Playwrights:
How to Get an Agent

I’m not going to lie to you: It is very difficult to get an agent.  The Dramatists Guild Directory, an invaluable resource, includes contact info for 20 agents.   And there are 6000 members of the Dramatists Guild.

Then, there are all the playwrights who are not members of the union: around 29,000 writing in English (according to the playwright’s directory www.doollee.com)

Only a handful of agents are seeking or even looking at new clients.  These tend to be the lean/mean one-person shops.   Occasionally, there’s a hungry new “junior” agent at one of the big agencies (ICM, William Morris, Paradigm and Gersh).  Junior agents were, until recently, somebody’s assistant.   They put in time or brought in a major bread-maker.   They got promoted.   Now, they need playwrights.

Call.   Introduce yourself to the receptionist or assistant who answers.  This person knows everything and everybody.  Say, “I’m a playwright with a deal in the works.  Is anybody at your agency looking at new clients?”  Write down this person’s name.  Next time you call, you will want to know it.

Hope you picked up on that phrase, “…with a deal in the works.”

Agents want clients who make money at playwriting.  Why?  You fill in the answer: ______________.

Agents make money on clients who do.  And it’s only ten per cent.  Agents need quite a few money-making clients making quite a bundle, in order to make a living.  Do not resent agents for this.

I hear a lot of griping how Back in the Day, you could get an agent because you were Talented and because he or she Fell in Love with your writing.  You still need to be talented.  You still need the agent to Fall in Love.  But because playwriting is not an easy way to make money—hell, Tony Kushner recently said he can’t make a living at it—agents can no longer opt for clients who are all scene but no green.

If you have followed my first two action steps—find an agent who is looking at new clients, and get a deal in the works—you are ready to approach.   The agent will be looking at your current deal, and the play involved.  Will want to read that play, first thing.  Will probably want to read at least one other play.  Agents are not interested in clients who have written only one play: You need a body of work.

There is one other factor that can really matter.   Professional recommendation.

If your work is recommended by a client or an important producer or director, you will get as far as a read.  Which is far.  (My wonderful agent Elaine Devlin came to speak at my playwriting classes.  She told the students that she receives 100 queries a month.  Of these, she agrees to read the work of about 4.  Of these, she usually finds nobody whose work she is willing to represent.  She takes on maybe 2 or 3 new clients a year.) 

If the agent likes your work, he will usually request a meeting.  At this meeting, which is actually an interview, if you are female and over forty, you will be up against even more daunting odds than if you are a guy in his twenties or thirties.

“Theatre, like most arms of the entertainment industry, is ageist.”

                                                -Gary Garrison, The Dramatists Guild

But don’t lose hope (if I haven’t already dashed it).  There are exceptional agents who are willing to go against the odds, if they really believe in you and see money potential in your work.

If you get as far as a meeting, be cool.   Take that meeting with all the bravado, pride and professionalism your work deserves.  Or as my gem of a manager told me, just before my meeting with Paradigm, “Remember that you are interviewing them.”   You’ve gotten this far.  You’re only a handshake away from getting an agent.

For more wisdom and guidance on all aspects of your career as a playwright, screenwriter,  memoir or fiction writer, go to Career Counseling, and let’s talk.

Comments

  1. Diana,

    Thank you for the sage advice on finding a literary agent. I’d be interested to know your feelings on DIY theatre makers who decide to go that route to getting their work scene. Specifically, DIY theatre makers who work to invite agents to showings of their work that they themselves are producing. Do you see this as a viable avenue to seek representation?

    Thank you.

    Alan L. Bounville
    In Our Words Project

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Alan,

      The trick is getting the agent there. Reputable agents typically get hundreds of requests for representation, and invitations to events, per month. So you need something in place, something noteworthy, to get the agent to take notice of you. I would say two things. Don’t self-produce if you have a script that is even one iota less than it needs to be. And when you do have that script, and are sure of its merits, hire a casting director for your self-produced project. Get a name or two to act in your play. If you can’t interest a casting director or a somewhat well-known actor, chances are the play isn’t ready, so go back to step one.

      Hope this helps,
      Diana

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Hi Alan, and thanks for your question. Alas, self-producing and inviting agents isn’t a highly viable avenue to representation. Reputable agents are invited to scores of readings and events, and productions, and unless there’s something compelling about yours (recommendation from someone the agent knows, or a star involved), agents usually will not show up.

  2. Diana,

    I have a play about to premiere in Memphis, TN. That same play has caught the eye of an established off-Broadway company. Can I say that I have a “deal in the works” when calling on agents?

    Thanks,
    Tom

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Tom–Thanks for your question! Yes, you can say that you have a deal in the works, provided there is some money involved! Hope this helps. Diana

  3. Darrell Williams says:

    Yes add me to your mailing list I am a new aspiring writer and I know that you can help me get my play reviewed

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Darrell, Thanks for your comment. Sadly, neither I nor anyone can get your play reviewed until it is a. professionally and beautifully crafted b. produced and c. able to attract critics.

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Darrell,

      Thanks for your comment. Surely, though, I cannot help you get your play reviewed. That’s a step that’s taken after you have a great script and get it produced. At that point, if all goes well, the critics will step up. Otherwise, there are reviewers you can pay but I’m not a fan of that. Diana

  4. Have had three novels published on Amazon and have just written a play. It’s probably an age old subject but nevertheless ?…The play is ”Gramps’ it’s about’ an irrasisible?… old gent who drives his family nuts with his constant need to be right?. It’s ALL about humour…No smut or filth just ‘Gramps’ at his most [sometimes] annoying and always as he see’s it being ‘provoked by the family. I think it’s VERY funny…How can I possibly convince anyone else

  5. tlhomamo says:

    hey Diana,
    i jus wanted to ask, is the only option a playwright who wants to publish his play as a book has to look for a literary agent who specializes in theatrical side or can any agent do..?

    • Diana Amsterdam says:

      Hi Tom…First, check the grammar and spelling in your question. When you query anyone in the industry, to be taken seriously as a writer, your note–however brief–must be written perfectly. I don’t know of any literary agent who works in fiction or memoir who’d be likely to rep a play. Only a playwriting agent would do that work for you and as my article points out, it isn’t easy to get an agent. I believe some publishing houses take unsolicited manuscripts: Check their websites. Many playwrights today are self-publishing on Amazon. However, there is such an ocean of self-published authors today, this means little. The best approach is to write a play that is so well-crafted, it will get attention. Hope this helps. Diana

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