Glad You Asked Department 6/3/13
Today’s question is one I’ve answered a million and a half times before, in three million different places. I used to say it was the second most-asked question I got, right behind, “How did you get started?” Over the past few months, though, it’s bounded over its rival to become Number One.
In other words, our topic for today, as proposed by Dennis and Emily and Katrina and Rob and Tyrese and Jason and Sarah and two or three entire generations of talented and intelligent new writers is:
“How do I get an agent?”
And my answer, after swirling this issue around in my brain and doing my best to discard old mind sets and get right to where I am now on the agent thing is:
Enough already! You’re driving me crazy!
You’re putting the cart before the horse because you’re worried about selling your products – your writing and yourselves – before having fully developed either of them. And it doesn’t work that way.
Can’t work that way.
Shouldn’t work that way.
An agent’s job is to get your work out to potential buyers and employers. That means that the first thing you should be asking yourself is, “Am I ready to go to work? Is my writing good enough to be exposed not only to producers but to the audience? If I get a job, will I excel at it?”
What I’m getting at here is that the first thing any writer needs in order to “make it” is the talent/skill/craft to make a genuine contribution to the field. In order to attract an agent you’ll need writing samples that prove that fact to anyone who reads them -no matter how closed-minded or incompetent he or she may be.
Before you can even think about putting on your armor and going out to change the universe you have to be absolutely certain that you’re the planet’s best writer of whatever it is you write and that anyone who reads your work will recognize that immediately.
You can’t merely be “close” to a professional level, or “as good as” those who are working professionally. You’ve got to be better.
That’s not as easy as those of you who watch a lot of TV and film may think. The Old Pros know their stuff, and the shows, and even scripts marked final draft, usually don’t reflect the true ability of the writers whose place you’re trying to take.
The shows and final drafts are what’s left after the executives and assistants and focus groups and budget committees have worked what I sometimes think of as their Evil Magic.
Sure, the rewrite and production processes often improve ”understandability” and “produceability,” but they also diminish the meaning and passion behind it in the process.
In sitcoms the humor itself can suffer when dialog is completely rewritten on taping day because the stars are tired of saying what they’ve been rehearsing. It sounds stale to them, so they demand new jokes, which are worse than those they replace because they’re written on the spur of the moment.
In action and drama shows dialog gets changed so it’s easier for the actor to say it while moving from point A to point B (or nursing his hangover), and these changes also are spur of the moment. The most ignominious blow of all occurs if a director falls behind in a shoot. Pages literally are ripped out of the script and story continuity vanishes as a result.
All these changes are in the final drafts and revised pages new writers often get to read and in what everyone sees on the air. The good stuff – hell, the often brilliant stuff – gets lost in the earlier, buried versions of the scripts.
But take it from me, it’s there…and you’ve got to do better than that because otherwise who needs you instead of that writer over there we already know? You’ve got to create dynamic characters and stories that make readers gasp – and exhibit it in a body of work.
The next time you start worrying about getting an agent, take a look at yourself and make sure your product is ready. Do you have material you can whip out of your briefcase and confidently hand to any agent or producer or exec? Do you have at least three perfect scripts finished and ready to shoot?
If not, then get to it. Read. Study. Maybe take a class. But most of all–
WRITE AS THOUGH YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.
Because if you’re really a writer…it does.
Thanks for asking,
My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!