What to Look for in a Lit Agent

Photo Source: Genine Esposito

Charles Kopelman is the vice president and co-head of the Theatrical Literary Division at Abrams Artists Agency. His division represents some of the biggest playwrights in the business.

What should a writer look for in a literary agent?
It’s a very personal relationship. It’s someone who can help them with a writer’s material, someone who can introduce them to collaborators if they are interested in working with different people, as well as introduce them to literary managers or artistic directors. We look for people with a singular voice that is not run-of-the-mill.

So your clients should be open to collaboration?
I’ll read a first draft of a play, and not everything is born perfectly, so we’re always giving thoughts, comments, and feedback. I’m looking for a writer who is open to hearing my opinion. Why else are they coming to me?

How do you facilitate trust between you and your client?
Any trust gets built over time, but I also think it goes back to instincts. A lot of it has to do with managing a writer’s expectations, and it’s about joining the team at the right time. There are a lot of people who think agents have the keys to the magic kingdom. If someone expects that when they have an agent that there’s not a lot of hard work that goes with it, they’re wrong. I look for diligence and hard work in a client.

What’s the first step to finding a literary agent?
Being recommended by someone whom an agent might respect or trust, or demonstrating an ability to find a showcase for yourself and getting someone to attend. If you’re an actor, having an acting agent is also helpful. There are no hard and fast rules about how this happens; each situation is so singular.

When do you know a relationship with a client is not right?
That goes back to managing expectations, [which can lead to] having someone think the agent is failing. Sometimes, you have sent someone’s play out to 30 theaters and no one bites. All you can do is read a play, talk with a writer, provide some feedback, and have theaters tell us what they’re looking for. Sometimes you’ll find out a theater is looking for a three-person comedy and you have a writer who has written an epic play with 30 characters. If you write something that can’t be produced, that won’t work, either. If I have a commitment to a writer, I really try my best to navigate their work into as many different doors as possible. But sometimes you have to think, I’ve done everything I can, and you’ll be served better if you have fresh eyes on this. I think all agents make that unpleasant decision.

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