As any screenwriter knows, representation can mean the difference between being a struggling artist and being a bonafide paid writer. But what does representation even mean? Why do you need it? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the difference between a manager and an agent, and how do you determine which one is best for you?
Representation, at its core, is a person or team of people who go to bat for you. They champion your writing and set you up for professional and creative success by securing you meetings, connections, and paid writing opportunities. Both managers and agents can perform some of these functions, and the line between these roles is a blurry one, especially today. However, there are still some key differences between the two.
Here are eight key differences between literary agents and managers you should be aware of.
1. Agents Are About Today, Managers Are About Tomorrow
Agents are, for the most part, focused on making money. They are concentrating on making big deals that will earn both of you a paycheck as soon as possible. Managers, on the other hand, are concerned with your future. They are not as focused on every little deal, but expend energy thinking about the trajectory of your career as it unfolds over many years. They are long-term goal focused, whereas agents are concerned with the here and now. Also, managers are legally allowed to produce your work, whereas agents cannot. Therefore it’s in their best interest to curate a longterm relationship with you in the hopes of producing your work someday.
2. Managers Are More Accessible
I usually talk to my manager about once a day, whereas I speak to my agents much less frequently. My manager and I talk through new ideas and pitches, I update him on how a meeting went, and he gives me smaller pieces of news and the occasional pep talk. When my agents call, I expect it to be in regards to a bigger piece of news: I landed (or didn’t land) a gig, for example. In general, managers are easier to get a hold of and more willing to engage in longer conversations more frequently.
3. You Might Get A Manager Before An Agent
Whereas managers are more likely to see your potential as a great writer, agents want you to have already proven that you’re a great writer or have a substantial audience before they sign you. A manager will sign you based on a spec they think demonstrates your talent and sellability, but it’s tougher to land an agent. You have to grab their attention with something flashy: A spec script that everyone is talking about, for example. Or perhaps you host a podcast that’s garnered a substantial audience that could be transformed into a script, or maybe you’ve won a major screenwriting contest. Basically, you need to wow them. In this way, it’s more likely that you’ll land a manager before an agent.
4. Agents Are Cheaper — Sort Of
An agent’s job is to get their client exposure and get them jobs — sell their work, land them open writing assignments, staff them on TV shows, etc. And by law, an agent cannot ask for more than 10 percent commission on any sale. Managers, however, can ask for whatever they damn please (though it’s usually 10 or 15 percent).
5. Managers Have Fewer Clients
For the most part, managers have far fewer clients than agents. This is the biggest draw to having a manager, in my opinion. As someone who appreciates having a creative sounding board, knowing my manager has the time to talk through an idea with me and isn’t bogged down by a hundred other clients is a huge plus.
6. An Agent Negotiates On Your Behalf
Managers can’t negotiate deals or contracts on your behalf, but agents can. (And so can lawyers, who should certainly be involved in any larger or less cut and dry deal.) Agents help you negotiate the terms of your employment, but managers give you more general advice which may or may not be financially related.
7. Managers Will Give You Notes
Another great part of having a manager: he or she will give you notes! As someone who is wary of notes from friends and family members, having a manager who will give you honest feedback (because hey, it means a paycheck for them too) is paramount. My manager is invested in helping me improve every draft of my script, and has a well-tuned industry eye when offering notes.
Agents are less likely to give you notes and more interested in the finished product. I won’t send my agents a draft until it’s triple-checked for content and copy errors. Agents are extremely busy, so you want to make their job easier by making sure that bad boy is as clean and sellable as possible before it lands in their hands.
8. Agents Have To Work Out Of An Office
The last and certainly the strangest difference between agents and managers: For whatever reason, by law, agents must work out of an office. Managers can work from wherever they please — a coffee shop, their living room, the gym — truly anywhere. I suppose this is because agents have to work at an agency that is licensed by the state, whereas managers don’t have to work for a management company.
At the end of the day, both managers and agents serve important — but different — functions. You may find you need a manager in the earlier stages of your career and an agent later. But knowing the difference between the two can help you in securing, and knowing what to expect, from either.
Anna is an editor and screenwriter. She previously worked at Bustle as an Entertainment Editor, as well as Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and BuzzFeed.