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Your Agent or You - Who's Working Here?

By Nancy Rainford

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER AGENT?

It's a New Year - an auspicious time, a time to recommit to personal and professional goals, a time for change. In the last days before the ball drops most of us reflect on the waning year and arrive at a plan for the new. If you're like the majority of New Year resolution-ers, the plan begs for immediate results. You're determined to lose weight and quit smoking, so you resolve to plunk down eight hundred dollars to join the gym and make that appointment with the two hundred dollar-an-hour hypnotist. Likewise, you vow to sell your script and get a production deal, so your immediate course of action is to say - fire your agent.

Whoa. Hold on, the truth is maybe you should fire your agent, but before you march into the office of your unsuspecting rep with you're fired tattooed across your forehead - hear me out: There is more to consider when changing agents than the greener pastures of off-street parking and hip Christmas parties..

PUSH AND PULL

While no two thumbprints are alike, it is indisputable (at least as far as I'm concerned) that all agents and all managers fall into one of four Push - Pull categories of representation. They are: those with push, those with pull, those with both and those with neither. If your agent has neither, go ahead and get that tattoo, the rest of you follow closely. Push is the drive agents must have if they don't have the muscle and you don't have the resume. Despite the odds, they keep making calls and knocking on doors with consistent persistence, and though pushy agents are obnoxious, agents that push are not necessarily aggressive but absolutely assertive. The agent with good instincts, credible persuasiveness, and an intimate knowledge of the client's talent along with a healthy dose of chutzpah offers the most effective push. Moreover the agent whose push is fueled by a belief that the client is worth both the effort and the time is an agent whose voice will be heard.

If your agent lacks the tenacity or willingness to push through closed doors, don't start packing yet. It could be your agent has pull. The agent with pull can simply make the call; no begging, pleading, cajoling or bribing necessary. Maybe a little bribing, but for the most part, the agent with pull is the agent with power and resources. Regardless of whether the agent has earned this power or simply assumed it from the agency itself, the agent with pull has access to information and people. Access - is an open door. An open door - is an opportunity. Either way (push or pull) requires action by someone on your behalf.

SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE

Finding an agent with pull who's also willing to push is a coup for any writer in any stage of one's career, but what about the literary agency that has pull in daytime television, but no pull at all in the feature film area? If you have no desire to work in television, you might be right to pass on this agency. But what if that agency has faith in you, your writing and your potential? What if the agents can sell you on the belief that your work will catapult their agency into the feature film business even though you've never before sold a written word. What if the agents are willing to push for you in an area where they have no pull? Do you give them a year, two years, six months? Or pass them by and continue searching for the ideal agency?

USE YOUR AGENT'S ASSETS

Years ago I managed a talented writer director who was represented by a large top-tier agency. Though we'd met with a team of agents all professing a desire to work diligently on the writer's behalf, only one newly appointed agent ever called and his calls were more perfunctory than productive. It didn't matter. The client was self-motivated and together we used the agencies resources to further his career. We made our own introductions, we opened the doors, and we created opportunities, while the agency supplied messengers, phone numbers, scripts, and legitimacy. Ideal? Yes. But only because my client and I shared the same goal - get the work. Had we focused on the inadequacies of the agents (and there were plenty) we would have spent precious time trying to repair an irreparable situation. Ultimately, we would have fired them, or they would have fired us. Or worse yet, neither of us would have done anything. Instead, using the agency's name, reputation, letterhead, and resources we effectively exploited the agency's pull to push my client. When the time came to move to another agency, the groundwork had already been laid, and that work parlayed into options for him. Our choice was to secure a smaller though reputable agency - with agents willing and prepared to put forth the necessary work - for the next phase of his career.

The first agency was ideal at the time. But as our needs changed and my client's career shifted, our definition of ideal had to change as well. Careers and goals are fluid. The ability to recognize a changing phase in one's career or to instigate a necessary change in one's career is invaluable and not an easy feat when you're in the thick of it.

AGENT-HOPPING

No. Staying with an agent out of fear, nostalgia or complacency is as toxic a trap as constantly jumping ship when all you really need is a jump-start. Witness the agent-hopping of a writer friend who has signed with more than twice as many agents as he's had working years in the business. By his own account he's closing in on agency number twenty-four. Some were small, some were huge, and nearly all are reputable. Of his ten years in the business he stays no longer than two years with any one agency.

Too many of his moves are ego-based. His career is clipping along, work comes about a bit more frequently and here comes the Big Top Agency promising more, sooner - so he jumps ship. When the promises don't materialize fast enough he makes a lateral move to the Big Hat Agency but doesn't get the attention of all the agents, so he moves again. Here the writer lands a few television jobs but he's impatient, he wants the features, decides these agents can't make it happen so again, he moves. There's never any momentum. Eventually he exhausts the big guys and moves down a notch, then laterals in and out of that tier. By the time he hires a manager to secure the ideal agent - he's had them all. What's worse, in meetings with potential agents he rattles off a list of the previous reps that run the gamut from top-notch to nearly obscure. It's not his best pitch. So what went wrong with all those agents?

"They didn't call me back. They have too many clients like me. They're too big. They're too small. They made a lousy deal. They're television agents. They can't sell my script. They don't push for me. They have no pull."

The list of varied offenses is endless and in a few cases valid. With every agency change there is but one constant: the writer's failure to focus on the long-term goal and take stock of the current stage of his career. When he makes a move, it is invariably at the wrong time, which quickly necessitates another move. The idea of working with an agent, using the agent's assets, never crosses his mind. Never. He just keeps moving.

THINK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Believe me, there is a time to leave your agent. And though that time might be now, don't make a rash decision based on the emotion of a New Year.

Take a breath.
Evaluate the successes and failures you've shared with your agent, and the handling of either or both.
Consider your career as it stands today. How did you get here and what realistic goals can you set for the near future?
Weigh in on your personal responsibility to attain your goals.
How effective have you been in using your agent's assets?
Are your agent's goals similar to the goals you set for yourself?

There is no logic in staying with an agent incapable of getting you a job and hoping to land a job so you can fire the agent. Still, unless other agents are pounding on your door, or you choose to forego representation altogether, you're going to need a new agent. And that new agent will need to be attracted to and ultimately sold on you.
What can you offer a potential agent?
Are your spec scripts outdated?
Do you have any polished pitches or new script ideas?
Have you offered these to your current agent?

THE IDEAL AGENT

Look, not all agents are the right agents all of the time. The ideal agent is the agent who's right for you, right now, under these circumstances and in this particular phase of your career. It may or may not be the very agent you're about to leave, but unless you continue to realistically define and re-define ideal, as it applies to you, the ideal agent will elude you for your entire career.
Besides, you should be writing.

Meet the Author: Nancy Rainford