Every screenwriter dreams of getting their big break – seeing their script make it to the big screen. But transforming your raw idea into a high-quality script that captures the interest of studios, directors, and actors requires expert guidance. This is where literary agents come in.
Having a knowledgeable, well-connected agent advocate for your work and negotiate lucrative deals on your behalf is invaluable in advancing your screenwriting career. However, landing representation from an established agent or agency is a challenging feat. Competition is fierce with rejection being commonplace.
This comprehensive guide unravels how to effectively get a literary agent as an aspiring screenwriter. Let’s dig in.
Do You Really Need a Literary Agent?
Before delving into the process of snagging an agent, it’s prudent to examine if literary representation is fundamentally necessary for you and your goals as a screenwriter.
There are certainly great benefits provided by reputable, experienced agents including:
- Industry Connections – Agents have insider relationships with producers, development execs, directors, actors, and more which can get you access.
- Submissions – Agents have direct pipelines for submitting their scripts and pitches to studios and production companies.
- Negotiations – Agents are skilled negotiators who can get you the best possible deals for options, sales, assignments, etc.
- Guidance – Agents give sage advice on your projects, development, career moves, and how to navigate the complex business.
- Validating Your Abilities – Securing a recognized agent is a huge stamp of approval on your talent.
However, there are rare cases where having an agent may not be necessary or practical:
- If you are early in your development as a screenwriter and still honing your craft.
- If you are writing very niche, indie films with limited commercial prospects.
- If you plan to produce your scripts yourself or through your own small production company.
- If you successfully secure work and negotiate fair deals on your own through contests, networking, etc.
Take some time to objectively assess where you are at in your screenwriting journey and career goals. If breaking into mainstream Hollywood and getting your scripts sold to major studios is the aim, having a high-caliber literary agent is near essential.
Preparing Your Screenwriting Materials
Prior to querying agents, you need to invest significant time in improving your screenwriting abilities and developing professional quality scripts for your portfolio. Here are some key tips:
- Study screenwriting craft extensively – Read screenwriting books, take classes, and analyze successful scripts. Highly recommended resources include Syd Field’s “Screenplay,” Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat,” and Ken Adams’ “The Screenwriter’s Workbook.”
- Write daily – The best way to progress is regular writing. Dedicate time to write each day and participate in screenplay challenges like NaNoWriMo.
- Develop a logline – Craft a compelling one-sentence summary hook for each script that captures the tone and central conflict.
- Write synopses – A short 1-2 page synopsis that summarizes the major plot points provides a valuable overview of your stories.
- Analyze successful films – Study films and TV shows in your desired genre to understand pacing, character development, structure, and conventions.
- Write full feature-length screenplays – Completing several 90-120 page spec scripts shows you have the endurance needed for the work.
- Get marketable ideas – Keep your finger on the pulse of trends and aim to write for genres and concepts that draw current buyer interest.
- Have scripts evaluated – Use coverage services or enter reputable contests/workshops to get valuable objective feedback. Incorporate feedback to polish scripts before querying agents.
- Format perfectly – Do not distract agents with improperly formatted scripts. Final draft templates or script writing software like Celtx, Highland, Fade In, etc. help you format correctly.
With at least 2-3 solid, well-vetted spec scripts in your portfolio showcasing your distinctive voice and ability to deliver, you will be ready to start pitching literary agents.
Understanding Literary Agents
As you prepare your materials, you should research literary agencies and get clarity on what agents can do for your screenwriting career.
Here are key facts about agents:
- Agents work on commission, earning a percentage (usually 10-20%) from deals they broker for you. Reputable agents only earn when you do.
- Top agencies focus on major markets like feature films, TV, and emerging areas like digital/streaming.
- Established agents maintain relationships with studios, networks, production companies, and executives on your behalf.
- Agents negotiate on your behalf for script sales, producer assignments, intellectual property options, staff writing jobs, and much more.
- Many recognized agencies have specialized personnel focusing on scripts, book adaptations, managing writers’ careers, ancillary rights, etc.
When researching literary agencies, prioritize those with reputable track records selling scripts like yours to major studios and producers. The WGA maintains an updated list of recognized talent agencies you can check.
Crafting Your Query Letter
Your query letter is the first impression you make on literary agents. When formatted and written effectively, it gets the reader excited to request your script. Here are tips for composing a compelling letter:
- Attention-grabbing opening – Start with a compelling “hook” mentioning your script’s unique concept or commercial prospects to pique interest quickly.
- Brief synopsis – In 1-2 short paragraphs, summarize the essence of your story, central conflict, and main characters without revealing the entire plot.
- Script details – Provide logline, genre, page length, target audience, locations, and any film/TV comparables to give helpful context.
- Your background – Share any relevant credentials or achievements that reinforce your writing abilities and commitment to the craft.
- Unique voice – Convey what makes you and your writing stand out from the competition. Help them visualize your talent.
- Next steps/call to action – Request they read your full script while expressing eagerness for feedback and consideration.
- Personalization – Research the agent and tailor your letter and script pitch specifics to their interests and needs. This shows homework.
- Proper format – Follow standard business letter format, proper contact info, addresses, etc.
Avoid overused platitudes about your script and keep descriptions concise. Your letter should fit comfortably on one page. Have both content and technical experts review it closely before sending it.
Researching Literary Agents Actively Seeking Writers
A common frustration is wasting time querying disinterested or inaccessible agents. But there are ways to identify those actively looking for new clients – especially emerging screenwriters.
- Check writers’ sites like Writer Beware and Absolute Write to see complaints indicating an agent is difficult to work with or non-responsive.
- Follow agencies and agents on Twitter or news sites covering entertainment representation deals to learn who is taking on new writers lately.
- Look for agents guesting on screenwriting podcasts or panels at conferences. This signals they are approachable.
- Search industry events, contests, and fellowships an agent participates in as a mentor or judge to find those engaging with and scouting new writers.
- An agent listing “Querying open” or “Submissions open” on their site or in their email signature often translates to they are actively looking.
- Some agents will state they are closed to queries but provide guidance on when to check back about possible openings.
When preparing your query list, be selective and start with second-tier up-and-coming agents first. Building credibility with them early on can help attract interest from more prominent industry players.
Submitting Your Script Queries in an Organized Manner
When ready to begin sending queries, proceed in a systematic way:
- Research and follow the agency/agent’s listed submission guidelines closely. This shows respect.
- Send queries in small batches of 10-20 agents at a time for easier tracking.
- Keep detailed records including status, dates sent, any replies, and notes using spreadsheet software or an app like QueryTracker.
- Personalize each query letter slightly while retaining a professional tone.
- Only submit to one agent at an agency at a time to avoid potentially awkward situations.
- If exclusive submissions are requested, honor that fully by halting simultaneous queries until receiving a formal response.
- Be patient. Response time averages 1-3 months though some may reply within 2-6 weeks if highly interested.
- Follow up once after 4-6 weeks have passed if you have not received an acknowledgment on the status from an agent. Avoid pestering them constantly.
Securing representation is a significant achievement that requires persistence through what may be hundreds of rejections. Do not get easily discouraged. If your work shows talent, finding the right agent match willing to champion you is simply a matter of time and dedication.
How to Proceed When You Get Requests for Your Script
Receiving requests for your full script or sample pages from agents marks a major milestone to celebrate:
- Send requested materials as soon as possible. Do not keep an interested agent waiting.
- Politely indicate if you have any pending submissions currently under consideration by other agents requesting exclusivity.
- Express your sincere appreciation for their time and consideration.
- Wait patiently to allow reasonable time for a full review of your script. 12 weeks is not unheard of.
- If you receive and accept an offer of representation, notify other agents who have your script immediately so they stop reviewing out of professional courtesy.
An invitation to discuss representation signals exciting possibilities ahead. However, do your homework before signing any agency agreements.
Key Steps When Signing With a Literary Agent
Landing a respectable literary agent is a watershed moment. Before sealing the deal, take these vital steps:
- Research the agent thoroughly. Validate their experience and check for any red flags.
- Ask questions about their vision for you & your writing career. Make sure your aspirations and personalities align.
- Clearly understand commission structures and termination provisions in any agency agreement. The standard is 10% for scripts/books, and 15% for cash compensation.
- Review which rights the agent versus you retain. For example, dramatic rights, publishing, multimedia adaptations, etc.
- Understand their role and expectations for developing new projects, submitting your work, and promoting your talent.
- Be clear on communication norms, response time, preferred contact methods, and frequency of status updates.
Signing with a powerhouse CAA or WME agency as an unproven writer is unlikely. Seek a reputable agent who will be hands-on in developing your career. Making the most of your first agent relationship leads to bigger opportunities.
Persistence Is Key to Getting Signed
Recognize that rejections are inevitably part of the agent querying process for any writer. Here are some tips to maintain resilience:
- Develop a thick skin and do not take rejections personally. Even exceptionally talented scripts get passed over regularly by agents.
- Understanding the business is highly subjective and becoming the next hot client is tough. Timing and luck play big roles.
- Continue improving your craft and evolving your portfolio with each new script. Success favors those honing skills consistently.
- Leverage rejections to make each successive query stronger and more targeted based on lessons learned.
- Connect with writers at your same stage who you can commiserate with. Remember you are not alone in struggles.
- Maintain faith that sticking with it will ultimately lead to the right agent relationship manifesting at the appointed time. Persistence pays off.
Above all, sustain your passion. The next agent to open your query may turn out to be the perfect match.
Conclusion – How to Get an Agent as a Screenwriter
Finding representation by a well-regarded literary agent can be transformative for your screenwriting career. This allows you to focus time on developing brilliant scripts and passion projects knowing your career interests are being strategically managed.
While no magic bullet exists guaranteeing agent signings for unproven writers, implementing a smart approach like outlined here positions you for success.
Remember, do not rush into relationships with just any agent. Vet agents carefully to ensure philosophies align. With a dedication to continual improvement of your screenwriting craft, the right representation will unfold. Keep persevering. Your writing future is bright.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get an agent for screenwriting?
To get a literary agent as a screenwriter, you need to develop excellent writing skills, create solid spec scripts, research agents accepting queries, send well-crafted query letters that hook them, and demonstrate persistence despite rejections before representation is secured.
How much do screenwriters pay agents?
Screenwriters do not pay agents upfront fees. Reputable agents work solely on commission, earning 10-20% of any deals they negotiate on the writer’s behalf once funds are received. Top agents only get paid when they sell scripts or negotiate other deals that compensate the writer.
How do I sell myself as a screenwriter?
Key tips for selling yourself successfully as a screenwriter include developing a strong portfolio with solid spec scripts, honing your loglines and pitches, networking relentlessly to make connections, entering prominent contests and labs to gain visibility, highlighting any relevant credentials or unique life experience, demonstrating commercial sensibilities and market knowledge, and conveying your passion.
Do I need an agent to sell my screenplay?
While not absolutely mandatory, having a reputable literary agent represent you, give career guidance, and leverage their connections vastly improves your odds of selling your scripts, especially to major studios and buyers. Attempting to sell scripts without an agent is very challenging.
Do writers pay their agents?
Standard practice is writers do not pay agents upfront fees. Agents earn commissions from sales and deals they broker on the writer’s behalf. Agents assume the financial risk, only earning income when the writer gets paid from their negotiated deals. Writers only pay commissioned percentages after receiving funds.
How do I sell my Netflix script?
Strategies to sell your script to Netflix include getting a referral from an established agent who already has a relationship selling to Netflix, participating in Netflix-organized contests and programs, attending industry events to network with Netflix development executives, securing reviews from script hosting sites like The Black List that Netflix monitors, or catching attention by winning major screenplay competitions that Netflix enters.
How much does Netflix pay screenwriters?
For non-produced scripts, Netflix pays around $75,000 – $200,000 for exclusive options. For produced films, compensation can hit high six figures up to low seven figures for established writers. First-time writers typically get $250,000 to $500,000 for features. Netflix pays lower rates for TV episodes, around $35,000 – $75,000.
Do agents read scripts?
Most reputable agents do read the full scripts for new writers they are interested in representing based on strong query letter pitches. Reading helps them evaluate talent and vision. However, some agents may have internal script readers provide coverage first before deciding whether to do a full read themselves.
Do screenwriters sell their scripts?
It is common for professional screenwriters to sell their original feature film and TV scripts to major studios, production companies, networks, and streaming services either speculatively or when commissioned for assignments. However, selling scripts is highly competitive with much rejection. Quality representation helps immensely.