Two friends of mine were represented by Successful Literary Agent (SLA). Friend 1 writes dark fiction for a specific age group. Friend 2 was writes lighter fare for a different age group. Both were thrilled to sign with SLA and have their manuscripts on submission with several houses.
Then ... SLA changed agencies and told Friend 1 that SLA would not be taking Friend 1 as a client to the New Agency.
SLA said s/he was narrowing his/her focus to two of the other age ranges s/he represented and thus would no longer be representing the age range of Friend 1's project. SLA stated s/he would follow up with the remaining editors who had Friend 1's project, and if one of them were interested, SLA would relinquish his/her commission and Friend 1 would then be free to query other agents with that offer in hand.
Upon hearing this I immediately thought of Friend 2 who had signed with SLA just a few months prior to this. Since Friend 2 wrote in one of the two age ranges that SLA told Friend 1 s/he wanted to focus on, I was hopeful Friend 2 might still be represented by SLA.
Alas, no. Friend 2 was also on submission at the time of the announcement, and also not retained as a client.
By contrast, the agent of another writer acquaintance of mine recently switched agencies and this writer remains a client of said agent.
My question: what typically happens when an agent changes agencies? I was under the impression that most clients follow the agent to the new agency. Of course now I know to add this to the list of questions to ask a prospective agent, but I (and my Friends) would love to know if what happened to them is typical practice.
It's not a typical practice with the agents I know. And I'm very puzzled by this, in fact.
When I sign a client, I love love love their book. And generally I like the client too (please do not mention this to any of my clients of course, I don't want them knowing THAT!)
If I were to change agencies, I'd be hauling all of them along with me.
Several agents I've worked with have changed agencies. In each case they took all their clients with them, unless the client chose to stay behind.
This makes me think the agent is using this move as an excuse to pare away projects and/or clients she can't sell (or doesn't think she can sell.)
Which makes me ask of course: why did s/he sign them in the first place?
You really really really want an agent who's in this with you for the long haul.
I have nothing against young agents. I think a lot of them are incredibly bright and very good at their jobs, but this can be a problem with people just starting out. They are learning the hard way about what sells, what doesn't, and the uphill battle to build a commission based income.
You're quite right that this is something you want to talk about before you sign with someone, and it should be something you think about if you're signing with a new or junior agent.
There are some previous posts on labelled "changing agents" that have some specific guidelines about what to do when this happens.