I got this email recently:
I have a full time job as a writer for trade magazines, but these publications are always looking for contributed content — which is obviously far different than the screenwriting experience. I’ve been writing scripts for about 6 years, but am woefully naive about effectively marketing my work, so please forgive my question if it sounds silly:
Through query letters, I’ve had a few nibbles from agents and production companies interested in my work. I’ve also gotten some super favorable reviews from these industry professionals and in online communities like InkTip and Zoetrope. Despite this, I haven’t really come that close to selling a screenplay or gaining representation. Also, I’ve had no luck in the various screenwriting contests I’ve entered.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty frustrating to, on the one hand, receive the encouragement you need to keep writing and trying, and at the same time, wind up not really getting anywhere (i.e., optioned or sold.)
Is there such a thing as HIRING an agency to represent you — similar to the way some executive search firms will take up front payment from you in exchange for finding you a six figure position? These businesses pick and choose specifically who they want to represent, and only agree to try and place those they feel are worth it. I’m wondering, are there any legitimate creative or literary agencies out there that operate this way?
Good question. First, I’m not sure how many contests you’ve entered or how many query letters you’ve sent out, and that’s important. It’s quite possible that you simply haven’t sent out enough letters to break through. I’ve had scripts where I sent out probably 2000 query letters before optioning it. And in fact I’ve had scripts where I’ve sent out 2000+ query letters and never optioned it. And yet I’ve gotten great feedback and some nibbles on the script but it just hasn’t hit. (As a note, the reason I use 2K as the number of query letters is that I have nearly 2000 addresses of production companies, agents, and managers in my database and I’ve done a lot of blasts over the years where literary nothing came out of a blast.) It’s often described as “lightening striking” when you do option or sell a script and there’s a certain amount of truth to this. There are a lot of forces that have to come together for a script to get optioned, sold and then produced and the quality of the writing is just one of them. So sending out a shit-ton of query letters is one good way to try and conquer the extreme odds. I would guess over the years I’ve sent out probably 25K query letters. You can look at my credits on IMDB and do the math. So how many query letters have you sent out?
I’ve never tried any of the services that you mention, InkTip and Zoetrope, so I have no idea if they’re effective or not, but I’m very skeptical that they are. But I could be wrong, as I said, I’ve never actually tried them out.
Believe me when I tell you, I understand your frustration. It’s a rough business. After you’ve lived in Hollywood a while you get used to it. Many people on the outside think if they can just get one credit everything will be smooth sailing from then on, but that’s unfortunately not the case. You have no idea how many writers have actually sold a few things and still can’t get any of their recent work optioned, sold or even looked at by a decent agent or manager.
Now to answer your question about hiring an agency to represent you… my initial reaction is “no,” this wouldn’t work. If you start to send out query letters to companies in the Hollywood Creative Directory as I recommend on this website (How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell)) you’ll actually get a few responses from “producers” and “managers” who will propose exactly what you’re asking for; you pay them a “small” up front fee and they’ll try to get your script sold. The problem is that selling a script is so difficult that in like 99.9999999999% (or more) of the time they’re just going to be taking your money. So what’s happened is that no legitimate business will do this sort of work because any legitimate business knows they’re basically just taking people’s money. So the few people who do this sort of work are dreamers at best and pure scammers at worst. Legitimate agents and managers will work for a percent of the sale, but this is why they have to be so very selective with who they represent, there are lots of writers out there and only a few hours a day to try and push their work.
As a writer for a trade magazines you probably get phone call pitches from PR people pitching story ideas for their clients, right? This is exactly the sort of cold call you might try yourself to agents and managers – pitching them your material. Cold calls are usually more effective than query letters so if you’ve tired of sending out query letters maybe try cold calls for a while.
I’ve recently been experimenting with hiring a sales person to cold call production companies and pitch my material to them. So far it’s worked fairly well and has has yielded some results. If you know someone in PR who’s real good at cold call pitching (and you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself) you might try hiring them to cold call for you. There aren’t that many WGA agents and for a few hundred dollars you could probably get them to call a good number of them.