Monday, November 27, 2017

How do I break up with my agent?

I've heard that writers often have several agents in their careers. My first book did not sell, and though I do not blame my agent for that, part of me thinks it might be time to part ways. How would a writer go about doing that? Would the agent take it personally? If a writer's contract says they have to give 60 days notice before ending the agreement, how quickly after giving their written notice can a writer begin searching for new representation (for a new book the previous agent has not put on submission)? 

I'm glad you don't blame your agent for your book not selling well since sales, marketing and publicity aren't her job at all. [Amy points out in the comments column that this probably means the book didn't get sold to a publisher, which upon a closer read I think it is correct.]

If you want to part ways with your agent you send her a certified letter saying so (if that's what the contract calls for, and most of them do.)

And most reputable agents won't discuss representation with you until after you've parted ways with Agent #1.

As to whether an agent takes it personally, it doesn't matter. It's not a personal relationship, it's a business relationship.  Sure I regret losing some clients more than others, but I've remained cordial with 95% of my former clients.  

You need to be aware of the fact that authors who have already had an agent have a higher hurdle at the query stage than those who haven't. I always ask what went wrong, and what they're now looking for. "My book didn't sell but I don't blame her for that" would be a huge red flag to me.

I notice that you don't actually have any specific problems with your agent, just a general sense that you can do better. That would also be a huge red flag to me since you've demonstrated you'll decamp even if I'm doing my job well. That bodes poorly for the investment you want me to make in your career.

Be careful about thinking you can just get another agent and things will improve. This is utterly unrealistic.

23 comments:

Amy Schaefer said...

Not that it changes the advice given, but I read this as Opie’s book wasn’t sold to a publisher, rather than it didn’t perform well.

Janet Reid said...

Amy I think you might be right on that.

Kitty said...

I'm flashing on George in SEINFELD...

GEORGE: "It's not you, it's me.... You're giving me the 'It's not you, it's me' routine? I invented 'It's not you, it's me.' Nobody tells me it's them, not me. If it's anybody, it's me."

WOMAN: "Alright, George, it's you."

GEORGE: "You're damn right it's me."

Kathy Joyce said...

Opie, don't know the details, but I wonder: Is it time to try another agent or to try another book? The first one didn't interest a publisher. It may be that the agent didn't work hard enough. It may also be that she took on the book and believed in it, even though selling it wasn't a slam dunk. Given Janet's comments, maybe more thinking through why you want to leave is warranted. I'm sorry that the book didn't sell. After all that time and work, ouch!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, I am curious as to why the writer would not try another book with the agent? At least give the agent a shot at the new book? Or is this a case where the writer feels the agent wants to break up with them so the writer is trying to land the first punch?

From what Janet says here and what she has said in previous posts, this is one of those cases where it might be ever so slightly less damaging if the agent drops writer than other way around. Either way, not the best situation.

OP, I could be reading this wrong but I sure would have an honest conversation with the agent before just dropping them. But maybe that was already done.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This sounds a lot like if only.
If only I had another agent maybe book one would have sold.
Book two will sell if only another agent gets on board.
"If only" is a demon because if it wasn't the agent's fault, whose fault was it? Sometimes we have to look in the mirror if only it is to see more clearly the errors of our writing ways.

As in, if only I had finished the manuscript my publisher requested forty-five years ago, I would now be more famous than they promised I would have been way back when.

I'm with E.M. GOLDSMITH talk to your agent OP if only to gather insight into what went wrong.

Craig F said...

I'll third E.M. and Carolynn with 2.

I have a lot more books than agents at the moment. In fact, if an agent was willing, I might give them two or three to pitch for me.

Elissa M said...

OP sounds a bit impatient, but it's hard to judge given the little that's said. Like previous commenters, I wonder why OP wouldn't offer agent book #2, especially given that OP doesn't blame agent for not selling the first book.

OP, have you had a serious talk with your agent about why no one seems interested in picking up book 1? Have you asked your agent for advice on how your career should proceed? I know I personally would not want my (future) agent to dump me just because she couldn't sell my first book. I would expect at least a little feedback on what the issue seems to be ("no one wants zombies right now") and a suggestion on how to proceed ("what have you got waiting on the back burner without zombies?").

Julie Weathers said...

I'd be very leery of jumping ship too soon. I hope the OP has been working on another book while the first one was making the rounds. Why not try that and see what happens?

My mother was married five times. My father was normal, but normal doesn't last long around this outfit. Onward and upward to four psychopaths. Yes, they were all nuts and I don't blame her for divorcing them, but at some point, you begin to think some of this pattern rests a little with the "victim" as well as the psychopath.

I'm not saying the OP is either a victim or psychopath, but people who hop from one relationship to another usually have underlying reasons.

When I hear someone has been married three or four or five times, it tells me there might be something wrong with person perfect. The OP says that writers often have several agents. I have to wonder about that. Breaking up with agents is traumatic. I can't imagine anyone doing it several times and writers doing it often. Maybe if you're someone like GRR Martin. I think Diana Gabaldon has had three agents. The first one died and she still has her present two.

God grant me the wisdom to choose wisely when the time comes because I believe that agent is going to be stuck with me like Gorilla glue. They'll be sending me certified letters and cease and desist warnings to get rid of me.

RachelErin said...

In the rounds of "how I got published" stories online, authors not debuting with the book that got them an agent is very common - maybe 50%? Some authors don't sell until their third or fourth novel.

So you're par for the course. Unless there's an issue you didn't include in your email, it doesn't make sense to switch. The authors I know who have switched agents all have reasons like, the agent was incompetent (ultimately fired by their agency!)
(1), agent only liked one of their books, not the other five (1), the agent left the business, switched agencies and didn't take all their clients, wanted to change up their list/focus, or the author wanted to go in a different direction with their career and the agent felt they weren't the best one to support it. Also communication issues.

So you may know of a lot of authors who have had multiple agents, but there's usually a solid reason.

Steve Stubbs said...

I think Ms. Reid is right. Saying your stuff is not marketable so change agents is like saying you are not losing weight so change grocery stores.

More to the point, it is like all the people who say everyone says their stuff is crap, so they are ready to self-publish.

Julie Weathers: I used to work with a man (fellow employee, not client) who was married thirteen times and abandoned by all thirteen wives. You would think after eight or ten times he might get wise. He's probably been married five or six more times since then. How he was able to get married even once is a mystery to me.

Julie Weathers said...

Steve,

Bingo. I don't know, I would be hesitant.

BJ Muntain said...

Okay. I'm going to assume that OP has read all the previous comments and has had a heart-to-heart with their agent, and is now perfectly prepared and well-informed enough to leave Agent1 behind.

If you have to give 60 days notice, then the agent is still your agent for those 60 days (unless they say "Good riddance. Go. You are free" in a letter that is official as per the contract). You have to wait those 60 days before seeking new representation. Use that time to brush up your querying skills, because - as Janet said - it's harder to get a new agent if there isn't a darn good reason you left your previous one.

Dena Pawling said...


Steve Stubbs where have you been all my life? Is it really because I’m shopping at the wrong grocery store? Thank you thank you thank you!

Oh and I agree to talk to your agent before sending the letter. That sounds like the professional thing to do.

french sojourn said...


J.W. ".....normal dosen't last long around this outfit."

I would add"....but the memory lingers on." Well put as always.

Lennon Faris said...

Bummer situation. My guess is that OP is omitting a lot of info, probably hesitant to give details on the wide wide web that might get back to Agent#1.

The QOTKU brings up some good insider points, though. Hope all goes well for you, OP.

AJ Blythe said...

This is a tough business. I think I'm going to be like Julie when I get an agent and they will be stuck with me forever and a day. I'd hate to have to go back to square one and start querying again.

OP, I think all has been said that can be said, so I will just wish you all the best in your decision making and for what is to come.

John Davis Frain said...

Okay, so this post is "How to break up with my agent?"

Shouldn't there be an earlier post titled "How to ask an agent out?"


What's that? Oh. Query letter.

Yes, ma'am, I do have that in my notes. I was asking for a friend. He's left the room, but I'll let him know.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I've worked with agents for 25 years. Not literary agents. Art agents. Some are so old they can harldy hold a fork. We still love eachother but don't work together.

It's no one's fault when things don't sell, but marketing is very important. Don't expect anyone to do it unless you are paying top cash.

Sometimes stuff doesn't sell. Eventually a dumb event blesses you. Your work is so hot you're on the way to Jupiter.

Half way there sales freeze. All those taxes you owe from astronomic sales catch up. No amount of antifreeze can liberate the engine.

What do you do? Declare chapter 11? Or get a job massaging cats and blubber?

No! You kick yourself in the arse and market yourself. Make another masterpeice, and another, and another.

Best way to distract yourself from the pits of despair is to create.





Peter Taylor said...

I'm sure there are good and bad reasons for wanting to change agents. If an agent partners with a writer for their adult horror works ...but 6 years later the writer changes their main focus to, say, children's picture books for which the agent no contacts, he/she doesn't like the texts and will not submit them, I hope this would not shift the bar level very far.

And then what happens if the writer finds someone to rep their children's books but suddenly has an urge to write another horror story that the first agent would love?

Should writers who know there's a possibility that they may write in new genres, only query agents in a large agency with the hope that works will be passed to the most appropriate agent within the business?

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Taking a break from NaNo to wonder what we're missing from this story.

Leaving an agent because they didn't sell the first book is a dumb/naive reason to leave. A rookie mistake. Give 'em another novel and see how they go. That's what everyone else does. That's normal.

But if someone appears to be doing something that appears to be dumb/naive, unless that someone is clueless, there's something else going on.

In the vein of everyone else's stories, I once knew a woman who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. Set her eye on a particular fellow of my acquaintance. Did everything in her power to get his attention, win his affection, and even get engaged in record time. Even got knocked up.

Yet things slowed down when it came to wedding plans. Everyone was baffled. Why weren't they getting hitched?

Didn't take me long to figure out she was still married to her first husband, a suspicion confirmed by a connection of the young man's when they did a public record request.

Panda in Chief said...

This is one of those questions that make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Not because I think this author is jumping the gun. I'm guessing we don't have the full story here, so I'm not going to jump down his/her throat with the "why didn't you...?" Did you...?"

If it has not been done already, I would have a serious heart to heart with my agent before sending "the letter."

I'm more worried about my agent breaking up with me. Having had several galleries do it to me, as well as me breaking up with more than one gallery, I can say it is not a fun conversation. In the "ways to do it really badly" category, one of the galleries I had shown at for 17 years, made some significant money (for us both, since that's how it works) broke up with me when sales slipped, by taking me off the gallery website.

Um...yeah.

Brenda Hampton said...

I've been published since 2006. In that time my first agent didn't sell any of my books. I had a deal on the table, called her, she finished the deal. After 4 yrs of no sales and taking 30 days to answer a quick email, I ended our relationship.