Friday, August 29, 2008

Insight from the agent trainee

I thought I would let Amanda the Aspiring TV Lit Agent weigh in on a few of your questions:

Mike writes: My question for AAA is... WTF?? (With a smile.)

In the past I've hit the Quarters in the Nicholl and the Semis as well. Both netted me several requests for my script, but it just didn't hit with people. Recently, I made the cut for the New York TV Festival/Fox TV comedy pilot contest. 25 out of 900 pilots selected and sent to Fox development, with the ultimate winner (maybe top three) getting a development deal with Fox. Queries with that info have netted exactly squat-ola. Is it just freakin' impossible to get read these days without either a recommendation or being able to walk in the door with a deal in hand?

First of all, the universal question of ‘wtf?’ isn’t limited to those outside looking in. When it comes to matters of taste, saleability, green lights, deals, and representation, there’s really no accounting for, well…taste.

Second of all, getting a read is by no means impossible, as long as you know how to go about it. Here are my tips for getting a read:

1. You have to forget the contests, seriously. I know outlets like Creative Screenwriting Magazine and etc. tout the “successes” that come out of these, but unless it’s a winner, being a quarter or a semi in the Nicholls means precisely squat to agents, despite its “prestige.” Please remember that contest readers are paid by the sponsors and/or organizers, are often assistants or interns or freelancers, and rarely read with an eye towards viability in the market place. a. Sidenote: I often am referred contest winner lists, graduate catalogues, and pitch winner materials to go through for representation. People do see them, but they are not the best way to get your material into the light, because of the sheer volume that’s associated with them.

2. Know the marketplace. This is a path that you, hopefully, want to make a full time career, and that means you need to know what’s going on in your industry and your place of business. Do you know what the networks and studios are looking to buy this year? Do you know what pilots are being picked up? Are you reading the trades, checking up on TV news websites, and keeping track of what is hitting and missing on the major networks and bigger cable outlets? Not to stifle your creativity, but in all honesty, you might be the greatest writer who walked the Earth, but if what you’re writing is not in any of the arenas that the buyers are interested in, you’ll find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to trying to get reads from people who are going to have to sell your material.

3. Forget query letters. Period. They’re a waste of time, energy, and money that you should spend writing, networking, and doing everything you can to meet writer’s and agent’s assistants, studio and network assistants, and agent trainees around town. BY LAW agencies are not allowed to accept unsolicited material. It opens up a huge can of liability worms that no legitimate major or boutique agency is willing to touch. Assistants are almost universally instructed to throw away any and all unsolicited materials as part of their agency training, so I’ll say it again: forget query letters!

4. Don’t ever be afraid of or intimidated by the industry. Like my dad always said to me, “No one will ever question you as long as you answer with confidence and authority.” The way you’re going to get your stuff read is by honing your writing, being savvy about the market, and above all GETTING YOURSELF OUT THERE. No matter where you are in the world, research, email, and a simple reaching out to make connections will get you so much further than entering contests and writing query letters. Don’t think about what’s going to happen, don’t what if yourself to death, don’t worry if so and so is going to answer you or not – if they don’t, to hell with it! There are hundreds of other outlets to try; don’t worry about the 10 that never got back to you.

5. Get comfortable with rejection. 97 out of 100 people aren’t going to read you, don’t want to read you, and never want you to hear from you again. Of the 3 that do read you, multiple that number a good 7 or 8 times, and maybe one of those people will get back to you. That’s the only person that ever matters.

6. Have faith. Be patient. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Keep working.

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Keith said...

What is the difference between a query letter derided in #3 and the email suggested in #4? Is it just snail mail vs email, or are is the #4 suggestion about an email which reads totally different from a query letter?

Danny said...

you two make a dynamic duo.

adam ___________________ said...

Thanks Amanda. And Amanda. I'm so going to go out and find another Adam to post on my blog. But seriously, thanks. Always elightening.

glassblowerscat said...

I know AAA is a guest blogger here, but nonetheless you kids are always ragging on the query letter. I'm in talks (over the phone) with an agent right now because of a query letter. First they read a draft, then gave notes, and now are reading the next draft with a pending meet.

I know they're a giant long shot, but so is everything else in this business. Query letters do sometimes work.

IAmSocial said...

Just to clarify on this part of the post: "BY LAW agencies are not allowed to accept unsolicited material."

This is not true. There is no law preventing agencies from accepting unsolicited material.

Agencies choose not to do so, because they do not want the legal liability associated with accepting scripts in that method. But there is no law against it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Everyone -

Ok, you know you need a long weekend still bring your blackberry to the bar while watching a Dodger's game.

But I digress.

GNASCHE - query letters are advertisements saying, "Read me!" whereas the emails I'm talking about are more about, "Hey Jim, Just saw the pilot of Dexter for the first time and your writing absolutely blew me away. Loved the way you established Dexter's character with such simple details like his monologue about eating in his car, and the way he interacts with his sister. Congratulations on a great start and I look forward to watching in the future. Best, Amanda"

The email is basically a cold call/fan mail. You're not asking for a read, you're trying to establish a connection. I personally find these more effective because 1) everyone loves compliments and 2) beginning an ongoing dialogue is more likely to produce fruit (in the form of a read) than a query letter.

DANNY - Thank you! I'll make sure we pick up the superhero outfits later this week.

ADAM - Same names are where it's at - and glad you enjoyed!

GLASSBOWERSCAT - Yes, I'll always rag on the query letter. Congratulations with a caveat on your talks - have you researched this agent? Do you know his/her reputation in the industry? The reputation of the agency? Have they asked you to sign paperwork? And why haven't you met them in person yet? It's always a fantastic feeling when people respond to your material, but you can't let it cloud your judgment. As I'm sure you know, there are a lot of poser and shysters out there, and it's much worse to be saddled with a charlatan who's made you sign paperwork for two years or more, than to continue working to find established, vetted, and reputable representation.

KELLY - To be honest, I'm not sure I'm willing to concede this one. True, off the top of my head, I can't quote a law in any kind of civil code that has language to specifically prevent agencies from accepting unsolicited material. However, we're looking at a situation that involves implied or tacit law, coupled with a whole slew of strangely written intellectual property law pertaining to copyrighted material and whatnot.

Consider that one pending - to be sure, the liability issues are huge aside, but I'd like to consult an intellectual property lawyer before I answer definitively.

Amanda said...

muwahahaha, AAA, I love your username.

Mike E said...

Thanks for the info, Amanda. Great post!

Mike E

Keith said...

Thanks, AAA, for the clarification.

Dan Williams said...

Liked the post, AAA! Thanks for the info.

So if I'm understanding you right, you see a Writer's Assistant or an Agent's Assistant as basically the best people to approach if you want your spec to be read. And you suggest that the writer does networking to make this connection and establish a relationship, which will then lead to being read.

If this is the case, then at industry events like panel discussions, the aspiring writer should focus on meeting the assistants and trying to get a business card for a follow-up meeting.

As an Agent's Assistant, what is the best way to approach you? What would be a perfect pitch that would get you to ask for a spec to read?

Bethjd said...

I’m sorry but as a lawyer I have to point out that saying by law agencies can't accept unsolicitated material is not the same thing as saying there can be legal implications from doing so therefore agencies avoid it. If a client asked me if she should accept something unsolicited I would advise her of all the legal problems that could occur and then say but it's up to you though I wouldn't advise it.

I'm not sure what implied or tacit law is...never studied that in law school but there is precedent that guides the interpretation of actual written laws. And not to get too complicated but lawyers provide their clients with their own interpretation of those precedents all the time.

glassblowerscat said...

To attempt to answer your questions: I have researched this agent to the extent of finding out what other clients he has, and what they do. This is a WGA-listed agent, so I'm not too worried about getting scammed, although I will of course proceed with due caution. I haven't met them in person yet ostensibly because they had some notes on the script that they wanted me to incorporate. I'm supposed to be meeting with them in the next couple weeks. They haven't asked me to sign anything, but if they do, you can be sure I'll read the crap out of it with a fairly skeptical eye.

Greg M said...

Thanks for your comments, Other Amanda. Very helpful.

Unknown said...

Hi again folks -

Thanks for all of your comments and questions; between you all and Amanda, I'm going to turn into a blogging monster!

BETHJD - So glad to hear from a laywer on this one, and now I will concede...and learn how to choose my words more carefully in the future. For my own curiosity, I'm still going to check with either biz affairs or an IP lawyer, but for now we'll say that the liability of unsolicited material makes most people shy away - it doesn't change my original stance on query letters.

GLASSBLOWERSCAT - Fantastic; great to hear you've done your research. You've said that they're WGA listed, but have you been able to glean anything about their reputation in the industry? Good luck with that meeting and I'd love to hear how it goes.

DAN - Great questions - let me ask Original A if we can make that a separate post.