The great Jacob Michael has written an excellent article on ways to get a literary agent (among other advice). I sadly can’t link to the original, but here’s what he had to say about agents for TV writers:
Steps to representation:
1) Write a really, really, really, really, really good story that has all the stuff you’d expect a good story to have in the genre and mode in which you want to write.
2) Wash. Repeat.
Now, is it that simple? Yes and no. But until you have that, any advice on how to pursue an agent (actually “pursuing an agent” isn’t exactly accurate) or whether to pursue a manager (which is sort of accurate) will be a waste of space.
So if you want to work in TV, at the bare minimum, you need:
1) An Original Pilot (2 is better)
2) A current spec of a current show
If you want to work in features, you need, at the bare minimum, 2 features in the genre you want to work in (if you want to be a horror writer, do not write a rom-com spec, write horror specs).
And then, if you have short stories or plays or some other fiction you’ve written, especially if it’s won awards of any kind, and most importantly if it’s in the same genre as your scripts, that can help your cause.
It is important to note this—managers and agents like to “define” writers. In other words, if you write in several different genres, they’re going to have a hard time “selling” you and they’ll pass on repping you. But if all your scripts are comedy, they can sell you as “an up and coming comedy writer” (and by-golly, you better be funny…both on the page and in person). Once you’re established as a writer, you can write that indie drama you’ve always wanted to write, or that big action flick…but not now. Or, you can begin your career in the indie film world where the rules are a bit more loose. But if you’re wanting to work in commercial film or in TV, write originals and specs in the genre you want to work in and do not deviate. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. (Yes, there are exceptions. There’re always exceptions. But they’re exceptions and not the standard…keep that in mind.)
Once you have the bare minimum in scripts, it’s time for real feedback. Not the feedback from your family and close friends who are going to rave about it, but the feedback from other writers who will piss and moan because you came up with a better idea than they had and executed it well…and where your script sucks, they’ll point it out.
After your scripts are in tip-top shape, the options are wide open, but the goal is the same: Get read. Your scripts may be better suited for a contest, so go that route. If not, maybe try query letters (they do work…see below). And, you can let people you know and have a relationship with who may know someone what your goal is. See if they’d be willing to read a script of yours and offer feedback. Or do the networking thing and when someone asks to read something of yours, give it to them.
NOTE: Do not go to a networking event and try to hand out your script. Bad idea. Go there to meet people. If they ask what you do, “I’m a writer and I’m looking for representation.” What do you write? “I’ve really been into unicorns and leprechauns ever since I was little because I was horrified by them, so I have some horror specs, one of which placed as a finalist in the Hobokon International Screenplay Competition called LEPRECHAUN ZOMBIES.” Oh, really? I know someone who might want to read that. Can I get a copy? “Of course.”
Now, those conversations won’t always go that quickly and sometimes they take time…but be patient. Be assertive and let people know what you do and your goals, but don’t assume they are the ones to help you. If you are pushy, they run. If they’re a writer, ask to read their stuff. Be more willing to help others than help yourself…it does come back around. Plus it makes you a better writer as you are now forced to critique another script…it’ll help you articulate what isn’t working in your own scripts.
Other options: TV writer programs, diversity programs, and even some internships. There are about a gazillion ways to get your script read…but back to above, if the script ain’t good, the method of your choosing won’t matter.
Also, re: TV—managers and agents are much more willing to read original pilots right now than specs. If they like your pilot, they’ll ask for a spec, but they’ve already read 14,932 specs of HOUSE, so don’t try to send that first.
A note about query letters—production and management companies are rarely going to say “no” to a query that expresses an idea that is interesting to them and fits within their production guidelines. Now, some will, but generally, these companies stay in business because they have the next, best, newest thing. Enter: You. The writer. They need you. They won’t come out and say it like that, but they do. So if you don’t know anyone, do some research on projects similar to your original ideas (TV or film) and send query letters to those companies. If you get all “no” responses, tweak your query. If you get “yes,” send your script. If they end up not liking it, invite them to offer why they didn’t (most won’t say, but a few will). If you need to fix your script. Do it. Then send out another batch of queries.
Re: Agents—They are there to make money. So if you don’t look like an ATM, you’re not going to get much traction with an agent. Typically, agents only sign with writers who have sold or who are about to sell something. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. You might win a contest, which could get their attention. You might know someone with clout who gives it to an agent, which could get their attention. But generally, you have to have “heat” on your script. So if you’re sending it to several production companies and they’re big names and want to read it, feel free to query an agency related to the production company. It does work. Does it work for everyone? No. Like I said, there’s about a bazillion ways in…you just have to find the right one, and honestly, the right way depends on your personality and on the type of script you’re trying to sell.
But it starts with a good script. If you don’t have that, you’re wasting your time.
Hopefully that helps. Happy writing.