For most screenwriters, it can seem like the whole process of trying to sell your script is one big “Catch 22”: You can’t get certain producers to read your script without an agent or manager, but agents and managers don’t want to represent you until you’ve made a sale. The first question for you as a writer is to determine whether you should try for a literary agent or a manager. Here are 5 tips to help you decide which to go with first.
1. What is the difference between an agent and a manager?
An agent is basically what the word itself describes: a person who is going to represent you as a writer and your work. An agent is your salesperson in the marketplace. When the agent feels your script is ready to “go out,” they find the producers or studios who will be the best potential buyers. The agent then manages the whole process of (hopefully) selling your screenplay to them.
Managers, on the other hand, work more closely with the writer on developing their scripts and career. You may strategize closely with your manager on what story to write next, and then get feedback on your drafts. Also, managers will often arrange meetings with producers and other industry executives, either for specific writing assignments or just a general meeting to let the execs get to know you.
2. How much of my earnings do each of them take?
When you are represented, the agent or manager are compensated with commissions from your earnings. Traditionally, agents have earned 10% from the deals they make for their clients; managers’ commissions range from 10% to 20%.
One thing to remember about managers is that they can also act as a producer for their client’s scripts (by law, in California, agents cannot produce). So if your manager is producing your screenplay and it also sells, the manager should receive a sales commission on top of their producing fee. This is called “double dipping” and legitimate managers don’t do it.
3. Should I choose one over the other?
If you are a screenwriter who is just starting out, the choice between an agent and a manager may be made for you. Representation by an agent is generally harder to get than finding a manager willing to take you on as a client.
Agents tend to want to represent writers with the potential for a long career. They prefer clients who can steadily bring in commissions over a period of time, rather than trying to chase one payday for a single script sale. Also, there are a lot more managers than agents in Hollywood and they are usually more open to developing newer writers. If only by default, for aspiring screenwriters, a manager is usually the better first step.
4. What factors should I consider when searching for representation?
The biggest red flag most writers should watch for is an agent or manager who charges upfront fees for representation or reading your script. Legitimate agents and managers do not take money from a writer in exchange for representation.
Once in a while, you’ll run across some who charge $ 35 or $ 45 for a reading fee to cover their costs, but they are not real players in Hollywood. (Personally, I think it should be okay to charge a minimal fee for them to read your script, but the fact is that the big players don’t do it.)
Another consideration is where the agency or company is located. Nearly all films and deals are made in Los Angeles or New York, so most agents and managers are located there as well.
That is not to say that an agent from Chicago or a manager from Atlanta can’t do anything for your career, because they might have a few contacts who could be just right for your script. If you are relatively new to the industry, they could also be a good company to begin to work with to get yourself “in the game” and learn how to work with representation.
For the most part, however, your major agencies and management companies are unlikely to be located outside of Los Angeles or New York.
5. How do I go about finding an agent or manager?
You can try and land an agent or manager in a few different ways. If you have industry contacts, then it might be appropriate to ask your contacts for a referral to an agent or manager.
Alternatively, you can send a query letter to agents and/or managers, introducing yourself and offering them your script to consider for representation. The advantage of a query letter mailing is that you don’t need to have industry contacts in Hollywood to send it out. If you have a great script, a strong query letter could be enough to get you noticed.
In either case, however, just make sure the script you send out is the best you can make it. They will only read it once, and if your screenplay is not your best, not only will they turn it down, but they probably won’t look at any of your other scripts in the future.
Despite the differences between a literary agent and manager, when it comes down to it, the real issue is simply finding someone who can help move your career forward. Strategies and business styles vary. They each have their own taste and their own set of contacts. Any number of them could work. Most of the time you won’t know what works until you work with them.
They could have made the careers of 10 major screenwriters before you, but if they aren’t getting the job done for you, then it doesn’t matter. What it comes down to is this: Get in the game as soon as your script is ready, and it’s trial and error and learn by doing, from there.