In recent weeks I’ve had a few friends of mine mention that they were seriously considering changing agents and this got me thinking – not about changing agents (if you’re reading this Brian, don’t worry!) but about how authors should approach this issue. How do you know when it’s time for a change and how, once you’ve made the decision, do you act on it?
First things first, how do you know when the agent you have isn’t really working out? This posed a quandary for me, for there could be many reasons:
- Your agent ceases to return calls or emails (the most egregious “my agent seems to have fallen off the planet” reason) – this one is a no-brainer, but I’m amazed at how many horror stories there are from authors who agents literally disappeared for months or who retired without even informing them!
- Your agent doesn’t like your latest manuscript or project – This is a tricky one…because a good agent may have legitimate concerns…or their lack of enthusiasm may be indicative of a poor fit and a justification for a parting of the ways.
- Your agent has failed to sell your work/get what you consider to be the best deal with a publisher – I’m sure if an agent fails to sell your work one option is to find another agent who thinks they can (a strategy that may or may not lead to an actual publishing deal) but I think it’s a trickier proposition when an author feels that their agent isn’t landing them the big deals with major publishers (because that just may be the way things are going to turn out regardless of the agent you have)…but I’m wondering how long should you wait to see if a deal emerges? How much time should you give an agent before you decide on a change?
- Your agent doesn’t appear to care about your career – I’ve heard this quite often: where an agent doesn’t seem that interested in discussing career strategies or discussing an author’s interest in branching out beyond their genre. I’ve heard from cozy mystery writers whose agents have no interest in their ideas for non-mystery books, and from authors who complain that their agents simply don’t seem interested enough in their work to care about the next career step.
- Your agent represents many, many authors and you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. This is a frequent lament, especially from authors with high profile agents who represent many more successful authors. I think there are pros and cons to having a high profile agent but if you aint feeling the love then…
It’s time for a change…
But how do you go about changing agents?
Although it’s not the done thing to actively seek representation when you already have an agent, obviously you should scope out other options before you take the plunge and call it quits with your current agent. I’m not sure what the etiquette is regarding this – perhaps my other bloggers can help me here – but I think first and foremost you should be professional and straight up with both parties. I don’t think any kind of underhand games should be played and, like in any business relationship, appropriate courtesies should be maintained. If there are any manuscripts currently out on submission then you should discuss how these will be handled – typically if these lead to publication then it is your former agent (who sent the manuscript out) who gets his or her commission. No doubt there are always grey areas but the lawyer in me tells me to steer clear of those!
I would be interested in hearing from my fellow bloggers and other agented (or agentless) authors on their views. When do you think it’s time to consider getting a new agent? How should you (or have you) gone about getting new representation? Do you have any stories from the trenches that could help others facing this (often) thorny issue?
My agent, whom I respect more than anyone else in publishing, wasn’t interested in my foray into YA. So I asked him how he’d feel about me getting a YA-only agent. He suggested a few names. I’m working with one of them now; just sold our first project (for peanuts, but in this market, we’ll take it!).
So if I were a cozy mystery writer whose agent didn’t like my erotic thrillers, I’d just say: “Hey, I know that Cupid’s Garrotte isn’t for you–any objection to my finding an agent who’s interested?”
“. . . but I think first and foremost you should be professional and straight up with both parties.”
I think this is the only way to proceed. Inform your agent that you are no longer satisfied with the arrangement. State the reason. Ask the agent if she is aware of the problem. Finally, ask her what she suggests is a reasonable solution. If she is still enthusiastic about your work, she will offer a plan to solve the issue and proceed. If she is not, then ask to be released from your contract so you can seek new representation. The point is to always let the agent offer a solution before making your decision. There is an outside chance the she was unaware of your dissatisfaction and will be willing to correct the problem.
I approach my author/agent relationship on a professional basis. If either of us feels we are failing the other, we should be able to sit down and discuss our future relationship. Dialogue doesn’t need to be regular (got to understnad you are not the only client) just needs to be available when required.
Since we’ve sold two books to world-wide rights it seems that my publishing relationship with my agent has taken a backseat to that of my publisher. My agent is stil ‘CC’d’ in on communications but isn’t really needed for the decision-making process. I’m more than happy to have her expertise on stand-by if needed.
After sale to a publisher I see the agent relationship as something similar to having a lawyer on retainer – you hopefully won’t need them but they’re handy to have on standby in case.
One reason to find a new agent would be that your current agent has not been a strong advocate for you as a writer. Another reason would be that your writing has grown or changed, and your current agent is no longer well suited to represent your work.
Thanks everyone. Anonymous – I hadn’t heard of geting an additional agent who just did YA etc. but that sounds like a great solution if your current agent isn’t interested in other genre projects. JJ and Joe – exactly right on the professional front and yes, the editor-author relationship usually takes precedence after the deal but still your agent is your advocate should anything should go awry. Kathryn, as you say if your agent isn’t your biggest champion then it’s probably time to consider moving on.
I recently left an agent who I liked working with, but things had evolved into a situation neither of us was comfortable with. The book she’d been shopping ran out of New York outlets. I wanted to look for smaller publishers, hoping to build an audience; she didn’t. (I love sports metaphors. I said she was swinging for the fences when I was willing just to get men on base for the time being.) She also refused to represent my most recently finished work, as she said there was no market. (She was willing to take her 15% if I found a publisher for it.) Her current idea was to wait for me to finsih the WIP, then see where we were. Since that’s going to take me about a year and a half, and absolutely nothing wouldhappen in the interim, I decided to part ways. I do sometimes have second thoughts, but more along the lines of whether I should seek another agent, not whether I was right to leave. I just don’t think we had complementary visions of what needed to be done.
Of course, I’ve been wrong before.
Thank you for such an enlightening post. I do not have an agent, but when I get one your post will be most referred to.
Dana, sounds like you made the right move. Kim, I’m glad the post was helpful. The agent-author relationship is an important one to get right!
My first agent was a nice person, and meant well, but I heard (after we parted ways) that editors didn’t like her and didn’t usually read her submissions. She rarely matched the books with what editors were looking for or specialized in. She merely sent to the biggest names at a house and as a result rarely sold. I left her after she couldn’t sell my book in a year of trying. After I let her go, my new agent sold the book in two weeks and we had more than one offer.