I get query letters from formerly-represented authors enough so that it's not rare. Not common but not rare. Up until ten years ago, the main reason the authors were agentless was either death, retirement or illness of their former agent.
Now I'm seeing a whole new, very disturbing, category: my agent quit.
So the first thing to remind everyone is that when you receive an offer of representation, you'll want to make sure your agent is in it for the long haul. How to do that? My experience tells me that all these agents who are quitting have been in the business for five years or fewer, and their sales are not very high. In other words, people who found out being an agent was a whole lot harder than it looked on Twitter.
But, if you find yourself without an agent here's what to do:
1. Get out your author/agency agreement. Are you represented by the company, or the specific agent?
If you are represented by the company, get in touch. Email first, then phone. A very short email like this:
Hello, I was represented by Agent Houdini. My project SHARK TANK NOIR is on submission. Can you tell me which agent will be handling my work now? Thanks for your time and consideration.
Even though this feels like a total disaster to you, try to keep the screeching and moaning to a minimum. Trust me, it's pretty hard on this side of the aisle too.
If you don't hear back in five days, you phone. Politely.
If you don't get a reply in five days, you terminate your representation.
Just an aside: this is why it's CRUCIAL that you keep the submission list of where your work is. It's absolutely ok to ask for the list of where your work is when the submission process starts, and to ask for updates on a regular, scheduled basis. (Once a month, once every two weeks; NOT daily; NOT hourly!)
2. If you're represented by the agent, not the agency, get in touch with the head of the agency. Short email:
Hello, I was represented by Agent Houdini. My project SHARK TANK NOIR is on submission. Is another agent there interested in representing me? Thanks for your time and consideration.
Again, you give them five days.
If no reply, telephone.
If no reply, terminate.
3. If the agency does not continue to represent you, you'll need a new agent.
1. Check the author/agency agreement for the clause that covers how long after you've terminated representation you have to pay a commission. In our agreement it's six months. That means if you fire me, and I've sent your work out, you can't sell it to a publisher I've sent it to without paying me a commission unless six months have elapsed between the termination and the sale.
If this isn't spelled out in your author/agency contract, you spell it out in the termination letter you send via certified mail. Of course, you'll insert language that says you can sell your project tomorrow and not owe a commission, not six months.
2. Draft an email query about your project, not about your situation. You need an agent for your work, not your woes.
DO include a paragraph about your situation though. Be brief. Be clear. Try not to wring your hands.
My agent, Henry Houdini, is no longer agenting. My project was on submission with 12,204 editors as of 1/1/11. In my termination letter to Houdini, Hoffa, and Crater, I included a paragraph that says they are not entitled to commission as of 2/1/11. The author/agency agreement does not have a clause covering this situation.
And then you interview agents. And you look for the ones who are in it for the long haul. Here's what you ask:
1. WHAT HAVE YOU SOLD? An agent who hasn't sold a lot is more likely to hang up her spurs than one who is doing ok. Don't rely on Publishers' Marketplace for this data. ASK the agent.
2. Do you love your job? An agent who is looking to switch careers is an unhappy agent. Trust your senses on this one.
3. What happens if you do decide to leave agenting? Most of us have given careful thought to what I call the "crosstown bus" scenario. Not all leaving is voluntary. If I get hit by a bus, my clients are covered. I wouldn't sign with an agent or agency who hadn't made the same provisions.
And remember, this is not the end of the world. It feels like epic disaster right now, but you'll recover. And bounce back. AND have a great story: "Remember when I found out my agent left the biz cause she changed her Facebook status?" You need good stories for your book tour. Think of this one as the first.