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These days, writers are often told they need an agent AND a manager AND an entertainment lawyer. What do each of these professionals do? And when do you need whom? For answers, I turned to entertainment lawyer Judith Merians:
An agent gets your material to buyers. He can also try to get you hired for writing assignments. An agent is only as good as his belief in you and his contacts in the industry. He has to be able to get your material read by the people who can get projects developed and financed. Most companies will only take submissions from agents or entertainment attorneys because unsolicited scripts often lead to lawsuits. Agents only make money if you make money since they work on commission. If you're unknown, they'll have to work very hard to get your material read. Most would rather spend their time with clients whose material they can sell more easily. Getting your first agent is a challenge. If you can get a recommendation from a client or friend of theirs, they might represent you on a single project. If it sells, then they may take you on as a client.
A manager sets up meetings for you, gets you known, even helps you find an agent. Managers are prohibited by law from making deals and sales, although this is often ignored. A manager has to be well connected because their fundamental job is to get you well connected. Many managers also help you hone your writing and steer your career. Like agents, managers will only take you on if they feel they can make money from you. If you've won awards or have been recognized in some significant way, use your success to interest an agent or manager.
An entertainment lawyer makes your deal, gets you the best terms, and protects you. A good attorney will know what deals are being made, how much to ask for, and what other rights you should secure—like the right to do one or two rewrites, sequels, or spin-offs. Writers should never negotiate deals themselves. They may overlook lots of important points and cause antagonism with the person hiring them. Negotiating is an adversarial process. As a writer, you want to maintain a good relationship with your producer at all times. Let your attorney or agent act like a tough cookie on your behalf.
Once you have representation, continue marketing yourself. Your agent probably has dozens of clients. If you really want your career to move forward, you'll have to prove you're worth his time. Be proactive. Keep networking. Send him leads. Be grateful for every commission he earns while working for you—including on leads you've initiated yourself. Remember, he works very hard at building his reputation and establishing connections. A phone call from him gets you in the very doors you couldn't open by yourself. Concentrate on being a good client. Do quality work and be reliable.