AKA: When Authors Leave Agents
I've already spoken on the blog about making sure an agent is the right fit for you before jumping into a relationship. But even all the caution in the world can't predict if you'll ever *gasp!* have to think about leaving your agent.
I wish I could say I've never been dumped.
But I can't.
It happened almost a year ago, with one of the very first clients I signed. We had a FANTASTIC relationship (I thought). I loved his work, he loved my notes, we went on sale...and...the book didn't sell. We went through rounds and rounds of revisions, but always the same thing. It had flaws, which I HAD understood going in, but I loved the book enough to give it a shot because I loved his style enough to want to do more. So, the plan of attack turned into "let's take what we've learned from all of these editors and use the feedback to make the NEXT book AMAZING."
And so the next book began. And...I didn't like it. There were many of the same problems as the first, and I was starting to recognize that the author really may not be capable of bringing it to the next level. Still, I gave him my notes on what I thought needed to be done to make it something I could take to market, because I STILL loved his voice, STILL was willing to try and dig until that gem I'd sensed in there actually shone. But he was beyond insulted by that point; we'd worked so much on the first book that he hadn't even felt it was HIS work anymore, and so my coming back and telling him I didn't like something that WAS entirely his was devestating.
Why am I sharing this story with you? Because it is at THIS point: unsold project(s), dead-end manucript(s), a rejected manuscript - that many authors feel they need to make THE DECISION: stay -- or move on?
Here are some things to consider if you're considering leaving your agent:
-Do NOT do it just because things aren't going your way
-Do NOT do it just because things aren't happening FAST enough, or how you WANT it
-List out your reasons for leaving, and honestly ask yourself if they sound selfish and whiney, or whether or not your agent LEGITIMATELY is doing a bad job
-If you're upset with editorial feedback, think about the feedback given: is it sound and backed by reason? (As an agent, I consider it my job to be honest. I won't take the chicken way out and pitch a manuscript I know is sub-par just so editors will say it for me. It's my career on the line every time I make a submission; and I'm not going to risk it just to try and make you happy.)
-Have you or the agent lost enthusiasm for the work/relationship - which you feel can't be overcome with a heart-to-heart discussion on direction and next steps?
-Do you not trust the agent's advice? Do you not respect the agent? (To which I say: WHY did you sign with him or her in the first place?!)
-What is your history with the agent? Have you been successful? Has the AGENT been successful? (Keeping in mind, of course, the new vs. established agent stats - a new agent with no sales isn't necessarily a bad sign. A new agent who isn't networking, has no sales within a year, particularly if not backed by a big and/or established agency, or an agent who is sort of...eh, might be worth thinking twice about, however).
-Think of the reasons YOU signed with this agent in the first place. Have things really changed, or are you just frustrated?
-Have you tried discussing your concerns with your agent first? (My former client did end up emailing me a few months later to apoloize and see if we could start anew; we both agreed everything could have been sorted out with COMMUNICATION. However, that doesn't mean we're working together again; the trust was broken. You don't want to leave a good thing that's just shadowed with frustration and miscommunication.)
-Are you basing your judgement on rumor, or fact? I.E.: did you suddenly read a raging post on a writer forum and get freaked out, or did you find out from Preditors and Editors your agent is on the no-no list?
-Have you read through your Agency Agreement to understand what leaving will REALLY mean? (I'm not saying this should deter you; just be prepared. Are you able to sever ties now (some agencies require an initial agreement term)? Is there a "re-capture" clause, during which time, if your work sells, the agency will still commission? Are there any stipulations about what the agency will continue to represent post-termination?)
Regardless of what your decision becomes, I will say that the best way to do this is over the phone. This particular former client, on advice from a writer friend of his, decided to email and cc every person in my office to part ways with me, bad-mouthing me but hoping that one of my colleagues would want to take him on instead.
If you MUST email to break the news (and even after you do so, official termination will require a letter) then do so in a professional, rational, calm mannor. Never in a rage. Never insulting. You do NOT want to put yourself on ANY agent's black list; no matter if your agent truly is the worst person in the world, take the high road out. Even if you're dumping them now, they'll still potentially be your colleague later once you sell a book. And once you do leave, keep in mind, again, that anything you say WILL reflect back on you - as always, sometimes it really is better to say nothing if you can't say anything nice at all.
A further word of caution: if you're considering leaving because you think you can cut corners with the whole finding-an-agent process the next time around, think again. Just because so-and-so liked your work doesn't mean anything to me (especially if it's for the book you're trying to find new representation for; if it's already been shopped around, I really don't want to touch that).
If you have published works, yes, it will be easier to find a new agent than if you don't - I just caution you to read my post on things to consider before jumping into another relationship.
However, agents get emails all the time from clients who were previously represented. And guess what? Doesn't change a darn thing about your submission - in fact, it makes me wonder...are YOU difficult to work with?
It's not a black mark on your record to part with an agent. It is, however, if you decide to bad-mouth them. Agents know and respect each other. We understand that relationships don't work out; styles just don't mesh sometimes. That doesn't mean we're going to jump in with a "whee!" if you're coming into things as an agent-hater. I definitely don't have time for anyone high-maintenance on my list.
And for the love of God, do NOT decide to go behind your agent's back and try and find a replacement before you've severed ties.
Most of all, though: remember that this is going to hurt us too. It’s crushing to lose a client, even if we know it really is for the best.