Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Changing agents

Kristin Nelson's blog post about changing agents prompted me to post what I ask people who are thinking of switching agents:

More than one was a bit taken aback by my point blank first question:
1. Have you terminated representation with your current agent?

If you have not, I will not talk to you. I've never done a survey of colleagues on this, but the bar chat is pretty much 100% in agreement.

Here's why: I never want a colleague or an author to think I poach or entice authors who are represented elsewhere. I don't want to second guess how another agent runs her business any more than I want someone second guessing mine.

My second question is:
2. Why are you leaving?

If the answer is something like "she sucks at this, that and this other too" and I know "this, that and the other too" is not one of my strengths, then the writer is better off looking for someone else. Better to send them on their way sooner rather than later.

3. What do you want to accomplish?
This is often the deal breaker. Changing agents is no guarantee of a revitalized career, an increase in sales, or a way to make you a more marketable writer. Agents are more interested in potential clients who are on their way UP the sales chart and who have a good career ahead of them.

I represent 41 clients right now. 7 have had other agents. Only two of those signed on within the last two years. What that means: if you're thinking of changing agents you might want to consider a bright eyed eager energetic newer agent who is actively looking for good clients.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I have a friend that switched agents. I think the reasoning was that the first agent wasn't very connected. The second agent sold rights to three of her previous books to Harlequin, recommended and signed her to Berkley for a series of three romances and sold another romance/mystery. I have no experience with agents yet, but hope when I find one, he or she will be with me for the duration of my career. I think it's a lot about personalities. Sometimes you click with someone and sometimes you don't.

Thanks for "listening."

#1 Dinosaur said...

One thing I realized while learning to date in midlife was that the definition of a married man was one whose divorce was not yet final.

Same principle.

Dana King said...

Thanks for this. I left an agent about six months ago, for a handful of reasons. On reflection, I may have been a little hasty, but there were genuine differences in how we thought the project should be approached. I'll chalk those up to me, too, as I know now there were questions I should have asked about strategy I never did, as happy as I was about getting an agent.

I recently stumbled onto another agent who may be interested, after I do a little re-working. I'll be better prepared going in.

Venus Vaughn said...

I can see your point in all of these questions, but I do wonder about the first one.

Many people are cautious by nature and don't want to jump ship unless they're sure a net is waiting for them. That is, they won't fire their old agent until they have a new one willing to do the job.

I've read that having a bad agent is worse than having no agent at all, but when houses don't accept unagented submissions and you're relying on your writing to make a living, isn't it fair to go hunting for that new agent before you tell your old one goodbye?

Certainly professional ethics are important, but a happy, well-represented author is unlikely to let themselves be "poached". And you're asking the unhappy authors, who are already dissatisfied with their careers to sever the one lifeline they have towards publication before they're even allowed to look for another rope that can haul them to safety.

It seems unnecessary. So long as the author gives her old agent appropriate notice on old projects, and is above board in her transfer, it should all be good.

Bonanza said...

Hi Janet,

I have a question for you or any other published author who's had experience with this:

If I am in that awful position of needing to terminate my agent, who did get me a book deal several years back, what do I say when that agent asks "why?"

It sounds like a silly question but this is someone I will still be working with since, as stated in our contact, they will continue to represent any works that they sold for me.

Do I need to give them all the specifics? Is "I just want to go in a different direction" enough of a reason?