me. That’s right! FIVE YEARS. Making useful contacts in the agent world means playing the long game.
ii) Get to know agents’ assistants or junior agents
Agents’ assistants are more often than not going to become agents themselves, so getting to know agents’ assistants is a great idea. Junior agents are one step up and “agents in training”. They will start out at a company and create their own slate of writers. They will then take with them when they get an agent’s post either within that company, or at another one. The reason these people are good to know is because they are looking ACTIVELY for writers. Compare this to agents who already have their own writers (ie. why would they be looking, when they have a stable of writers already who are earning them money?).
Finding agents’ assistants and junior agents is slightly trickier as they don’t get invited to events as often as the actual agents. That said, they sometimes accompany them. So next time you see someone *with* an agent at an event, why not introduce yourself to them? Just don’t be weird or demanding, remember!
So, You Have An Agent’s Interest …
So, let’s say you’ve attracted the interest of an agent, junior agent or agent’s assistant. Now what?
- Write an EXCELLENT, non-weird cover letter/email. Detail your referrals from showbiz types/wins/corporate work/deal on the table (but be concise, half to three quarters of a page ONLY)
- Include your best writing, plus a one page pitch for it
- NOTHING ELSE – that’s right! Do not include CDs, DVDs, flowers, sweets, (even jokey) death threats and DEFINITELY do not include a non-disclosure agreement or release form!