By far the most frequent question I get as a screenwriter is this: How do I get representation? Obtaining a manager or agent is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face as a screenwriter. Most reps who are any good already have a full roster — they aren’t looking to take on anyone else. They have their tried and true clients who make them money and signing unknown talent isn’t a priority. But sometimes a new writer will catch their eye, someone who is too talented to ignore, and that new writer could be you.
So how do you become this person? To answer the question, I surveyed my working screenwriter friends and a wider breadth of writers on twitter. And, no surprise, there is not a singular or obvious way to obtain reps. But there does appear to be a handful of ways in which most writers found their reps, or rather, their reps found them.
It’s not a science, but here are some proven ways in which writers have found representation:
Have A Body Of Work
First things first, before you pursue a manager or agent, you must have a collection of work you’re proud of. If you’ve only written one or two scripts, it might be worth taking a step back and working on your craft further. Perhaps the first scripts you ever wrote were brilliant. Congratulations! Even so, if they are good enough to attract reps, you’ll still need more scripts in your back pocket. Because most worthwhile reps want to make sure you aren’t a one hit wonder, that you have been honing your writing for years, and that you have tons of new ideas.
But of course, quality over quantity. You want to ensure your scripts are in good shape. Whether this means sending them to trusted friends for notes or paying for a script coverage service from a professional, you want to make sure your scripts are in a good place. If, fingers crossed, a rep does ask for more samples, you want those pages to be ready to send out ASAP.
Write Query Letters
I was surprised to find that several people I spoke to found their reps through querying. I had been told querying managers and agents was a thing of the past, but in fact, as it turns out, it may still work. However, there’s an interesting caveat: No one I spoke to found their agents through querying, but some obtained a manager this way. With this in mind, your energy may be best spent reaching out to managers over agents.
A few things to keep in mind when querying: First, know your audience. If you’re reaching out to a specific manager, research what other clients they have beforehand by using a site like IMDBpro. See who they rep, what their writers have written, and determine if you would be a good fit given what you know about them. You can mention these specific qualifications in your letter.
Secondly, keep the note short and highlight the reasons why they should rep you up front. Managers receive dozens of these letters weekly, so you want to give them the highlights at the top. Offer a logline, a short synopsis, and a brief bio about you. The entire query shouldn’t be more than a few ‘graphs long. Thank them for their time, and don’t include any attachments. Seriously, nothing turns off reps more than receiving unsolicited materials. If they’re interested, they’ll request the first 10 or 15 pages, or maybe even the full script.
Thirdly, make sure you spellcheck the damn thing. This seems obvious, and it should be, but how can a manager be expected to read your work if he finds an error in the query letter? Give it a few reads before you hit send, just to be safe.
A good general rule of thumb when querying: Put your best foot forward, and keep it specific and concise.
The word “networking” has a gross connotation. I hate the idea of having conversations with people purely to get something out of them. It feels disingenuous and false. Don’t do this. And if you do want something from someone, be up front about it.
But there’s a different, better way to network. One that doesn’t have to feel slimy or devious. A quick story: When I first started writing scripts I hated talking about them. I didn’t want anyone to know I was writing because I was so afraid of failure. I thought that if I told people I was trying to write, my seemingly inevitable failure would become public. But not talking about my scripts was getting me nowhere. So, I decided to start talking about my screenwriting endeavors when it seemed appropriate. It was a true passion of mine, and something I’d naturally talk about with friends or acquaintances. Once I opened up about it in a genuine way, I was shocked at how many people were supportive. And those conversations led to organic introductions with other writers, and eventually, a manager I signed with.
Work In the Industry
I never had an industry job before working as a screenwriter, but many friends have. According to them it’s a good way to get in the door and be immersed in the world you want to work in. You build connections with those working in TV and film, and you might even get these people to read your work, pass it along to someone else, etc.
Write Something They Can’t Ignore
First and foremost, you should write something you’re going to be good at writing, something you’re passionate about, and something you can speak truthfully to. And while I hate the word “splashy” or “sexy” when it comes to writing, sometimes choosing a topic you know will create noise is helpful. The screenplay that got me an agent is a J.K. Rowling biopic. And while I’d like to think it was my full body of work and the quality of the writing that got me signed, it didn’t hurt that I chose to write about someone who is prolific, fascinating, and who many people are already interested in. In this case, the topic of my screenplay was perhaps just as important as the writing itself. So consider writing about something that will catch a rep’s attention, assuming it feels authentic to you.
Lastly, keep writing. It may seem cheesy or overly optimistic to say “Don’t give up,” or “Never stop writing,” but it’s actually true. Unless you’ve decided to give up the craft, you want to always be working on something. Reps want a volume of work and by constantly working you are always improving your craft. So when that fated day comes and a rep asks to meet with you, you’ll have an arsenal of scripts at the ready.
Like many people I spoke to, my journey to securing reps was a long one. Here’s how it happened for me: I was a full-time journalist working in Los Angeles. I wrote scripts on nights and weekends, and hoped to one day make the transition fully into screenwriting. I entered a few contests, didn’t win, but kept writing.
One day I was speaking to a friend about my latest script and he said that it sounded like something his friend, a manager, would be interested in reading. So, my friend set up an introduction, and we hit it off, sort of. The manager agreed to work on this current script with me — give me notes, take it out to the town, etc. — but didn’t agree to sign me on as his client.
At the same time, I had entered the ScreenCraft fellowship, and won. Winning the contest was the bump my manager needed to sign me as a full-time client. It showed him I was valuable, and perhaps put the thought in his mind that if he didn’t sign me someone else might.
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Once my manager committed to me fully we began to strategize. Up until this point I had written mainly TV pilots and he wanted me to try my hand at writing a feature. I came from a journalistic background and sought to write something based on true events or real people. I pitched him ideas for about a month until we finally landed on the script concept that would get me my agents: A J.K. Rowling biopic. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, but more than that, I’m a fan of Rowling and the seemingly insurmountable odds she faced as a writer.
I wrote the script and my manager sent it around to various agencies. To my surprise and delight, several agencies wanted to meet me. I chose the agency that fit me best. The script ended up on the Blacklist, and my team has been a crucial part of me landing the jobs I have since.
In getting to this point I employed several tactics: Regardless of rejection, I kept writing. I networked and talked openly about my scripts with friends. I entered screenwriting contests to build clout around my work. And finally, I wrote to my strengths while also writing about someone who already had a built-in audience.
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This combination of tactics worked for me, but it’s important to remember that there’s no one way to secure a manager or agent. In all your effort to obtain reps, remember to keep writing. It’s easy to get sidetracked and overwhelmed by the business of the industry, but what will make you most appealing is having a constant appetite and work ethic for the craft.
Anna is an editor and screenwriter. She previously worked at Bustle as an Entertainment Editor, as well as Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and BuzzFeed.