How to get an agent
I’ve done a few talks at universities recently and the most common question I get asked is: ‘How do I get an agent?’ This is more for screenwriting as I don’t have one for novels.
Firstly, never ever pay anyone money for any sort of service to help you get an agent. There is no talk or seminar you need to attend that costs you anything. There is a useful book listed further down which has a list of every agency, but that is as far as I would go spending anything, and if you’re good at searching online you won’t need it.
In terms of what you need to do, the process is different for a lot of people, but you need two things:
A script, preferably two scripts as often people want to see that you can produce high quality stories consistently
A list of agencies to approach (where the book can be handy if you don’t want to search yourself)
The first is obvious, but it’s incredible how many people think they can approach an agent with an idea and that’ll be enough. Agents need something to sell, and you are providing that thing, so make sure it’s ready and fully formed.
The second is the tedious one. You have to do some research. It only takes some online scouring and if you search ‘script agents’ people will have compiled lists. Search ‘TV agents’ and that gives you the names of some big agencies too. It’s not hard, it just takes a bit of resourcefulness, and if you want to get into writing you’ll need a lot of that to keep you sane and to find work to pay the bills as at the start and for many years, writing alone isn’t enough.
Do your research on each agency, by which I mean look at who each agent represents and check their submission requirements which are often clearly listed on the site. Someone once told me that you only get one shot with an agent. That person is an idiot. If your work is good but not quite right for them, they will be keen to read something else in future. It’s likely you only get one shot if you send incomplete work and an incoherent query email where you call yourself a legend.
Speaking of query emails, once you think you’ve found an agent you think would be great, it’s time to write that.
It’s not too hard to write and you need to take the pressure off yourself. If they say no, it’s not personal and you should be approaching more than one agent at a time.
Here are some tips:
Be polite - A big part of writing is the interaction between people, so it’s important you are pleasant and not an egotistical a-hole. Who wants to work with unpleasant people? Sadly, more people than you think, but let’s not be one of them. There’s a thin line between being confident and being wedged in your own arse. Also, your agent will be sending you to meet people. They want to know their client has basic manners when inflicting them on another human.
Get the person’s name right - It sounds simple, but if you’re sending out a few agent emails you may screw this up. I have. It is a common mistake. I once had someone get in touch with me for advice and they called me Dave. I didn’t care, Dave is a strong name and I can see myself being a good Dave, but a lot of people do get offended and think if you can’t get their name right then what hope do you have?
Say why you’re emailing - A lot of people just email attachments and very little else. It’s nice to say ‘I’m emailing because I’m looking for representation and hope I can be a good fit for you. I’ve written a story about (explain concisely) and wondered if you were taking new people on and would consider reading it?’
Share your background - Say why you want to write, why you wrote the story you’re sending in, and what you plan to do. It’s important to show you’re thinking of the next script and entering contests and schemes etc… Also, this is for when you have meetings with producers, but the Why is becoming crucial in a lot of meetings because authenticity and experience sells these days. Know why a story matters to you, your view on the world and why you need to say it.
Optional - Be flattering. I’m polite but not sycophantic as it’s not genuine. Some people do better with that than me, so if this particular agent has a client you love mention it. Up to you.
Basically, be polite, be approachable, show you’re doing the work. Then be prepared to wait a while for them to read your script. Some can take up to 8 weeks. That’s why you should send your work to 2 or 3 agents at a time and get to work on your next project while you wait.
It is easier to get an agent when you have some commissioned work under your belt, but it’s not always easy to get that. There are junior agents at agencies who if they love a script will be open to taking on new writers, so don’t lose heart. I had about twenty rejections before my first agent, and that only came about thanks to a referral from a friend.
My second agent was off my own back, but I’d had a broadcast credit and some other experience at that point and two scripts they could try to sell. I spent several years without an agent so don’t lose heart if you don’t get one with your first attempt. Also, when you get an agent it doesn’t guarantee you a flourishing career. It helps to legitimise you and makes you feel like a real writer, but you still have to be patient and make sure you never stop trying to build your own contact base. If you put everything on your agent you won’t get far.
A good resource for finding agents if you can’t be bothered to trawl the internet is to invest in this:
The 2020 edition is released in July 2019.
This book is useful for anyone seeking an agent for fiction too. It will still require you to do some internet research though when you make a list of agencies. The idea is to go through, jot down the ones you think would be interested in your kind of work, then do a bit more research on them and approach.
Good luck and remember, rejection is a part of the process. There will be plenty more, but if you really love writing then the high points are worth the struggle through the crushing lows.