Agents, And When You Need One

So, there’s a guy going around Twitter approaching anyone and everyone with any connection to screenwriting, nagging them for help finding an agent. He hit me up last night, and he’s since moved on to many others, with variable results – and from what I can see, the more helpful people have tried to be, the ruder and more demanding he’s been…

But actually, I don’t want to talk about Twitter etiquette. What I want to talk about here is the idea that what a newbie writer needs most of all is an agent.

So many writers think ¬†“If I only had an agent, then I’d be okay. Then I’d be lunching with Spielberg and hanging out with JJ. Everything would be perfect if I only had an agent.” ¬†Hell, I used to think this myself. But you know what? It’s not true. And that’s actually pretty liberating, isn’t it?

Let’s pretend you’re selling your house. You redecorate and throw out all the crap, you call the estate agent (realtor, for our American friends) to design a newspaper ad, the property goes on the market, and eventually you get an offer. Then you get a lawyer in to do the paperwork, and the SOLD sign goes up.

So if the “house” is a script, which role is played by the agent? Estate agent (realtor), right? It’s obvious. They go out and sell the product of your beautiful mind, and you sit back and wait.

Wrong. The fact is, you are the estate agent as well as the homeowner. Which role does the agent play? They’re the lawyer. They only come in when you have a sale.

It is your job to sell your work, whether you have an agent or not. I don’t mean to denigrate the fantastic work agents and managers do, but I think they’d agree with me: they can’t sell a client if the client can’t sell themselves.

As a newbie writer, you don’t need an agent – now more than ever, in fact. Post your script on The Black List (okay, it costs a little money each month, but it works). Enter the few genuine, respectable screenwriting contents that are out there. Self-publish a novel on Kindle. Write a web comic. Make a short for $100 and put it on YouTube. Hell, people have got TV deals off the back of a comedy Twitter feed!

Create your brand, get your work out there, and when you need an agent, one will magically appear like the shopkeeper in Mr. Benn.

And one more thing to draw from the house-selling metaphor… Ask any estate agent, and you’ll hear stories of the people who put their houses on the market with junk stuffed in every room, peeling wallpaper, and dog dirt on the carpets. Don’t let your script be that house. Get notes – real notes from real writers. Be brutal wth your work. The harsher a note sounds, the more notice you should take of it. Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. You only get one chance to show people round your house for sale, so it needs to be perfect…