Monday, March 08, 2010

Getting an agent

Like a lot of writers, I spent many happy hours leafing through the section about agents in sundry writers' handbooks, yearbooks and directories. I approached agents by phone, post and email, with and without a recommendation from an existing client, on and off over a period of two years. When I did secure representation, I think it was due to three simple but important factors.

First and foremost, my writing had improved. Before that I was getting better, each draft on every script taking me on another step or two. It felt like tiny increments, but that's still progress. Eventually my writing reach some sort of tipping point. No great leap forward, more a steady drip, drip of improvement - and applying what I was learning to my portfolio of scripts.

Secondly, I got a TV drama credit. Agents may be in show business, but it's still a business and you need to show you'll make them money. Being a finalist in most recent Red Planet Prize didn't hurt, demonstrated I had some range and polish to my work. But the BBC commissioned me to write an episode of Doctors was official endorsement that I could be a TV drama screenwriter.

Thirdly, I did my research. On the Creative Writing MA where I teach part-time, my colleague Sam Kelly [an ex-agent] suggests writers at the start of their careers look for young, list-building agents. Often these are former assistant agents who've been recently promoted. When I first contacted my agent she was looking for writers - and swamped with scripts as a result.

How did I know she was looking? Blake Friedmann Literary Agency mentioned it in a press release on the Book2Book daily digest of publishing industry news. Katie doesn't handle books, so that wasn't the obvious place to be researching a potential film and TV agent - but it paid off. Never underestimate the value of research and intelligence gathering in helping your quest.

None of the above is intended as some guaranteed guide to securing representation, it's simply the story of how I got an agent. Concentrating on the three factors I mentioned - make your writing better, get a commission and do your research - certainly won't hurt your chances. But don't expect getting an agent will guarantee you any overnight success.

You have to take responsibility for continuing to improve your writing, for networking and finding out about potential openings, for pursuing opportunities with all your wit, strength and energy when they arise. Having an agent can open doors. What happens next is up to you, how you comport yourself as a professional and the quality of writing you can muster. Onwards!

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