Once you do manage to nab an agent, get ready to sit back and watch those assignments and offers roll in, right? Right?
If only it were so. Getting an agent is an important step in your career as it validates you as a writer, and your name and work gets known around town as the agent begins to do his/her spin. But while it is commonly accepted in America that an agent will get you work, here in the UK it is a wholly different matter. The reality (and I’m sure it must be like this in the US as well but they don’t say it as much) is that having an agent is not a guarantee that you will get work, ever.
I read a columnist in a screenwriting magazine once who gave the advice that if your agent hasn’t got you work within 90 days of representation, then you should fire his ass. What? Are you nuts?? In the UK, this would be total career suicide. An inept understanding of the producing process and commissioning system on this fair island. This is where the whole agent issue gets interesting. Before you had one, you couldn’t get their interest because of your lack of work but now you do have one, the situation hasn’t changed much despite their best efforts to ‘get you out there’.
In ‘How to Get An Agent’, I mentioned that most successful scriptwriters will have found a way to work in the system regardless of representation or reputation. They will have wangled a TV deal of some sort, have written for a children’s show, or done a radio play, or made a short film, or something, to give them that bit of clout to beep an agent’s radar. But once you do get representation, it is this self-guile and determination that will usually see you continuing to obtain work in some way or another while the agent will sort out the contract, and thus earn their 10%.
Agents are working very hard for you and the remainder of their client list. They will tirelessly put your name forward for assignments or TV work and get your scripts on to the pile. They will do their best to arrange meetings with various producers/execs/commissioners. But none of this is a guarantee of work. See my earlier post about meetings. You’re making a mistake if you sit back waiting for your agent to phone or to organise meetings or to ask you to lunch. You’ve got to take on the same amount of promotion and marketing as your agent does about yourself.
Personally, I like to try to be as busy as my agent. Let’s face it, they’ve got a lot of clients to punt (I don’t how many but I don’t want to know either) and there is going to be that inevitable period of time where an agent has to wait for responses from the people they’ve sent your stuff to, and in the meantime they can focus their attention on another client. But if I’m actively looking for work myself, and pitching myself around town, and generating projects/ideas/meetings/whatever, then the likelihood of work increases and I have something to report to my agent with the weekly phone call or daily email or whatever correspondence you conveniently fall into.
The main thought is not to expect too much. The excitement of getting an agent is great and the anticipation of professional work is stirring but it may not happen right away. It takes time. It might feel like the next ice-age is approaching when you get your first commission but at least you’ll have hung in there, like a true pro, grafting and pitching and writing no matter what. The agent will continue to pitch you and your work, and you’ll get meetings and be considered for various stuff but after that, it’s out of the agent’s hands and you’re left relying on lucky breaks or someone taking a shine to your original voice or your unique brand of story material.
One thing’s for sure, the amount of work, effort, determination, drive, sheer will and optimism that you have for yourself and your writing not only doubles but triples and quadruples as each hurdle of rejection and disappointment gets higher and higher. Having an agent as the positive coach on the side of the track urging you on is indispensable but once you’re in the race, it’s all down to you and your personal resolve to be a success. So don’t just sit back and fall into complacency or expect an agent to work wonders, get ready to step up your game and grit to the next level, because the amount of effort required will seem like it’s never enough.