View Full Version : What percent of AGENTED specs get sold?

06-04-2004, 06:57 PM
For agents, managers, and those who work with them:

Of the spec scripts sent out by reps, about what percent are actually sold (on the first go-round)? Does this vary by genre? If so, what genres are the highs and lows?

And roughly how many agented specs are making the rounds in a given week?



06-04-2004, 07:42 PM
Unless you're doing a report for school (and even then) these types of numbers questions worry me.

Sure, these might not be 'stupid questions,' but then I wonder why you need to have these questions answered --

How will any response have an effect on your writing? What will convince you to do things differently and why?

Or will the answer somehow play havoc with your 'business-angle' -- either push you to persevere towards getting an agent, or simply saying "it wouldn't make any difference anyway, so I don't need an agent"?

I've never found statistics to mean anything to me in any aspect of my life, but I guess there are some who would disagree.

Hey, inquiring minds want to know.

06-04-2004, 08:05 PM
I'll take a stab at it.

Based on conversations with various agents, manager, and writers, my impression of things is that the odds of selling an original spec, when submitted by a recognized agency (of which there are only maybe 20-25 in Hollywood), to a legitimate studio (major or mini-major) is currently around:

1 in 20.

I'd say it was 1 in 10 in 1999 and 1 in 5 in 1994.

I have no hard evidence for any of these numbers, but I'd be surprised if my guesses were off by too much.

06-04-2004, 08:53 PM

Just curious. Want to understand how things work. Thought others might be interested as well.


06-04-2004, 09:52 PM
I'm with you, Lauri. Curious of this myself.


Mike Samonek
06-04-2004, 10:56 PM
HEY! DHS is back!

I was gonna say "less than ten percent" - but I think that's a pretty soid answer.

Evil Elf the One and Only
06-05-2004, 12:01 AM
Works out to five percent, which is actually far, far better than I thought, given how discouraging everything you read seems to be. Writing one of the top five percent of marketable scripts is a goal I can shoot for without wetting myself or giving up.

Blog of a Noob (http://terminalcity.diary-x.com)

06-05-2004, 12:07 AM

You are now skewing statistics to your advantage. Maybe 1 out of 20 AGENTED scripts get sold.

How many of aspiring writers get AGENTED by one of these top agencies?

It's like saying that 1 out of 10 get into Yale Law School so your chance is 10 percent. Which is not true. Cuz those who apply to Yale Law are usually top in their class and their chances are 1 in 10.

That being said, just try to write the best script possible.

Evil Elf the One and Only
06-05-2004, 12:16 AM
Skewing them to my advantage? Who do you think my agent is?

I'm just making the assumption that scripts agented by low-profile agents, or unagented scripts do not sell at all. Not that they don't, just that I wouldn't expect them to. Yes, I'm deliberately ignoring many that do, but this means only that for every one that does, I am pleasantly surprised. It's a mind game with myself.

06-05-2004, 12:13 PM
Those numbers by DH Steinberg are fascinating... the only follow up question i would make is: are there more or less specs being submitted nowadays? Which is to say, did the percentage drop due to a dilution in the quality of the spec market, or b/c the studios are actually buying less specs (or both)?


06-05-2004, 04:58 PM
Both. There are more specs in the market and fewer being bought by the studios, although the latter is by far the bigger factor. Studios simply don't buy much original material anymore. It's all remakes, books, sequels, comic books, TV shows, etc.

06-06-2004, 12:33 AM
Just going through some old screenwriting mags today (sorting and pitching before moving) and came across a couple of stats from 2002-04:

-- one manager guestimated that one out of 40 specs sell; from the context, I assume he meant agented specs.

-- studios get about 500-600 specs per month. (I assume that this should NOT be multiplied by a factor of 7+ [the major studios+] because I would think that the same specs would be submitted to all/most of them. I also assume that most/all of these specs read by studios are rep'd and/or come in through prodcos.)

If this figure is correct, the one should be able to get a percentage by going through DoneDeal and making a tally of all the spec sales (as distinct from development deals, rewrites, pitch sales, etc.) in a given month and dividing that number by 500. (This is probably a lot lower than one in 40...wonder why the discrepency??)

Of course, just because it's printed in a magazine doesn't mean it's true. ;)

Still hoping for stats that are better than a guess... CreativeExec? IvyLily?


06-06-2004, 03:08 PM
"Still hoping for stats that are better than a guess..."

Yeah, that's what I thought. I still cannot fathom how you think you're going to find a definitive stat that is not someone's however enlightened (or not) guess.

Do you think ICM or some other firm has a statistician (or HAL's offspring) that gets fed the trade reports & churns out these numbers you seek?

Sure, I understand curiosity, but sometimes procrastination seems to take long walks into the "Jungles of Wha?"!

Only my opinion... not a flame in sight.

06-06-2004, 07:07 PM
Why do you assume I'm procrastinating? Seeking to enlarge one's knowledge base is not NECESSARILY inconsistent with pumping out pages, which I am also doing...

Actually, I DO think that agents and agencies know this figure for themselves, and don't need to analyze the trades to derive it. I'd think that an agent's "batting average" would be of considerable interest within an agency.


06-06-2004, 07:29 PM
I wouldn't even begin to guess what the
stats could be.

Some of the info you read is all crap.
For instance, the trades will say a
spec sold for 150K against 300K when
it was only optioned for 5K.

With all sorts of spin in this town, it
could be difficult to get real numbers.

Whatever the number is - it isn't very

06-07-2004, 12:31 AM
I bet the stats are out there. Is anybody here a sports fan? Have you seen the ridiculous stats? I mean, they'll tell you how many times A-Rod scratched himself in the sixth inning. Somebody out there must have gone to similar trouble for the entertaintment biz.


Unca Leo
06-07-2004, 12:41 AM
I have done some research through the WGA archives and the InterStudio Tracking System (both available to members only).

From 1981 to present day there have been seven hundred and ninety five million spec scripts go into the market, and during the same period seven spec scripts actually sold.

So, it's tough.

Unca Leo
06-07-2004, 04:53 PM
Just FYI. The above 'statistics' I quoted are a JOKE, because does it really matter HOW tough it is? It's damn tough.

06-07-2004, 05:20 PM
I have no clue about the stats either. Can't even begin to guess. But the topic interested me, especially that 500/600 a month number for studios. So I asked a friend in business affairs at a studio what her estimate would be. She said never ever did they buy 500/600 a month. Not even in a year. If we're talking original specs (and there's a big difference between specs and assignments and remakes and such), she estimated 10-20 a year... And that's a major studio.

06-07-2004, 05:27 PM
Well, yes. I did discern that. ;)

I KNOW it's hard. And knowledge may not be power in this case but it is, at least, knowledge...

A script of my own may soon be sent out by an agent; things are moving in that direction. When I ask the agent for the odds of it selling, it would be nice to have some other figures to compare that answer to.

I'm really surprised that this info isn't widely available. Lots of sources will tell you how many scripts are registered with the WGA, how many films are released, how many people enter the Nicholl, etc. Why is THIS stat hard to find?

Maybe the screenwriting magazines should look on this as a story opportunity. ;)


06-07-2004, 05:30 PM
My last comment was intended for UncaL, not Ivy.

Ivy: the stat I read about the 500-600 was the number of scripts READ by a studio in a month, not bought.


06-07-2004, 05:42 PM
What LauriD just said -- she's a quicker typist....

06-07-2004, 06:17 PM
When I ask the agent for the odds of it selling, it would be nice to have some other figures to compare that answer to.

I'm really surprised that this info isn't widely available. Lots of sources will tell you how many scripts are registered with the WGA, how many films are released, how many people enter the Nicholl, etc. Why is THIS stat hard to find?

As I'm sure you realize, even if there were stats available, it wouldn't mean much. A horror spec that wouldn't require a name cast or an astronomical budget is probably several hundred times more likely to sell outright than, say, an esoteric period drama with a female lead. But at some point the market might shift and studios might be snatching up every esoteric, female-driven period drama out there. (Well, okay, that's doubtful...but surely you understand the larger point?)

Also, specs go out in different ways. It depends on any number of factors. For example, it's likely a broad, commercial comedy would "go out wide," whereas a smaller, character-driven drama might first go to a few directors or actors in an attempt to get names attached before it ever goes to money people. Or an agent might slip a spec to a few people in an attempt to create buzz or gauge its sellability. So has that spec "gone out"? And some specs sell years after they've originally hit the market. Maybe its genre is newly in vogue; maybe Tom Cruise got hold of it and wants it to be his next movie, etc. Why would anyone even want to try to keep track of all of that? You can't calculate the odds of a spec selling if you can't get a firm count of the number that are actively being offered on the marketplace.

As others have said, chances are overwhelmingly against you (or just about anybody right now) selling a spec. You have every right to be excited about an agent sending your script around, but what you should be hoping for is that the script impresses people enough that they invite you for meetings, which can lead to assignment work. And of course it might sell, and that would be fabulous--but meetings and assignment work are the way it goes for most working writers, and a great spec can get you there, even if it doesn't sell.

But if you want odds, best of luck getting them...and then beating them.

Evil Elf the One and Only
06-07-2004, 06:59 PM
It does sound to me like this would be something a WGA intern could be put onto and make available to members. If nothing else, it would prevent us wasting time with back and forth "I don't know, do you?" and get more lines written per day. Once the methodology was in place it could be updated quickly once a quarter or so, and refined whenever they had an underworked intern lying around the place.

That said, it IS a heck of an idea for the screenwriting mags, and since mag writing is my ha ha day job I'll give it a go. Credit where credit is due, may the best query win, and all that jazz...

Rance postings don't generate hits, dammit! (http://terminalcity.diary-x.com)

06-07-2004, 07:16 PM
So it sounds like what we're dealing with here is the law of small numbers and non-fungible goods. (Forgive me -- I was an econ major. Hence the fascination with stats....)

I.e., the number of specs sold (compared to those circulating) is too small, and they're too diverse, to derive any patterns.

HOWEVER, I will take a shot anyway, in the full knowledge that this may be a meaningless waste of time.

ASSUME that a given studio reads 500 scripts per month. (This probably include assignments, adaptions, etc., as well as specs but let's take it as a round number.)

Also ASSUME for the sake of argument that the 7 major studios read roughly the SAME 500 scripts per month.

ASSUME that EACH of the 7 major studios buys 10-20 scripts per month. (May actually vary from studio to studio, but assume IvyLilly's contact studio is typical. But we still DON'T know how many are specs.) Thus, that's 70-140 sales for all major studios per month. (There were 99 sales listed on Done Deal for May, but some of these were pitches, adaptations, sequels, etc. And there were plenty of sales to prodcos rather than studios. In any case, 70-140 seems to be the right order of magnitude.)

This suggests that studios buy somewhere between 14-28% of the scripts they read every month. Not bad odds, but we can assume worse for specs. What we still don't know is how MUCH worse...

Anyone want to take a crack with a different set of assumptions? Or (preferably) real data? ;)


06-07-2004, 07:35 PM
I didn't say a month! I said a year!!!

06-07-2004, 08:26 PM
Ooops -- yes you did, IvyLilly. And you did say specs. Should have gone back and checked first...

So, given this improved data, we assume 6,000 scripts (specs and non specs) per year are read at the 7 major studios (500/month x 12). Each studio buys 10-20 specs, for a total of 70-140.

That suggests that the odds of an agented spec selling at something like 1.2 - 2.3%, which is pretty grim but still not lottery odds. And it's close to 1 out of 40 (2.5%), which was a number suggested above in an article I read.

So, do we let it rest at 1 in 40 pending further research by one of our journalistic colleagues? ;)


Unca Leo
06-07-2004, 10:38 PM
I'd like to add something to explain why I made a joke of this.

It doesn't matter.

How on earth could this possibly have any bearing on how or what you write? If the odds are 500 to 1 against you, or 5000 to 1 against you, how important is that in comparison to the energy you could expend focusing on being that ONE.

Just imagine that the odds are beyond horrid, then forget about it.

06-07-2004, 10:58 PM
I think it DOES matter for the following reason:

Those without an agent may think, "If only I can get an agent, I can sell my spec." They see the agent as the end of the road rather than merely a signpost along a very long highway. Then, if they do get an agent and the spec goes out and doesn't sell, they're bitterly disappointed and wonder if the agent was lousy, the script wasn't ready, the market was wrong, maybe they should just forget the whole thing, etc. Any of these might be true, but if the writer also knows going in just what the odds are, then that first non-sale might come as less of a disappointment. I think being prepared for grim realities is better than being blindsided by them.

Also, knowing just how lousy the odds are will make the faint of heart drop out and go on to something with a better risk/return ratio -- like med school or lottery tickets -- improving the odds for the rest of us. ;)

And here's an even harder stat question: how many agented specs LEAD to paid screenwriting assignments (even if they don't sell)? I can't even hazard a guess on that one...


06-07-2004, 11:15 PM
LauriD, you wrote "If only I can get an agent, I can sell my spec."

Now, I have about two dozen friends in the business (some close, some not as) who have agents. Some of them are ridiculously successful and some are about where I am (agent at a nice agency but nothing sold). I don't know a single person among this group who has ever felt this way.

So I don't think the stat matters at all.

06-08-2004, 12:08 AM
Well, I've sees about a zillion posts on writers' boards on the topic "How do I get an agent?" The assumption of those posters seems to be that that step is both necessary and sufficient to get the script sold.

Your friends WITH agents are presumably more sophisticated re the biz than the average board poster.

I know that "agent does not equal sale," but I still want to have a sense of the odds. Others here were also curious.


Evil Elf the One and Only
06-08-2004, 02:52 AM
Just imagine that the odds are beyond horrid, then forget about it.

I think the reason we're so interested in this isn't to improve our chances (that's what the other threads are for) but to understand the business better. Why? Because we find the business interesting. I haven't got anything sold. Hell, I don't even have anything much to show an agent; still deep in the learning phase. But when I'm not writing I like reading about Hollywood because Hollywood simply and purely interests me.

I've read Day of the Locust and all that, but if nothing else, this is fresher...and it has animated icons!!!!:eek

tis better to have blogged and apologized profusely than never to have blogged at all (http://terminalcity.diary-x.com)

06-08-2004, 07:27 AM
it's a question that cannot be answered.
ie - if a writer has an agent they could have 25 scripts written. but the agent only markets two of them.

the possiblities are more endless than the pizza hut 4 for all combinations calculated by jessica simpson.

what are the odds that you'll win the lotto? it only takes one ticket to win but, do the odds change if you buy 100 tickets?

06-08-2004, 12:03 PM
This happens too much on this board--somebody asks a question and the response is to give her a hard time for asking it instead of answering it. Now, perhaps none of us have an answer. Perhaps there is no answer. But if this is info is helpful to Lauri everybody should at least respect her interest.

Personally, I think this info would be interesting to know. It doesn't affect our writing, but we are all subject to the workings of this business. We should at least know how it works.


06-08-2004, 07:07 PM
Unca Leo is right, so right.

It doesn't matter.

Some people are making the mistake of thinking that if fewer people tried to sell scripts, then their own chances of selling a script would improve.

But the crush of scripts on the market is only a tiny reason that it's hard to sell a script.

The real reason is that it's hard to write a great script that people want to buy. If 90 percent of the people trying to write scripts just stopped, most of the people in the remaining 10 percent would still not be able to sell a script.

It's a thinking error, based on assuming that the studios buy scripts the way a company that needs to hire a receptionist goes about hiring a receptionist. The company puts out an ad, and potential receptionists apply for the job. From the pool of applicants, the company picks one. Even if the ideal applicant doesn't appear, well, the company needs a receptionist and they pick the best one, even if they have to hire somebody who doesn't have all the attributes the company was looking for.

Many studios and production companies don't work that way. A few sometimes do, but mostly they aren't looking to fill a certain number of development slots with projects. They are trying to acquire projects they feel can be developed into the types of movies that they view as sound investments.

And such projects are generally rare and hard to find.

I know the head of an independent company that was planning to acquire seven projects this year. He recently told me that they've only found two, and he doubts they will have found seven by the end of the year. That's why he and his associates are trying to read a lot of material and meet a lot of writers -- they want to find more great projects. And great projects are rare. That's why there are often bidding wars for the best ones.

Mike Samonek
06-08-2004, 08:32 PM
the response is to give her a hard time for asking it instead of answering it.

Who gave her a hard time? People are saying, "don't worry about it, it can't be answered accurately." Some people have actually attempted to answer it - but apparently their educated responses weren't good enough.

So it has been answered at least a half dozen times and not one of them was what I think anyone could consider a "hard time."

06-15-2004, 07:50 PM
Where would you be if the little sperm that fertilised your mama's egg had decided to look at the odds first?

Remember: you came from an egg and a sperm that had what it takes. Now you owe it them to do everything you can to try and sell the best spec you can write.

Go do it.


06-15-2004, 07:53 PM
Phew... thank god that someone made the analogy to sperm and egg because I found that nothing's more masturbatory than my specs.

Evil Elf the One and Only
06-15-2004, 08:47 PM
But, but...I'm a clone! Is that some kind of anti-clone slur? There are assumptions being made here, assumptions that marginalize those of non sperm-egg genesis, and I take exception to those very assumptions because


because I'm procrastinating instead of working on my script. Point taken.

When I'm Not Procrastinating, I'm Blogging! (http://terminalcity.diary-x.com)