This week a follow-up to my LITERARY AGENTS newsletter of 2 weeks ago. And thank you so much to all you screenwriters who responded.
‘I just got an agent in June this year. I hadn’t tried before then, for the reasons you wrote about. One extra reason was that I was focusing on playwrighting at the time and I think agents are less useful in cracking into theatres. You can get your play read by yourself. You might not get it read by the right/sympathetic person, but you’ll get it read.
I tried this year as I had my professional debut with a play on BBC Radio 4 (“Foxes”). It had Tony winner Jim Norton in the lead, so I knew it would get attention in agents’ inboxes.
I think timing is important in this. I emailed agents either a few days before broadcast or that day, including the link to where it would be on iPlayer. That was the right move I think, as they will forget about you quickly: something on in two months’ time is as well to be on in two years’ time.
I contacted all the main agencies, picking agents based on their list. But I didn’t select by writers I liked, I selected by writers at my level. I figured: if you’re interested in representing such-and-such, say, then you might be interested in me. I think that was the right move, as the opening conversations were about emulating a realistic career instead of saying ‘I really like Tom Stoppard, you’re his agent, so I emailed you.’
Most of the agencies came straight back to me. Many listened to my radio play and invited me to meet them. And from here the variety was wide! Some people blew hot and then stopped responding to emails (why?!), some were cold and slow and then got hot. But most were normal, logical people! I went with Nick Quinn at The Agency. Yes, because it’s an established agency, yes because Nick is a senior agent. But most importantly because I got on with him. Immediately. In contrast, I met others agents that were very ‘hot’ in their approach, but in the room they were overwhelming. Super salesy, poor listener. But still very nice and very keen, just not for me.
The last point worth making is to consider the breadth of the agency. In practice, you might be signing with a theatre OR TV agent. Not ideal if you do both, as the second agent didn’t choose you and arguably isn’t in love with your work. Again, Nick at The Agency straddles both camps so it made sense.’
PS: Some really helpful points there – particularly about being targeted; and making sure you approach agents at the right time.
‘I found this line particularly important –
“The bottom line is that most good agents will only consider new clients if they come with a personal recommendation from someone in the industry that they know and respect.”
I bet most writers found their agent thanks to a recommend as I did. It is important to be transparent about these things so un-agented writers don’t feel like they aren’t deserving! I always thought it was weird though that my writing didn’t change from the day before I was represented to the day after and yet producers considered me differently. This is nice and frustrating too!’
PS: This follows on from what I was saying in my blog – don’t think literary agents can necessarily wave a magic wand! As Hannah says, you’re still the same writer, agented or not!
‘After winning a writing prize I was taken on by one of the large agencies. Their clients were my heroes. I felt validated as a writer but in hindsight it was an opportunity before I was ready. I had one spec script and was working on theatre projects but I had a very specific (narrow) idea of success. I also had no idea how to write pitches, to go to meetings prepared with ideas and to just keep writing! I became self conscious in my writing and thought in career terms – would this be main stage rather than did I love it? I still had plays staged and via my agent got TV work but years went by where I didn’t have a new spec script and no one pushed me to do one. Having children also had an impact and in between having two children I focused on a theatre project rather than TV. The theatre project wasn’t then commissioned. I went into my second maternity leave feeling in a weak position. When my child was two months old my agent let me go by email – after 10 years with them. They were letting go of clients due to personal circumstances so I wasn’t the only one but I was deeply hurt. I seriously questioned did I want to write anymore? Was I any good? I felt I’d lost the validation of an agent. I’d also lost the love of writing itself. I associated it with failure and disappointment. It was difficult but slowly I became more proactive and arranged meetings myself, got a theatre commission and a TV episode. I am currently working on a project I never would have thought of 10 years ago with other artists. I wish I’d had the knowledge I have now when I’d signed with those agents as I would have known how to make more of the opportunity. So to anyone going on that journey ensure it’s the right one for you.’
PS: More of a cautionary tale from this writer who asked not to be identified. Some really helpful, smart points. And it’s good to be aware that agents do sometimes get rid of clients unceremoniously. Which comes back to the bottom line – agents take you on to make money for them (and yourself). Some agents are quite unforgiving in this (perfectly understandable) philosophy!
Thank you so much to all three writers for taking the trouble to contribute and for making such insightful and constructive points.
SCREENWRITING COURSE : TELLING YOUR STORY
The weekend of Oct 7 & 8 I ran this 2 day course for the first time, and it was a very enjoyable experience (for me at least!). We had three cracking guest speakers – Jonathan Kinnersley from The Agency, and screenwriters Cat Jones and Anna Symon. We’re going to be running the course again in London in March – all the details of how to book your place will be in the next newsletter.
One of the course delegates, development executive Beth Warin drew our attention to a monthly screenwriting event in London run by the International Screenwriters’ Association –
The next newsletter will be on Friday November 3rd,
All the best
Oct 20th 2017