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How To Get A Literary Agent

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.

2) Recommendations/referrals

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.

Of course, it’s now never been easier to meet agents. There are tons at events like London Screenwriters Festival. Most are on Twitter. NOTE OF CAUTION: don’t be weird or demanding

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?

Good Luck!

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16 thoughts on “How To Get A Literary Agent”

  1. Pingback: UK Literary Agents for Screenwriters | Scriptangel's Blog

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  4. What a load of tosh! So, according to this, to get an agent I need to 1) already have a film credit, 2) already be recognized in some way 3) be recommended by other famous people 4) etc…. So in other words, its a closed shop where only wealth and fame garners more wealth and fame and if you are not in it you never will be. This is not telling me “how” to get an agent, it’s telling my “why” I never will! Tell me how to break this infernal loop otherwise don’t bother write this deflating rubbish.

    1. Or you can take your destiny in your OWN hands Mat and start collaborating with others to get stuff made, as I describe in countless other posts on this site. It’s perfectly possible and exactly how I started and indeed everyone I know. So quit whining on blogs about how hard everything is and go do something! Have a lovely day 🙂

      1. Destiny won’t cut it. Good script, luck and networking.
        Matt, Bang2writer offer tips on submission along with services. to proof read analysts
        I wouldn’t worry about an agent now. Learn the craft.
        The resources by Lucy V will take you there.

  5. Lucy,
    Advise please… I have written 3 formats for tv.. one is being sold by a huge network, the other I got an letter of intent from a big distribution company that also handles production in UK and Canada and the other I locked in 6 figures for production costs. I am an unusual client as I didn’t study journalism, but have a pr company that specializes in devising marketing strategies for our entertainment clients using celebrities to tell the testimonial. I believe I bring a lot to the table with celebrity bookings, ideas, locations etc…. I don’t have scripts but beautiful treatments, video teasers … is that enough to send to the agencies? My writing is for non scripted entertainment. factual entertainment and reality type shows… Please advise

    1. Hi Nicole, sorry I have no experience of selling factual or reality/non scripted stuff, so haven’t a clue. You could try querying, but you’re probably best off going to prodcos rather than agents in the first instance, especially if you have celebrity endorsement.

      1. Its a run around, sort of. What about don’t write a spec. Write a book, publish online by creating a website. There you will be seen and likely your voice is heard .

        1. Getting your voice heard is a biiiiiiiiiig thing for sure, Fleurette! This is how it worked for B2W. But it’s not the only route.

  6. Personally didn’t get back handed by agents. My post reffered to pros stearing me to some Mary Loo lane.
    I’m with Stage32 which keeps creatives updated including coverage, education and webinars.
    Can’t wait though to pick up books by Lucy that my friend in the U.K. dropped off in N.Y for me.

  7. Very interesting article. I worry that the advice about getting on in the industry is usually based upon making connections with the right people at the right events. This immediately shuts out people who are not London/city based and people who work full time and/or have families to bring up. The reality is that the majority of people in the UK don’t have the time or the resources to hang around at these events hoping to chat to the right person. This is why the industry is so underrepresented when it comes to working-class writers, mothers, people who don’t live in London and so on. Sadly the industry can’t seem to grasp this.

    1. And yet I was a teenage mother, living in the middle of nowhere, with no money and no support, knowing literally no one in the industry at a time social media wasn’t a thing. Whilst it’s important to consider how marginalised people get shut out, fact is, it’s easier now to ‘break in’ (or rather build your career) than at any time of history. There’s loads of articles on this site about utilising social media and blogs to create relationships with industry pros online, which can help you gain a foothold in the industry. Find them using the dropdown menu on the right hand sidebar. For even more on how to break in using the internet, >” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>check out B2W’s online, on-demand course Online Confidential.

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