Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Did my agent fire me and I just don't know it?

I've had an agent for some nine years now. About three years ago we had a fall-out and didn't speak for some time. I've sent her several scripts in the interim and she acknowledges receipt of them very politely, but never gets back to me. I'd doubt she's really pushing them but I've no way of knowing.
My question is; should I accept she's no longer my agent and look for another one? Is this just how an agent terminates a relationship?  By being polite and not getting back on anything important. Or should I confront her and ask what she wants to do - does she still want to work with me?
She's my first and only agent and I've no idea how it works. 

There's a term for this now in social situations: ghosting. 

It is however completely unacceptable in business transactions.

First, if you have a written agreement with an agent there should be a clause about how the representation is severed. My clause says written notice and 30 days later, done. From either party.

If you do NOT have a written agreement, you have an oral agreement. You still need to sever it in writing.

The reason you need this in writing is because if you sell another book, and the first agent says "hey I'm your agent" you better have written evidence she's not, or you're going to be forking over 15% to her for a project she didn't sell.

And you know when people come out of the woodwork with their hand out? When there's money at stake. 

She's no longer your agent in practice, but she's your agent of record. You need to talk to her directly and ask if she still wants to work with you. If she's just been sitting on your work for years, you might want to find out why that's happened as well.

You mention a "falling out" after which you didn't speak for a while. That's a pretty big clue that something is very very wrong here. 

If you decide to sever, a written notice, sent via a service like UPS or FedEx that gives you a delivery receipt is required.



Sarah G said...

I had a boyfriend who stopped talking to me. After much agonizing over wine with friends on how long it could go on before I could, in good conscience, consider myself single, we - very generously - decided on two weeks. Of course there was no need to Fedex a written statement to him. Though I wish I had. Three months later he called to apologize and wanted to "make it up to me." Yeah, right.

So of course I am biased by my own history, but I think you're better off finding someone who takes your relationship seriously and has the common courtesy to respond to you. Good luck!

Kitty said...

I've sent her several scripts in the interim and she acknowledges receipt of them very politely, but never gets back to me.

I don't know how these things work, but that "never gets back to me" part would be a deal changer for me. After three YEARS of that, it seems obvious (at least to me) that you really don't have an agent.

Kae Ridwyn said...

"you better have written evidence she's not, or you're going to be forking over 15% to her for a project she didn't sell"

Wow! That's the clincher for me! Having not (yet!) been fortunate to have an agent, I hadn't realised that this situation could even occur. But reading about this from the QOTKU's own sharky grin, I certainly will ensure that written evidence is there - just in case!

Julie said...

Yeah, see, it would take a really long time for me to figure out what to do here. Thanks, QOTKU.

Marc P said...

Does this mean you are available Sarah G???

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Three years? Oh man, that must feel terrible...

In addition to that "sever the agreement in writing", may I suggest (based on other wisdom from QOTKU), that you also request a list of where your scripts have been sent?

nightsmusic said...

Send in writing with signature confirmation, recipient only,

"I am sending this as notice that I am now, after three years of no contact with you, severing our relationship as author (me) and agent (you.)

Thank you for your time and representation, but I feel at this point, my work has gone in a direction you are no longer comfortable with."

Take it to the post office or FedEx or what have you and send it. Three years is longer than it takes to even birth a novel for many and that's a ridiculous amount of time to wait. Also, there's no mention of the fall-out, no pointing fingers, nothing that would truly burn bridges and though sometimes, we really want to do that, it's never a good idea in a close-knit community such as publishing.

Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Wow! It's hard enough trying to secure representation, but then to have this happen to you? If your disagreement was that severe, why didn't you and your agent have this conversation three years ago, instead of letting this cold atmosphere linger? That said, yes, definitely push the question. Personally, I would reach out to the agent, ask to discuss the status of the relationship and whether it is in your mutual interest to continue as agent-client. Give an appropriate time to hear back, and if she doesn't respond, go ahead and send a notice of termination. As Janet said, send all these letters via registered post, or some other means by which you can document receipt. And all the best to you!

Marc: At Bouchercon, after a comment she made regarding one of her single clients, I did ask Janet whether her agenting services also included match-making... :)

Speaking of Bouchercon, for those that are interested, I've posted my Bouchercon Day 1 Debrief on my blog. The address is in the list of blog readers on the top right. :)

LynnRodz said...

Six years! Damn, OP, you sure are patient! Let me see if I understand this, math is definitely not my strong point. You’ve been with her for nine years and after a falling out three years in, she’s done basically nothing for you. My question is, why have you waited for six years to wonder if you have an agent? Get that termination in writing asap and start looking for another agent. You’ve wasted enough time!

Donnaeve said...

What I truly don't get is why the agent didn't handle this in a more professional way? Why did she acknowledge receipt of OP's work politely? Why does someone do that knowing they have no intentions of offering editing points, no intentions of promoting the work. I mean, honestly, what is going on here?

And on the other hand, why did OP let this strange, uncomfortable relationship linger as well? Going weeks or months waiting on something is one thing, but years? That's such a shameful waste of your time - more so your time b/c what she had to do took seconds - i.e. acknowledge your email, while what you've done is take years to work on something without any forward movement. Like standing water, this relationship and your career have become STAGNANT.

Time for a fresh drink. I agree with what others have said, sadly. It will be hard to do. You don't mention what has happened in the nine years with this agent, hopefully a sale or sales, which you can tout in your query letters as you seek representation elsewhere. Hopefully you can also, when you speak to this agent, agree to part ways amicably. The "fallout" will hopefully also not be something that has soured your future, going forward.

Good luck.

***OFF TOPIC: Like Colin I've been posting about Bouchercon. I'm doing it in three parts - Part I went out a few days ago, and Part II is already up. Part III is this weekend. Enjoy!

BJ Muntain said...

Lynn: The falling out was 3 years ago. Yes, that's still probably longer than was prudent to wait. But I can see it - as others have said, it's so hard to get an agent these days that one just wants to wait...

Me, I'm the type that I'd *need* communication every once in awhile, or I'd go nuts. Once a month would probably be fine, if there are no deadlines coming up. More than that, and I might get a bit ... antsy. Yes. Let's use that mild word.

If I were OP, I would have had a nervous breakdown 2 1/2 years ago, which just might have resulted in a tearful phone call, begging the agent to please take me back, I'm sorry, what did I do? How can I make it better?

... we've established that an author-agent relationship *is* a relationship, right?

Donnaeve said...

And then...on the other hand.

I was still thinking about this after I posted my initial response. There could be another side to it. What if the OP calls to discuss things, and it goes really well? As in the agent and OP both agree they CAN work together, and decide to give it a go. Great then.

What stuck out however, is the fact the OP has sent what was referred to as scripts (assuming that's short for manuscripts)and if the agent was over the moon about it/them, wouldn't they let bygones be bygones and have called up long ago to tell the OP how excited they were about the work they'd done.

So. There's that. Things that make you go hmmmm.

BJ Muntain said...

I do agree that, if this is what has been happening, the agent is acting very unprofessionally. But right now, it's only speculation on OP's part. Which is why it's necessary to get hold of that agent and ask her what the h-e-double-hockeysticks is going on.

It's *possible* the agent is actually continuing to work in good faith, but is not being very successful. It's also possible the agent doesn't want to pass this information on to the author because of the 'falling out'. (Again, not professional, but not as bad as not even trying).

Communication is so important. And communications go both ways. If all the OP has been doing is sending scripts in, without other communications, then now is the time to open communications again. Talk to the woman. Phone her. Send her communications that aren't just scripts. Start a conversation. You'll never know what's going on if you don't ask.

Craig F said...

With all the advances on the communications front the games still sound like fourth grade.

OP, write a letter, go to the Post Office and send it certified with return receipt. It is the only attempted communication that is almost guaranteed in court. All others can be reduced to hearsay evidence.

After sending that letter start the search for upgrading your agent.

@Donnaeve: What did Boucheron do to you. Another drink at 0858? Can I blame Colin for it?

@BJ: Sorry I didn't reply to your question yesterday. I have a new kitty to make welcome and it is taking a lot of time. Let your character grow as normal. Characters are like children in many ways. The more you try to school them the more they will rebel. Let your readers determine if your narrator is unreliable.

Anonymous said...


Any glimmer of hope you might make it to Surrey? I am busy driving myself nuts over pitches, blue pencil excerpts, workshops, missing passports and thinking this is a divine sign, but I'd love to see you.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

This seems suspect and unprofessional to me, maybe on both parts. Three years ago, my cousin introduced me to her agent who agreed to look at my work. Without even an offer of rep, she gave me great feedback and read my revisions and responded - sometimes it took months but she always responded. This is a very well-established and reputable and extremely busy agency. After very tactful and insightful feedback, In the end I realized my work wasn't ready for prime time so I wrote and withdrew so I could do a full revision. I felt terrible that I took up her time when my manuscript was not really ready. This was before I knew about Janet, of course.

This agent responded in kind saying she was doing more non-fiction, but once revised, she still wanted to look at my work again. That was for someone who did not represent me. I can't imagine going through the hurdles of acquiring an agent and allowing for the relationship to go silent. If there are creative differences, discuss them. It seems to me that you are better off making the inquiry than leaving things silent.

I am told agents actually do not like to reject (perhaps one of the reasons that silence means no) and it may have been the agent did not know how to politely sever the relationship and it was easier to politely accept the scripts? I think follow up after 90 days on any material should be acceptable, especially if that agent represents you.

I know how hard it is to get an agent, but there is no point to having an agent that either doesn't believe your work or won't give you feedback on why he or she can't sell your work. It's better to be told that the relationship isn't working and be cut loose. At least that frees you to pursue a better path. And while I will personally love and cherish my agent whoever she or he ends up being, it is a professional relationship. Three years with no communication does not qualify as any kind of relationship at all.

At least that is my take. Good luck, OP in finding more fruitful representation.

LynnRodz said...

Thanks, BJ, "in" "ago" what the heck, not only do numbers confuse me today, so do letters! Still, waiting three years before taking action is beyond me.

Then again, that's just me, OP, I'm known to babble when I should be quiet. *back to writing or maybe ghosting here*

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I got ghosted once, by a guy I had fallen head over ass for. He said he wasn't calling because his phone bill was too high. I paid it. Another girl had moved in with him. Wasn't I the fool? Maybe yes, but he's dead and I'm still standing.
OP get the truth and move on if need be.

Unknown said...

The more stories like this I read the more convinced I am that the agent, no matter the gender, takes on the role of a man, the writer the woman. The man likes what he sees, doesn't want to commit but will still hit it when the opportunity arises. Then after a week, month, whatever, male decides he doesn't want it anymore, says nothing, wont return calls, texts or emails

Donnaeve said...

@Craig, I could blame Colin, but once I've met someone f2f, I tend to love them, put them on a pedestal, and worship at their feet. Did I mention how much I loved Colin, Janet, and all the rest?

The "fresh drink" was intended towards the OP, although I was snort laughing at your take on my comment. As Diane would say, "hee!"

Colin Smith said...

*blushes and crawls under the pedestal* Donna, you're too kind. :) The pleasure of f2f meeting was mutual. I'm sorry you couldn't spend more time with us; I enjoyed every minute. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin/ Donnaeve- thank you for sharing your experiences as Bucheron. What great experiences!

Colin Smith said...

E.M.: In my debrief, I neglected to include the conversation I had with my wife after I explained what Bouchercon is:

WIFE: Will Janet Reid be there?
ME: Yes.
WIFE: Will there be alcohol?
ME: I just answered that.
WIFE: And your strange blog comment friends?
ME: Some of them.
WIFE: I suppose you have to go, then...


John Frain said...

Just want to confirm something: In the pharma world, scrips is short for prescriptions. So, in our world, is scripts short for manuscripts? I always thought ms was acceptable for manuscript. But I thought script was something written for Hollywood. No?

OP: "I've sent her several scripts..."

QOTKU: "if you sell another book..."

Minor, I know, but I'm curious. (Italics are mine, by the way.)

John Frain said...

Oh, Colin, so much said in so little space. No wonder you do so well in flash fiction. Love that snippet. You're standing in the kitchen early in the morning, is the picture drawn up in my mind.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin, John is right. It's no wonder you do so well in flash fiction. Great laugh in middle of my long dragging work day.

Did you leave your wife in Carkoon?

Colin Smith said...

EM: Thanks. My wife in Carkoon? No, no, no. If anything, she has a large mansion on Paradise with a large porch where she and Amy can while away the days sipping drinks and reading. It's the least she deserves. :)

Unknown said...

These comments are hilarious.

I'm also surprised at the length of time this went on but I am not judging as I've never been there and don't know details. I think clear communication and honesty is a great idea. Why tiptoe around each other? You can be honest and still kind/ professional.

But like with any relationship, you're better off alone than with a bad agent. If this one doesn't shape up, I hope you can find another (better) one who respects you and your work.

Donnaeve said...

Colin, blushing isn't a reaction I noticed about you, you know. I SO wanted to spend another day like I did Friday...DAMMIT JANET - and Colin.

John Frain - my nit of the day too! (scripts) IDK. Maybe the OP was sending screenplays? A whole other world...

E.M., yeah, even though I'm not writing in the genre for Bouchercon (I was when I signed up) there was beaucoup to learn.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, Craig. :)

Julie: Pre-registration ends on Friday. I really really want to go, so I'm going to try a last-ditch effort today. If it works - and if it works before end of day Friday - I will definitely be registering. If it's late, I will want to make sure I can register on site before I make plans (it costs over $400 just to get there, so I'd want to be sure I'm there for a reason). If it doesn't work at all, then I'm out of luck. :(

But your encouragement is why I'm going to make this effort today. I was hemming and hawing... but I'll do it.


Lynn: I agree - 3 years would have me bang in the nearest mental institution. Probably after my afforementioned 6 month melt-down.

And Yay! We're Colin's strange blog comment friends!

John: apparently gives, as one of the meanings of 'script': manuscript. I can't remember hearing anyone call a ms a script, but who am I to disagree with

But as with regular manuscripts, I would assume breaking up with a 'script' agent to require legalities of the sort Ms Janet mentions.

(And I ditto what someone else said, OP: Find out where your work has been shopped around, so you can tell your new agent.)

Unknown said...

It's also called the "Irish Goodbye"
Popular at office Christmas parties, weddings, and in this case: funerals.

Unknown said...

Thanks for that Janet; useful advice.

Reading the comments I appreciate it's confusing to read about for people who are unfamiliar with how it works, so in the spirit of sharing advice;

An agent not getting back to you doesn't mean an agent literally doesn't get back to you. She certainly does get back to you; tells you the script is the best thing she's ever read and it's going out right now to x, y and z. Then she doesn't get back to you. So you get back to her and she says she's waiting to hear from x, y and z. Then there comes a point where you have to stop calling her and asking if she's heard from x, y and z. It might mean x, y and z hated it or...

Now while you have no way of knowing whether she's read the script, she will definitely have sent it to x, y and z. Whether she sent it with a glowing recommendation or with a "Read this if get a minute. Or don't - I don't care either way," you also have no way of knowing.

You can of course confront her about it and it may be that's she's working very hard for you, and you may risk losing your agent.

Also I appreciate three years seems a long time to allow a situation to fester - it's not - a friend had the same situation for almost seven years until he landed a feature film and was love-bombed beyond belief by his agent, who previously couldn't find time to go for coffee with him.

Lastly, I appreciate if you're unfamiliar with the terrain, this sounds like an unprofessional agent - she's a top agent with one of the top four agencies and has 'household name' clients. So if you do get signed by one of them, don't be too surprised when, er, weird things happen.

Hope that helps. Good luck to you all in this wonderful business and many thanks Janet for your helpful advice.


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

QOTKU really does know everything. No fear of lightening.

OP has sent some scripts and Agent acknowledged them. What else are they talking about? Are there royalty payments, marketing plans? Is OP getting anything out of this? It takes two to tango. Does OP feel guilty for what happened during the fall out three years ago and is that why they are accepting this silence? It can't be all one sided.

I agree with Colin. Reach out before severing. If anything, to avoid bad chatter from your current ghosting agent. Any future ones you'll work with might hear about it. Now I'm going to read Colin and Donna's blogs on Buchercon.

Last year I divorced one of my galleries and was so happy the day I retrieved my paintings I gave a huge tip to the taxi driver who loaded them in his van and took me home. I got paid after 18 months of sleepless nights. And I got all my paintings except one that mysteriously wasn't there, Argh! But there was some book keeping confusion on that point. Legally I could have invoiced them, but it's not the first painting that's gone missing. I even thanked the gallery owner. She didn't deserve it. (Especially after complaining I called every other day because I wanted to be paid. Not true, it was every six months) She asked me why I thanked her I said, "for the experience." I was so happy to quit working with them. Before our last meeting I had to hire a lawyer to write and send registered letters.

Two weeks ago I inaugurated a show I'd been working on for six months. I was supposed to do a live painting demonstration but the metal security gate inside the gallery window was broken and it was impossible to fix. We stood outside on the sidewalk all day, greeting clients. The gallery manager was a doll. We were able to pull the gate up just enough to slide under so I could sign the paintings they had already sold. I came home, not disappointed, but on a positive high from the way the manager handled the disastrous day. Later, I was contacted by the director, we had a frank discussion which was also very positive. There was nothing in the contract that touched on this kind of problem. I suggested they add a point to the contract, not for me because I wasn't making any waves.

All this to say, don't trash your business contacts. People talk and the internet is a hive of complainers. You will only gain by polite interaction. This is why, IMO, it's good to keep a certain formality with business contacts. Emotions are better off in fiction and for your beloved.

Also, be organized with your book keeping.

OP, I'm sorry you have this silent treatment. Ghosting-- what a great word. But If you are asking the Queen you probably know the answer.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

I really am confused about this. As Forestry Consulting Agents, we have had a few disagreements with clients over the years concerning proper management of their woods, but we persevered and got the job completed to everyone's satisfaction. In keeping professional, that is what we are supposed to do - the end result being a positive one, and adhering to the contract unless amended.

Is hiring a Literary Agent any different? Isnt this supposed to be a professional relationship?

For us, yes, we can become friends, but when a contract is involved, that contract needs to be respected first, unless you come to an agreement to amend it or terminate it. After all, that is what brought all parties together in the first place.

So any disagreement needs to be resolved professionally. Get to it, OPIE! Do the thing that needs to be done; talk business. Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Donna: "Colin, blushing isn't a reaction I noticed about you, you know." Are you saying I'm shameless? Well, there was that table dance, but after Janet and her taxi dancing, I had to go one better... ;)

John Frain said...

Aye, leave it to a guy name a Sean McCole to teach us a lick about Irish goodbyes, won't ya.

Hey OP, I've seen three years go by in a flash so that makes sense once you give it a little thought. If you say to someone here you've been searching for an agent for three years, they'll nod. Complete understanding. You say it to a neighbor and they'll wonder why you haven't taken the hint yet. Three years? Your writing must suck, stick with your day job.

It's all perspective. And amazing the perspective one gets when they plant themselves in your shoes. Good luck to you. I bet a year from today, you're back on top of the world.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Donna, Colin, Janet and the rest of the traveling Reiders, I didn't get to go...wahhhh.

Donnaeve said...

Colin, tables or taxis, the visuals are almost more than I can bear. Of course since I now worship both you, Janet, Loretta Sue, Patrick and all the rest, I'd simply throw money while screaming like a 60's fan for the "Bee'uhls."


Donnaeve said...

2N's, it does sucketh, doesn't it? I hear your pain. I'm sorry though, didn't someone say out here crying is not allowed in writing? Ah, yes, Captain BS said it.

Amy Schaefer said...

As usual, all of you early birds have covered the bases. But I miss commenting, so I'll jump in anyway. I think the key points are: a) be clear, and b) stay professional. Call the ghoster, explain clearly why you plan to leave her, listen to her response, then send the termination letter (unless something significant happens during your conversation to change your mind). But stick to the facts, and stay away from hurt feelings.

No one likes a break-up - that's why people go silent. People will tie themselves in knots to avoid firing an employee, or leaving a SO, or ending a bad business relationship. But, if it needs to be done, do it right. My favourite line from Moneyball comes in the discussion of how best to inform a player that he has been traded or fired: "Would you rather get a bullet to the head, or five to the chest and bleed to death?" Your agent has given you five to the chest, and she has left you twisting in the is-she-or-isn't-she-my-agent purgatory. So you're stuck with being the grown-up and giving her one to the head.

Okay, I just managed to dip my hair in my coffee, so that's enough multitasking for me. Colin, your wife is more than welcome to hang out on the balcony with me. It's a beautiful day in Paradise!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I need to get out more. This is the first I'd heard the term "ghosting." And I cracked up over Sean McCole and his "Irish Goodbye" which is apparently also known as the "French Exit." Yes, of course I googled it, and found this rather hilarious article explaining the concept from an Irish perspective:

What a revelation. This sounds like a perfect technique for introverts who want to escape a social gathering but can't stand the thought of yet another conversation in order to do so. I'm adopting it. If I ever venture forth again.

But, yeah, it's a crappy way to conduct an actual one-on-one relationship, whether personal or business. It's time to overcome the procrastination and avoidance, OP. Yep, I recognize both, and three years isn't all that long when you've perfected those traits. But your writing career deserves better. Good luck.

Colin Smith said...

kd's link:

Theresa said...

I'm glad I know the term for that particular kind of goodbye (I guess), but I really feel for OP. What an awful situation. If OP decides to make one last attempt to connect, to try and see if the relationship can be repaired, maybe he/she should write all the statements and questions out before the phone call so the conversation stays on track.

It was nice to visit B-con vicariously through Colin's blog.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Theresa. Come back tomorrow for more...! And don't forget to visit Donna and see her Bouchercon posts. :)

Kae Ridwyn said...

@Colin: Your blog: wow! Theresa had the right of it regarding visiting B-con vicariously through your writing! Thanks for sharing it, and I look forward to your Day 3 post. :)

Now off to find Donna's blog...

S.D.King said...


I don't get it. Any professional writer who is sitting home everyday tapping away has to realize that they are sending their work into a black hole - right?

So I wonder a couple of things:

Is is possible that some fault of the falling out rests on Opie who may need to apologize? It had to be a pretty bad brawl and I am guessing both sides got some punches in.

Also, Janet, I get confused about a point in the agent/writer agreement. When you coach us in querying, it seems that we are not selling ourselves as writers as much as selling an individual book. So does the contract make the writer an indentured servant for ALL work or does the contract cover the one book which was queried? Can't Opie send all future stuff to a different agent w/o legally breaking with original agent/enemy? (However, I think I would get so much satisfaction in the termination- after all, yesterday I fired my parents' lawyer and it felt GREAT!)

I know that a few of the commenters are lawyers, so no offense - these folks needed to go!

Panda in Chief said...

I haven't finished reading all the comments, and I hope the OP gets to my post, here at the lonely end of yesterday's comments. A number of people were saying, "three years? How could you wait/waste all that time without replying?"

I know exactly how you did it, because I've done it too. Not with an agent, but with one of the galleries that used to show my work. It's called the "if I don't make the phone call I won't hear anything bad" syndrome. Kind of like as long as you don't check your lottery ticket, you could be a millionaire. And then one day becomes a week, which becomes a month which becomes, "oh hell it's been too long. Maybe she'll call tomorrow."

Acting like an adult really sucks, but the previous advice is spot on, even if many people don't get how three years can just slip right by you. Make a phone call or send an email to request a talk, or just send the polite letter as suggested above. Probably flaming arrows through her front door would be overkill. Probably.

Oh yeah, and definitely do the return receipt thingie. You want proof that you've contacted her.

And then pinky swear that you will quit doing this. Honest. I'm really going to too.