I have two jobs. One of them is writer. The other is my agents' manager.
I imagine there are people (like John August, say) whose agents only have to field requests for his services, and ask for the right big numbers. For the rest of us, that is what our agents would like
to do, but it is not what we
would like them to be doing. We want them out beating the bushes to get us jobs and to sell our material.
Any good agent should be willing to go out with your feature spec, if they have faith in the script. "Going out" with your spec, practically, means calling the 30-40 development people who matter -- someone at Morgan Creek, someone at Imagine, someone at 1492, etc. -- and letting them know that your hot new spec is coming out on Tuesday the 13th and do they want it. Then they smack 30-40 copies of your script into envelopes on Monday night and hand them to Go-Between (a messenger service) and wait for calls back. Within 48 hours you either have a big spec sale or a couple of meetings or nothing.
That's not the hard work either. The hard work is getting people to read your unsold feature when it's not part of a hot spec fire sale -- getting it to producers and directors when it's been "exposed" already. The hard work in TV is getting you read by network execs and production companies so that you are considered for staff jobs or, failing that, free lance scripts.
You can trust they'll do that, but trust is not a virtue in showbiz.
Neither, on the other hand, is being a nudge. Managing your agent is not the same as nagging your agent.
The difference is teamwork. I try to work as my agents' teammate. For starters, when I talk about jobs and, especially, money, I say "we." They owe "us" the money. This reminds both my agent and me that we're in the same boat. I get paid, she gets paid.
Then, I try to point her to places she may not have thought of. I'll email or call and say, "Hey, have they read me over at Rhombus?" or "How about sending Medieval
to Equinoxe?" Agents hate making cold calls as much as anyone else. They'd rather work with people they know. My job is to track who she's sent my stuff to, and ask around and see if there's anyone she's missed, and ask her about the people she's missed. Then I have to trust her if she says some company is not worth sending material to (going into bankruptcy, pain in the ass to work for, thieves, unreliable, unpleasant, whatever).
I regularly email my agents with a list of outstanding issues: directors I'm hoping to meet, contracts that need negotiating, production companies I need an introduction to. Then I call and go through all the issues, about once a week. Then I send a recap email: okay, I'm going to call these guys, you're going to call these guys.
I make a point of only asking my agents to do those things she can do much better than I. For example, it is not useful for me to call producers out of the blue. It's amateurish. That's what agents do. On the other hand, if I've already met a producer or a development person, I can usefully check in with them. They know who I am.
Do as much as you can do on your own. But hand off the ball to the agent when they've got a better shot. That's the essence of it.
Don't stop selling yourself to your agents. Always be upbeat when you talk to them, even if your career is sucking. Any time you have good news, let your agent know. Never stop telling them positive stories about yourself. When they call producers on your behalf, those positive stories are their ammunition, even if they're not immediately related to the sale. ("You know he has a book coming out in May?")
Finally, never stop letting them know how much you appreciate their work. They're human, y'know. And no one appreciates a compliment more than someone who's always having to give them out for other people.