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Literary Agent vs. Manager: Which is Best for Your Screenwriting Career?

By March 11, 2021No Comments

Every screenwriter reaches a point where they consider professional representation, but which do you go for, an agent or a manager? How do you know which one is best for you? And for that matter…what exactly does a manager and a literary agent do? 

To demystify the wonderful world of representation for screenwriters, the first step is to gain a basic understanding of what each type of rep does. Below is a starter guide to help you know which direction to point your compass in when it comes to the search for representation. 

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

You can think of agents like sales brokers. Their focus is on getting you a gig or selling your script. They represent you by connecting you with those that are looking to staff or producers that might be interested in your script. Agents pitch you and your work, help get you meetings, and negotiate deals for you.

In short, agents market and sell your work as a screenwriter. They pound the pavement to seek jobs for you, and they’re licensed by the state to secure that employment for you.

What Does a Manager Do?

Managers help guide you and support you in shaping your screenwriting career. A writer’s relationship with their manager tends to be more personal. Managers assist you in developing your scripts and samples, make sure you’re working on the right material, assess what the next best step is for you, and can help you find an agent.

Where an agent is focused on selling your work and getting you staffed, managers help ensure that the work and meetings you’re getting are a fit for you and your career goals. Managers are more hands on and help their clients to grow. They’re not licensed by the state and cannot legally negotiate deals or contracts for you. 

What’s The Biggest Difference Between An Agent and A Manager?

The main difference, you ask? Managers provide more personal, long-term career guidance with an eye for the future and building your career. Agents have more of a short-term focus, as their aim is to get you gigs and sell your work so that you – and they – can start making money now. 

Although some agents have more personal relationships with their clients and some may help develop their clients’ scripts, for the most part, agents don’t provide the personal career guidance that managers do. Managers are more intimately involved with their clients. Where you may talk to your agent once a month, some screenwriters check in with their managers on a daily basis.

A few more points to consider:

  • Managers are not regulated by the state. Agents are licensed and bonded by the Association of Talent Agents, the ATA.
  • Managers tend to receive a higher commission, 10%-15%. They can take whatever percentage they want since they’re not limited by state regulations. By law, in the United States, agents cannot take more than a 10% commission for their work. 
  • Managers can become attached as producers for your work but agents cannot.
  • Agents negotiate contracts for you. Managers are unable to fulfill that service, because they’re not licensed to do so. Although they may offer guidance and their opinion, agents are the ones that will actually be in the room or on the phone negotiating on your behalf.

Managers and agents have one thing in common when it comes to their compensation: both work on commission. If you encounter a rep that wants to charge any up-front fees, that’s a huge red flag! Run away as fast as you can! 

Which Type of Rep Is Best For Me?

The best way to understand which kind of representation you need is by honestly assessing where you are in your screenwriting career and asking yourself what you want and need. After reading this far, you should have a pretty good idea of the differences between agents and managers and what they each can offer to support your career.

It’s also worth noting that managers tend to have a smaller roster of writers they can focus on to develop. Agencies vary from boutique to a big list of clients where you could get lost in the fray if you’re at the beginning of your career. 

If you feel like you need more personal guidance to develop your scripts before querying agents, a manager might be best for you. If you have solid screenplays that are ready to sell and samples that show your best work, you may go straight to seeking an agent. Screenwriters that are further along in their careers usually have both an agent and manager.

Whichever kind of representation you seek, come to the table knowing who you are as a writer and what you have to offer so that your agent or manager can effectively support you. Without that, it’s like calling a realtor but not telling them anything about what kind of housing you seek, what’s best for you, and what you want. 

It’s a rough analogy, but the concept is similar – managers and agents work for you. You are at the helm of your screenwriting career and steer the ship. Just because you have a rep DOES NOT mean that you’re going to now have smooth sailing and all your writing dreams will come true! Your reps will help you get where you want to go, but you’re the driving force behind it all. 

It’s exciting to be at the point where you’re considering representation for your work as a screenwriter! Starting the search for an agent or manager with a basic understanding of the difference between the two before sending out query letters is essential so that you can land the rep that’s the best fit for you.

screenwriter Joanna KeJoanna Ke is an award-winning, half Taiwanese actor, writer, producer, and trained sword fighter. Her foundation as a creative producer and screenwriter is built on nearly a decade of experience as a professional script reader in development and acquisitions. She studied screenwriting with the late, great Syd Field, and as an actor, has had the honor of working with director Cameron Crowe. Her films have won BEST ACTION and BEST FANTASY awards, and her acting has won BEST PERFORMANCE and BEST VILLAIN accolades.

Wielding her broadsword is a favorite, both on and off camera.

Connect with Joanna on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram.