I signed with a wonderful agent and we're currently in the middle of the submission process (read: the manuscript is out with editors and we're in the excruciating waiting stage). Her plan was to send another round of pitches out in the next couple of weeks.
Then the bomb fell. Said wonderful agent just told me the agency is closing due to a retirement, and she had to make the difficult choice to leave agenting. I don't know the whole story, but it sounds to me like this was not an expected turn of events and that her decision is based more on personal circumstances than a desire to leave the business.
She will be letting many of her clients go, but wants to keep my project and continue to try to make the sale. If the project doesn't sell, severing ties will be simple and I'll go back to the query trenches. It's when I think of that hypothetical and much-dreamed of sale that I get all kinds of confused.
Is it foolish of me to let her sell this book when I already know she won't be around afterward? I'm green to the business side of publishing, but I would imagine an agent-author relationship doesn't end when a sale is made. She reassured me there would be a transition process and she would try to match me up with another agent, but would another agent really take me on immediately after someone else negotiated this first sale? They won't be the ones seeing the financial benefit, after all.
Maybe I'm over thinking this, but my career is only just beginning and I don't want to mess it up with an ignorant choice...
You're not over thinking this at all. You're asking exactly the right question and your Spidey sense is telling you Something Is Wrong.
Your agent should be thinking about what is best for you right now. She should withdraw all submissions, and let you start fresh with a new agent. If you start fresh, your new agent earns the commission from the sale and handles the deal. If Old Agent sells the book, your new agent gets none of the revenue (ever) and most likely is stuck with all the work.
There's absolutely no reason for her to keep the book other than she loves it and wants to sell it. I'm sorry but that's NOT how a responsible agent makes choices. She is supposed to advising you on what's best for YOU, not what makes her happy.
In the best of all possible worlds, what makes her happy is also what's best for you, but this is not the best situation at all. This is an abrupt retirement that leaves you without an advocate. It's irresponsible and unethical. You may quote me in large red letters. You are NOT going to agree to that.
Unless there's a death or illness or some other abrupt life event that precipitates a business closing, this is something that requires careful planning.
This is actually one of the questions you want to ask before you sign with an agent (blogged about here previously) but it sounds like your agent was as surprised by this turn of events as you were.
Here's what to do:
1. You thank your agent for her work and offer sympathy for this turn of events that neither of you are happy about.
2. You ask for the submission list. And I mean names as well as publishers.
3. You ask her to withdraw the submission because the agency is closing.
4. You make sure she has. (I am assuming here that your agent is responsible and will do what she's supposed to)
5. You start querying. You mention your agent left mid-submission and you have editors who were considering the work.
6. You do not talk about this anywhere else ever again until you are happily published and it's one of your war stories.
You will survive this. It will make a good story.
The reason you do this, even though it's scary as hell to contemplate jumping back in to the query pool is that if she DOES sell it, you're now tied to a part time or non-agent for this book for the life of the book. If she's off doing other things, she's not tending to your book.
Making the sale is almost the least important thing an agent does for a book.
The only analogy I can think of is deciding to have a child with a spouse who's already told you s/he's on the way out the door.