The team over at Scriptshadow has written a helpful article about the old Catch-22 of the screenwriting business: you can’t get an agent without having sold something, and you can’t sell anything without an agent. Scriptshadow offers some thoughtful advice on how to get an agent, but I wanted to focus in one one particular point: you have to be ready.
Nobody likes to hear this one, but your writing has to be ready for the big time if you’re going to get a respectable agent (you can shoot for a not-so-respectable agent, but that’s another story). Most writers press for agents too early. I see this ALLLLLL the time. And the writers say to me, “Why am I not getting an agent?” And I say, very respectfully, “I don’t think you’re ready yet.”
So how do you know when you’re ready? I don’t think you should send agents anything until you’ve written at least three scripts. And the safer bet is probably six. Still, I know people who are on their tenth script who aren’t ready. So this is not a guarantee of anything other than you’ve put in the work, are serious, and know all the basics (the three-act structure, that a script probably shouldn’t be over 110 pages, what a character arc is, etc.).
From there, it gets a little tougher. I’ve found that “readiness” can be gauged fairly accurately through screenplay competitions. Say you enter four screenplay contests. You should at least get to the second round of two of them (that’s typically the top 100-250 submissions). That’s the bare minimum of “readiness.” I would say getting to at least one semi-final in a good competition is necessary (that’s roughly top 20) before querying anybody. I’ve read every type of script there is. Second rounder, quarter-finals, semi-finals, finalists, winners. From dozens of competitions. So I have a pretty good feel for this. Even the finalists scripts usually have problems. So a second-rounder’s going to have a lot of problems. However, I understand that sometimes it comes down to the right reader “getting” a script, and you might not find that reader in four contests. BUT, if you’ve entered four contests and four separate vetting processes didn’t advance you beyond the first round, I wouldn’t query agents yet. I’d read more professional scripts and I’d buy more screenwriting books. Come back when you’ve gotten stronger.
Read the full article at Scriptshadow.