If you’re a beginning screenwriter seeking an agent, it’s very important to have more than one script written before you start. On the most basic level, your first script isn’t necessarily going to be your best one. Putting the work into writing two or more allows you to develop your craft and have an internal basis of comparison. Even if the sophomore effort is not as strong as the first, then at least you know; more likely, writing the second can help you strengthen the first as well.
Going beyond that obvious reason for having more than one completed, though, there is the commonly asked question you should always be prepared for: “What else do you have?”
You can expect to be asked this by agents and by anyone to whom your script gets shopped around. Perhaps they’ll like your writing but don’t have room in their plans for the specific concept you’re pitching. If your scripts cover multiple genres, even better.
It means you have range and the ability to adapt to future needs. It’s also good to be able to show that you’re serious about making screenwriting a career and that you’ll be a good long-term investment, that you have more than one great idea under your hat.
For that matter, keep that word in mind as far as agents are concerned: investment. Your success means their success. When they read your script, they aren’t primarily concerned with the story from a creative angle; they’re considering whether there’s a market for your work. Multiple scripts thus means greater likelihood of one of them being picked up as well as greater likelihood of a rewarding partnership continuing into the future.
Taking this one step further, having more than one screenplay to present means potentially generating interest from more than one entity. Greater interest means you could be in a position to negotiate more favorable deals, and more favorable deals, of course, mean your agent benefits along with you.
Being aware that agents are concerned with business does not mean taking their financial demands for granted. Avoid any agent who requires money from you up front. A legitimate agent won’t get paid until you do and will generally receive 10% of your earnings, 15% at the most.
Although diversifying yourself is a good rule of thumb for many job-building ventures, approaching agencies is one area where you can afford to be more selective. Look for agencies that are best suited to your interests, in terms of genre and scope.
Those are the agents who will know where to take your screenplays for your particular market. Find out who represents the writers who are already successful in the areas that interest you and hit those agencies first. You can do this through the Internet Movie Database’s pro website, imdbpro.com; you need to subscribe, but discounts for the subscription are widely available from various writers resources (your favorite search engine will get you lots of hits).
When you contact agents, do so with a short note that highlights your work. Show that you have confidence in your writing, but this is not the time to gloat or, at the other extreme, to flatter or schmooze. It should be direct and professional.
Provide a very brief explanation of why your script should interest the agent. Email is better than hard copy because it is easier for the recipient to open and read quickly. After that, prepare to follow up. You will need to do a lot of communicating with many people while you’re shopping your scripts around, so make sure you’re prepared for that first bite.