Marty Shapiro, of Shapiro Lichtman Agency, Los Angeles California told me exactly that when he wanted to represent me in television and film writing. Believe me, he ought to know ☺
In writing for television or film, an agent is a necessary evil:
- because he or she validates the quality of your work,
- and can get it past the gatekeepers for a read, a
- and production companies will rarely risk law suits by accepting submissions from anyone other than a signatory to the Writers Guild of America.
Even represented members (see M. Shapiro above)of the WGAw, Moi ☺ didn’t hesitate to toss my feature length script into the open window of Nick Nolte’s Saab Convertible when he was playing golf where I played tennis 30 years ago. It was the longest of long shots, and it ended the way all long shots end, no response from anyone with the initials N.N. or his representative.
When writing for mainstream publishing (aka BB), an agent is a necessity:
- They know the market, the acquisition editors, and sometimes have entrée to the publisher him or herself.
- Depending on the agency’s reputation (and niche), representation guarantees a valid read, rather than farming it out to an actor waiting (as in tables) for his break on Broadway for a first read.*
- As in real estate, agents have reasonable expectations for the terms of a contract re: advances, # of copies printed for the first run (the more copies printed, the higher the expectations for a best seller from the investor aka publisher), and dollars committed to marketing the book. (print ads, book signings, media interviews and advertising)
The agent is a bad agent:
- When his/her phone is answered in a third world country several time zones away from either New York or LA.
- When he/she lacks a game plan for submitting your work to specific people for specific reasons, either personal or professional.
- When he/she does not or can not provide valuable feedback within a reasonable period of time.
“Reasonable” is a broad term, and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. As the author, you have a right to a response from your agents’ submission to a publisher or producer. The timing of the response depends on too many factors to be listed here, however, never-ever make an end run around the person you are contractually tied to without their knowledge and/or permission. The WGAw’s contracts between talent and representation spell out in clear language the job descriptions and parameters of the relationship if you receive an agent’s interest in representing you. READ IT before signing it.
From the writers’ point of view, a bad agent is anyone you presume is working FOR you in the marketplace, who in fact has shelved you until further notice in favor of another client or clients. You continue to think your work is being submitted to the appropriate places, and the agent is following up on the submissions, and applying appropriate pressure to make the sale as part of the process. NEVER ASSUME: ask for and receive details, names, dates, replies. If they are not forthcoming, don’t assume they exist—move on after submitting your decision in writing to the agent.
*Unless you are 1) sleeping with, 2) related to, or 3) married to—and that’s only a definite-maybe to the film producer your script will go to a professional reader for an indepth analyses of its potential. The professional reader is also waiting (as in waiter) their big break as an actor, screenwriter, producer. The qualifications are fluid, as in education (does reform school count?), experience (OJT), objectivity (hahahahahaha….)