Friday, June 12, 2009

Querying managers?

After I explained why I don't recommend querying agencies, Maria asked: What about querying managers?

Beyond the fact that your letter may never get past an assistant who has no interest in helping you, I actually think you might have better luck querying managers. Why? Agents are looking for material that is polished and ready to be sold. Sure, many agents will give notes and such - but this isn't the primary function of an agent; an agent's primary function is to know the marketplace, have relationships with all the buyers and be able to sell their clients' work (or otherwise get them a job). And it's rare that someone sending a query letter is going to be at that stage. Some people have this sense that agents are only interested in the sale and not long-term career planning, which I don't think is true...good agents will take all of this stuff into consideration. But developing material and making it better isn't usually an agent's focus.

Managers, on the other hand, are more likely to sign writers who need a little work. They recognize talent and help these writers develop their material before it is ready to be taken out and sold (or used as a sample to get staffed or get a writing assignment). Managers generally have shorter client lists than agents, and spend more time on each client. Many managers also produce, which is why they might take an extra interest in the material itself.

I have heard agents say things like, "Well, if he has some talent, we can take him to one of the managers we like and tell the manager to come back to us when it's ready." Managers and agents are often allies in this way. Managers will bring us clients they think are ready to sign with an agency, and we bring them writers we think aren't quite there yet, but have potential.

Still, I maintain that cultivating personal relationships will always be more effective than querying - and like an agency, a management company is going to be more focused on its current clients or writers with a lot of heat than signing people off queries. But if you're intent on papering the town, you'd be silly to target just agents and not managers.

I hope they don't hate me for this...but management companies Circle of Confusion and Benderspink both accept queries.

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Dan Williams said...

Sounds good! Do managers and agents insist on a percentage or can the writer negotiate a ceiling on their commission? Or a sliding scale?

Say, 10% for the first $1M, period. Or 10% on the first $1M, but 5% on each million thereafter? Or just a straight fee of, at most, $50,000 per year? It seems that if a writer has a manager and an agent and an entertainment lawyer, that the gross is being split too many ways -- no?

Amanda said...

With agents it's a flat 10%, from what I've seen. With managers it varies...but it's not going to be a straight fee or based on the total money.

Most big writers have an agent, lawyer and manager who all take their percentage. That's just how it works.

Monsterbeard said...

Generally managers will take between 10% and 20%, but if it's 20% they'd better be doing a damn good job.

Managers can go either way as far as queries go. If their clients are doing well, regulars on a couple shows, then the manager can rest easy on them and have time to consider new clients. However, if a manager is having a hard time getting any of their clients steady work, they're just as likely to want to invest in someone new.

Without first-hand knowledge, I've never heard anything good about Benderspink as a company. As far as I can understand, they basically screw over anyone they can for as much as they can.

However, take it with a grain of salt. It's just hearsay.

Dan In LA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TV writer said...

Can we still expect the post about what shows will be good to spec?

Dan Williams said...

If it's got to be a straight percentage for agent, manager and lawyer, it sounds to me like a writer might be wise to contract transactions out one at a time. For instance, let's say a writer gets a staff job without an agent and their's a contract to sign. Why not hire an entertainment lawyer to look at it and explain it, and then pay for the service rather than give a percentage for the rest of their employment on the show? It seems like giving percentages isn't the smart way to go if you're the talent.

Amanda said...

TV writer -
My contact never got back to me about the shows to spec. But here's the checklist for picking your show:

1. It will produce new episodes in the fall
2. It has been on for at least one but ideally two or three seasons, and doesn't seem in danger of cancellation
2. Most people are familiar with it but not sick of it
3. It demonstrates your strengths as a writer
4. It is tonally similar to a few shows on TV, and could be used as a staffing sample for these shows