Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

Literary Agents and Other Representation for Writers and Screenwriters

We've written about the topic of literary agents and other representation for screenwriters countless times. Still, there's a new term we learned recently from script coordinator Marc Gaffen that we think you should know about. It may just put you in more control of your ability to get an agent than you ever were previously, and up until now, I didn't even know this was an option. It's called hip-pocket representation, and I'll explain it below.

Marc Gaffen has made a name for himself as a top script coordinator in Hollywood, working for NBC, Warner Bros., and HBO on major television hits such as "Grimm," "Lost," and the recent "Mare of Easttown." He does not have a writing agent, but he is hip-pocketed. 

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What does a literary agent do?

A literary agent is a deal broker. Once an agent represents you, they're going to do everything they can to get you a staffed writing job or sell your scripts for your feature films because that's how they make money. They'll pitch your work, introduce you to producers or other industry staff to help you make connections, help you land meetings with the right people, and negotiate deals.

What does a literary manager do?

Managers cannot negotiate deals – you need a literary agent or an entertainment lawyer for that. While a literary manager's role is also to get you in front of the right people, their primary focus is on your career overall. They're going to be more hands-on when it comes to getting your scripts in good shape, they'll also tell you what kind of scripts you should be writing, and they will also try to help you get a literary agent.

Screenwriting Agents and Managers 101

You should also be aware that there are differences between literary agents and script agents. Some agents specialize in screenwriting only, whereas a literary agent generally represents writers. Some agencies will have literary agents who do a bit of both and crossover when it comes to representation.

When it comes to your paycheck, there's another key difference between agents and managers. The more hands-on nature of a literary manager will cost you more, anywhere between 10-15 percent of a project or job's payout. They could charge you even more since they're not state-regulated. An agent cannot charge you more than 10 percent.

Managers can also become producers of your work, whereas agents cannot.

Both literary agents and literary managers earn their keep through commission, so they'll both have staffing and sales as their top priority. This is important because it means that unless you have something to sell or develop, you're really of no use to them. And that's where hip-pocket representation comes in.

Hip-Pocket Representation

You know the age-old problem: you can't get a job without previous experience. But you can't get experience without having a job. The same conundrum applies to the writing industry.

"It's kind of like a Catch-22, where you can't get an agent unless you have a job, but you can't get a job unless you have an agent," Marc commiserated.

Often, production companies won't even look at your script unless it's sent to them by an agent. So how do you get writing work without one?

Hip-pocketing is a happy medium. The agent doesn't have to sign you, but you get an opportunity to prove that you've got what it takes.

"So, I'm what they call hip-pocketed, where if I have an opportunity, I can call up the agent or manager, and they'll send my stuff, but I'm not officially signed with them unless I get a job."

The agent won't help you find work, but if you find it yourself and keep up an excellent track record, there may be a place on their client list for you in your future.

"When you're at certain positions, some agents and managers don't want to sign you unless you have a job that they know they can make money off of you," Marc explained. "The agent-manager perspective of things, it's very hard to get sometimes, which is where the networking comes in because agents and managers need to make money. The only make money is if they have clients which they can sell and get them staffed on TV shows."

So, prove yourself a worthy money-making machine who will put in the work and have that literary agent on standby for when the deal needs to go down. This still requires networking and asking not what the agent can do for you but what you can do for the agent.

"When it comes to that point, it all comes down to relationships and how you guys can work with each other and hopefully elevate each other up," Marc concluded.

How to Get a Literary Agent

We've already discussed the networking > hip-pocketing route that Marc took to find some level of representation. But there are other ways to find literary representation, and we've written about it in depth. From query letters to IMDB Pro, make sure to check out these tips from the pros: 

Top Literary Agencies in Hollywood

Literary agencies and management companies exist all over the world, not just in Los Angeles. But when it comes to agents who specialize in screenwriting, they'll be concentrated in and around this entertainment hub, in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other parts of LA. Here are some of the highlights in LA, specifically, who were seeking submissions from writers of various types (screenplays, comic books, commercial fiction, etc.) at the time of this publishing. ALWAYS double-check the agency or literary management company's submission guidelines and that the person you're reaching out to is accepting unsolicited submissions or unsolicited queries so you don't rule yourself out from the get-go by doing something they've expressly told you not to. 

Lastly – and this might be shocking to hear – you don't NEED an agent. You don't. Take Marc, for example, who is finding his own work. An agent comes in handy if attaching their name to your work gets your foot in the door, but you can also use managers and entertainment attorneys for this. We've interviewed plenty of very successful writers who have never had an agent and have sold films and been staffed on TV shows without one.

In summary, getting a literary agent isn't easy, but once you've got one, you're in as long as you continue to land work. And even though most people think they need an agent, many actually prefer working without one. You also now know that hip-pocketing is an option. No matter your literary representation status, every writer will need to put in the work to find work. Agents and managers are not the miracle pill that writers often believe them to be for their screenwriting careers.

There's no substitute for hard work!

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