All About Agents
The following was something I wrote for my original "Greenlight Zone" website that was created for the Project Greenlight community. I am a cyber-pack-rat of certain kinds of links and information and my fellow PGLers were always asking me if I had any links for one thing or another so I finally made a website for them. Anyway, perhaps there might be something useful here for you...
What is an agent?
The Zack Agency (literary only, does not represent screenplays) offers a very good definition in their "AGENT FAQ"
I also suggest that you read, "Reasons Why You Need an Agent" from the American Screenwriters Association, "How to Approach an Agent" from the Writer's Guild-East and, "When Does a Screenwriter Need an Agent?" from FilmUnderground.
How is an agent paid and how much do they get?
When the "customer" (studio, producer, etc.) pays for your written material, a check is sent to your agent for the agreed-upon amount (and hopefully your agent has negogiated a good price for your work). The agent will deduct their commission (usually 10%, sometimes a little more) then send the remainder to you or your designated financial manager.
What sort of agreement (contract) will I have to sign with an agent?
There really is no written-in-stone standard Agent/Writer contract. Each agency will most likely have their own version. But for one example, see "Literary Management Representation Agreement" from Urban American Filmmakers for some idea of what a contract with a literary agent should look like. You may also be asked to sign a standard release form before an agent or producer or anyone else in the business agrees to accept/read your material. Everybody's butt has a basic human right to be covered so if you are asked to sign a release, don't think it is an out-of-the-ordinary request.
So exactly what rights do I have as a writer?
The Writer's Guild West has excellent resources outlining what rights and protections are of concern to writers. They include a writer's rights before, during, and after production as well as enforcement of those rights. These are things that should be a high priority with your agent. See the "Writer's Resources" Page at the WGA website.
And exactly where are these agents hiding and how do I get one?
Chances are you won't be able to make your first or any other sale without an agent. Yet most agencies don't want to hear from you unless you've made a previous sale (established a track record) or you have been recommended to them by someone whose judgement they trust. Yes, it seems like a Catch-22. But it's not the Impossible Dream.
Step One: Find a good directory of reputable agents then start by eliminating those agencies that state they definitely do not want to hear from new writers or accept any unsolicited submissions. WGA LIST OF SIGNATORY AGENTS
Step Two: Learn how to write a proper query letter. Then write one. Here is a Sample Query Letter from Urban American Filmmakers. Also see ANATOMY OF AN IRRESISTIBLE QUERY LETTER by Don Vasicek. Most query letters are brief and to the point, introducing yourself and your work, and either asking the agent's permission to send your screenplay to them or inquiring what their submission procedures are. I will be doing a special post on query letters here on this blog so keep your eyes peeled for that, m'kay?
Do not include any nonprofessional language or comment ("Gee, I hope you won't think this letter is stupid, but..."). These are busy people. And just between you and me, most of them seem to be suffering from chronic P.M.S. (yes, even the men and sometimes especially them). Do not send a complete screenplay or manuscript to any agency unless in their own published material or in their direct communications with you, they specifically state that is what they want.
Do I need to emphasize that it is crucial for any writer to be conversant with the rules of proper usage of English grammar and spelling? And as much groaning went on in the Project Greenlight Message Boards over "standard industry format," if your screenplay is not mechanically perfect, don't even bother with that query letter until you have made it so. There is no quicker route to rejection than a "writer" showing that he/she is incapable of following simple basic standards of writing.
Do NOT pay any attention to self-appointed screenwriting gurus on messageboards and elsewhere who tell you that presenting yourself and your work in as professional a manner as possible does not matter. These Egos in Cyberspace aren't exactly making their living selling screenplays or novels. Think about that.
Hee hee, there's one out there right now trolling messageboards to spew his "All Must Worship My Genius" attitude across otherwise civil conversations. He cuts and pastes what I write and no doubt what others have written and he attempts to pass off other people's written words as his own. So be extremely careful about being led by any Messageboard Guru. If they are such a glorious success, how can they spend so much time on a messageboard?
How do I know if the agent is really an agent and what dangers are out there that I should know about?
You can try the Agent Verification Service at Agent Research.com. There are other services and useful websites such as Literary Agent Watchdog (from FictionAddiction and probably geared more toward agents representing novel and other narrative writers).
If you are in search of an agent to represent your screenplay, do check out the agent list from the WGA and know that even though there are no guarantees in Life that at least WGA signatory agents are bound by certain standards and rules.
If you are a writer of novels and other narrative forms of writing, visit the Association of Author's Representatives and check out their list of signatory agents. The AAR also holds their member agents to high ethical standards.
Last and hopefully not least, see my "Alerts, Warnings, & Cautions" post here on this blog.
There is one "shark" swimming the newbie waters on writer messageboards who has publically posted that I am "dangerous" for having posted the above (and similiarly helpful) information for writers. Gee, I wonder why he would say that. Hmmm...
MY ANSWER TO THE SHARKS WHO WOULD