Should I Run?
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 08 2010
I was recently offered representation by a one person boutique agency that doesn’t handle alot of clients. I came across her via referral from an editor who I contacted about editing my book proposal. We exchanged some emails and everything seemed fine. Then one day, she mentioned that she thought my story would not only make a good book, but would also make a good movie. She told me that she had some contacts in film and tv and would pitch my project there in addition to publishers. Naturally, I was excited by this, as I also thought the story would make a good movie. I was happy to have found someone who shared my vision. Then, I asked her about pitching to tv/film
producers. She told me that she would use the same document (book proposal),
but that the pitch would be different. I know little about this business, but that doesn’t sound right to me. Any thoughts?
It’s so hard to really answer your question based on the little bit of information you have given. What I think is that you should probably run. Trust your gut. Something isn’t sitting right with you about this agent, and whether this agent is legit or not might not be the problem, the problem is that you don’t really trust the agent and that right there is reason enough to run for me.
Let me break the question down a little. The agent runs a one-person boutique agency. That shouldn’t be a problem at all. We all have to start somewhere and many, many agents started as a one-person operation. In fact, the only reason some agencies are bigger is because they eventually hired an assistant who has since moved up. I don’t see a problem with that.
The agent doesn’t handle a lot of clients. Again, I don’t see an inherent problem with that. Many agents maintain very small but very successful lists. You don’t have to have hundreds of clients to be successful. The question here shouldn’t be how many clients the agent has, but her success rate with the clients she does have. In other words, has she ever sold any books to major houses, or at least the houses you are interested in pursuing?
Your biggest concern is that she feels the pitch for a book would be different than one for TV or film. I don’t see a problem with that either. I’ve said it before that books and films are two different mediums and two different worlds. It only makes sense you would pitch the book differently. In fact, I sometimes pitch the book differently to different publishers. It all depends on what the publisher might be looking for or what their expertise is.
There’s no concrete evidence in your question that this agent is a scam or a bad agent. What comes through most to me is that you aren’t sure you should trust this agent, and I think that’s the biggest concern. If you want more information before making the decision to run, then I would contact some of the agent’s clients and find out how they feel about her. If they have had success at least half of them should have web sites you can contact them through, and don’t forget to check out Writer Beware and other writer advocacy web sites.
I can see how this author would be apprehensive, even if there's no reason to. After spending time in the eeevil dreaded purgatory known as Queryland, it can be hard to trust that someone's actually finally connecting with your work. I wish her the best! And I also hope, for her sake, it's the real thing.
It sounds like my agent. But I know her well and I know her history, which is in film and TV. She is enthusiastic about the links between them, and knows some of the people there, due to her previous position at one of the biggest agencies around, which did multi-media pitches. (BTW I doubt this is the same agent as the one you're talking about).
So I think I'm saying that you should look into her background and see what experience she has.
And if she asks for upfront money – run.
It sounds like the two of them need to get to know each other better. The different pitches sound perfectly legit. That hook that sells a book is not always the hook that sells to the truly ADHD TVLand.
I'm with Kimber on this one. Queryland is…*eye roll*…painful at best. Unless you really know your agent, it might be hard to trust her/him.
If she's pitching your story to film/TV and it ISN'T already sold in book form, then that makes no sense.
There's no telling if your ms will sell (in book form) until it does, because nothing is a sure thing.
How could the agent possibly sell the rights to it if it hasn't sold as a book yet? She can't, since she wouldn't be selling the "film rights," she'd be selling them your idea.
Maybe the person asking the question assumed she'd have to make a screenplay out of it before pitching? That was my first thought when reading it, just because I know so little about the film business. But what the agent is saying does make sense to me.
This whole thing does illustrate, though, how hard we can make it for ourselves sometimes. We read so much about the "fake agents" out there, just trying to learn how best to protect ourselves. We start to question nearly everything. We question the motives of very legitimate agents, and we question ourselves. It does make the whole "trust" thing take a lot longer to happen.
Look the agent up on Preditors and Editors
or google her on Absolute Write.
Love your post and how you explored the issue with the writer.
Very helpful! Thank you!
I'm with Anon 9:24. AFAIK, that's not the order you normally do things in.
I think communication is key here. Before accepting or backing out, I would make sure the author and agent understand what each other want and discuss plans in detail. It could just be a little confusion here, or there could be a bigger problem. It might be best to get more information first.
I don't see any reason to think the agent is a scammer but if you're unsure, do some research. It can never hurt.
Otherwise, that sounds exciting! Good luck!
Has this agent made any recent sales to major publishers? Does she represent other clients who write in your genre? Has she made previous TV/film deals?
The first thing I would do is contact a few of this agent's current clients. Find out how they like working with her. (And if this agent resists giving you their contact information, that's a red flag right there.)
Best of luck!
Great advice! Always good to do your homework. Search the internet, especially Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware. Google is your friend.
a) is the agent offering a contract? because b) if not, this is what's call "hip pocketing," more of a Hollywood term.
Crucially, is this a high concept idea idea? (See, most bad movies with overly muscular men, men who sell their wives for a night to the highest bidder, or a tricky heist/suspense/cop idea with a clearly defined male protagonist that teenage boys will identity with & want to see over ove because he kills/blows up/fcuks his way through the movie at very high speeds.)
What it sounds like Lady Agent wants to do is submit the proposal on spec- without any additional work on it.
Author needs to ask WHERE the proposal is going out as a scenario type pitch: if Lady Agent plans to paper the town with it, writer's proposal is devalued in the long run. A targeted submission process – to a tight list of producers and studios would make a little more sense. Lady Agent is turning your book proposal into a film proposal that, sounds like, she's hinting will go out in an auction process. But this is kind of like winning the Lotto. Are you a gambler?
What people don't understand is that an "option" can be a wildly different thing: from 'free' to a little more than free. Why would you want to presell a book as a movie idea? More logically, if you're looking to build a career, you'll write/sell the book and let the film/tv process happen … later.
This shouldn't dissaude you but in the excitement, you're not asking some necessary questions. And, as is printed on all the stationary at William Morris – or, was, before it became a periodic table element – "GET IT IN WRITING."
But last Anon — you option a BOOK to film — there isn't a book deal yet. So this agent is either putting the cart way before the horse or simply just doesn't know what she's doing.
You can "pitch" and idea to Hollywood and they might buy it (and then hire you to write the screenplay — not book — or hire someone else to write the screenplay). But…
1) Writers make such pitches, not agents and…
2) YOU would no longer own that idea/pitch, and would not be free to continue trying to sell it in manuscript form.
That the agent doesn't know that is scary. Schedule a conversation with the agent, find out what's going on.
@Anony 1:39, that is what I meant ie., optioning a book to film. You are correct: when I worked in development that was how it worked.
I should have clarified (pre-coffee comment, overwhlmed by anonymity): IDK of many books that have been optioned to film/tv before they were written.
The Godfather was developed with Paramount but that was in the early 70's & the film business was v. different. A producer / studio head (Robert Evans, I think) could purchase a property and do this sort of ass-backwards er, unconventional deal. Another deal that comes to mind is, 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,' that was funded by a Universal exec to extraordinary success – first, as a musical and then film.
In our multiplatform universe, I'm sure there are less visible properties that are developed this way. But, as JFaust pointed out last week, agents want to deal with ONE THING at a time.
For me, if this Lady Agent thinks this property is so viable, she would more logically help the author set up the book, then sell it to other media.
Yes, run. Your gut is always right and it wouldn't have asked the question if you didn't already know the answer.
Yes, agree that sometimes the deal is done backward, but this doesn't seem right. You are much better off doing the conventional way, getting your book sold and then selling the film rights.
It is too easy to have a high concept project ripped off if you let it loose in the industry. A book gives you more protection.
It sounds like my agent. But I know her well and I know her history, which is in film and TV.
I wish her the best! And I also hope, for her sake, it's the real thing.
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