… Okay I wish I knew how agents work but I will tell you they are looking for something they can sell. I – or you – may have written a stupendous work of genius but if they can’t sell it because people only want 50 Shades of Grey knock-offs, you’re gonna have a tough time. Of course you can go against the grain, but once you do that you better research the heck out of your agents and find the one that specializes specifically in what you are writing. You’re gonna need a brilliant advocate with giant muscles to row upstream against the tide of banality and profit-driven clap-trap.
Me, I write commercial fiction, mainly thrillers, so I have been looking for agents that represent this subsection of the market. I won’t tell you I write specifically for the market but I do write with an idea that something needs to be a sell-able product that has lots of ancillary potential. Aka a movie or TV deal, franchise potential, video game rights, etc. Few make money in publishing these days so you have no choice but to think of business potential before or as you write.
Back in the somewhat distant past, I had a romantic comedy screenplay repped by William Morris. I got the initial call one day when I was in the bathroom no less. I had sent in a query through an NYU alumni writer program ($60,000 well spent in that instance) and they liked what they had read. “Fedex us the script,” they said, so down I went to send a photo-copy of a script with the prerequisite 3 hole punch + brass fasteners. (This is the only way to send a script to Hollywood folk). They even paid for the shipping! I was feeling swell and wondering how much they could sell it for.
A week or so went by and I got a call. “Are you open to notes?” The answer to this question is always YES! So they gave me some notes and said they’d be sending a copy of a hot script for me to get a sense of snappy writing. A couple days later I am excited to receive a box from Hollywood CA with a confidential script in there. The title? Daddy Day Care. Yes, I have now dated myself a bit.
Now let me say that the script to Daddy Day Care was better and funnier than the movie, which was a bit watered down after shooting and editing. I did pick up a few pointers and redid the script as quickly as I could. Off it went again. Now at this point it was mid-summer and I got another call – this looks ready to send out they informed me. At that point it was made very clear that my script – not me – would be represented exclusively by William Morris. We discussed that it was getting late in the summer but people still seemed to be around at the studios. “Let’s do this thing” or something to the effect came out of my mouth. I was feeling good about the whole process and the consummate professionalism of the WMA staff.
Out the script went.
A week later it was dead.
Turned down by every Tom, Dick and Harriet in town.
No, I was told, they would not read another draft. Ugh.
Several months later I queried the same agent and the return email said that it was an interesting idea but not sell-able. “No one wants fantasy right now.” A short time later Peter Jackson proved that maxim as dead as my prior script.