3 S.R. Johannes: A Writer's Guide to Leaving an Agent (By Georgia Mcbride)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Writer's Guide to Leaving an Agent (By Georgia Mcbride)

Before I start, I suppose I should preface by saying never ever pay an agent to read your submission or in advance to represent you. Never sign an agreement to do so and if you have, you should definitely end that relationship. Legitimate agents abide by a code of ethics (though not all legitimate agents are members) set forth by the AAR. Here is a link to The Association of Authors Representatives.

In my experience, there are a few ways a writer-agent relationship can sour and it almost always begins in the mind of the writer. Below are some real-life examples of how things can go wrong quickly.

1. Writer has questions that agent either cannot or will not answer.

Usually a writer will have questions about submissions that the agent cannot or will not answer. Just because you did not receive an answer or did not like the answer you received, don’t automatically assume the worst. Your agent may have very good reasons why (s)he did not give you the answer you felt you should have received.

You should also consider that your agent’s time may be better spent working on your behalf than justifying her thought process for half-hour just to make your feel better about things. Sure, sometimes this is what may be needed, but at the end of the day, you either trust your agent or you don’t. Now, I’m not advocating blind faith and a closed mouth. This is a partnership. Your agent should NEVER talk down to you, belittle you or flat out ignore your concerns. If this is happening, you may be in a non-working relationship. However, before you do anything, talk to your agent and be sure to voice your concerns. Always act with professionalism, dignity and respect for both yourself and your agent. Never burn bridges.

2. Writer fails to understand (fully) details and or fine print of a contract and enters into this contract at the behest of the agent. Writer later learns it is not in her/his best interest.

It is your responsibility to make sure that you are working with someone who is not only professional and experienced as an agent but someone who can effectively negotiate and explain contracts. You are responsible for asking questions and making sure that you fully understand all of the clauses in your contract (representation and publishing contract).

If you don’t, you COULD end up with a new agent but still having to pay commission to your old agent who no longer represents you AND stuck in a crappy publishing agreement for years with no release date and unable to write for anyone else.

3. Writer is signed with agent for more than a year. Other clients of same agent are getting deals while this writer remains unpublished.

After several rounds of revisions and submissions sometimes a book fails to draw the attention of editors and you need to make a decision. At that point writer and agent must sit down and figure out whether it is best to continue on together or part ways. Of course, the HUGE caveat is this. You should always be working on new material/ideas. A new story or fresh perspective is always great to have considering how long the submissions process can sometimes take.

4. After several phone calls, emails or other attempts to communicate, your agent does not return your interest, enthusiasm, calls, emails, etc.

You and your agent should have an agreed upon method and frequency regarding communication. In today’s world of emails, texting, Facebook, twitter and the like; sometimes communication can range from a few harmless tweets back and forth, followed by an email that requires a phone call which leads to a post on Facebook that links to your Live Journal page which of course requires and obligatory comment and before you know it-- you’ve touched base 5-7 times that day! Was it necessary? Probably. Was it fun? Probably. Is it a valuable use of your agent’s time? Probably not.

When I managed music acts, I set aside time each week for a formal call with each client for a weekly update. I also made myself available via instant messenger, text and email for non-emergency questions. I would respond when available and most often before the end of the day. Some clients of course, pushed these boundaries daily and tried to skirt around them. There will always be someone who feels a sense of entitlement and who does not abide by what was agreed to.

Odds are, this is the person who will be unhappy in the writer-agent relationship and want to find fault with the agent who pushes back and demands respect for the agreement that was made.

However, if your agent is unresponsive, shows a complete lack of regard for or interest in your work, you should consider looking for alternate representation. Another indication is an agent who is condescending or disrespectful to you or writers in general. But don’t lose your cool. Remember to discuss your concerns with your agent. Consider why this may be happening and the ramifications of seeking new representation.

Remember, agents are people too.

They have good days and bad days. Most are supportive and great professionals who can help you achieve your publishing goals--some beyond your wildest dreams. But there are times when the writer-agent relationship just like any other will simply not work out. Consider what you are willing to sacrifice and what you are not. No agent is perfect and it not fair or realistic to expect perfection from your agent. Your agent will make mistakes, not always have the right answer and may even disappoint you once or twice. But, a good agent will rise above these challenges if you let them.

Think about yourself and what YOU can do to make the relationship work better.

Can you be less needy? Can you educate yourself about the business side of publishing more so that your agent has less explaining to do? Can you become a better self-editor and marketer? Can you learn more about contracts and foreign rights?

If you invest in yourself and your career a little bit more, you will see less of a strain on the writer-agent relationship. Your conversations will be less about learning and playing catch-up and more peer-to-peer.

Finally, no one wants to be in a situation where they are considering changing agents. But it all starts with a small seed of doubt brought about by something that was said or done by the agent that the writer didn’t like or understand. I promise you that if you let it go the first time without a conversation, there WILL be a second time. That small seed of doubt will develop into two seeds and then three and before you know it, animosity, mistrust and anger will have implanted deep in your heart. You will have done more to sabotage your relationship with your agent than any one agent could ever have done.

Sometimes the relationship is just not productive and its time to go. You may find the agent is just as eager to end things as you are.

Be honest. Don’t wait to long to say how you’re feeling and don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Follow your gut if it’s screaming,”get out, run.” But don’t let a misunderstanding derail your career.

Good luck and I hope this has helped!

What others have to say on this topic:

Jennifer Laughran

Janet Reid


Adler Books

Other places you can find Georgia:

Her Blog
YALITCHAT membership site
YALITCHAT public site
teen-themed team blog
Georgia's PRAEFATIO book trailer


Jennifer Shirk said...

Thank you! Very good advice!

Natalie said...

This was so interesting. Thank you Georgia and Shelli. I hope I'm never in a situation like this, but you've definitely given me food for thought. I think it's sad that so many agent/author break ups happen because of miscommunication when it's so easy just to ask a few questions.

cleemckenzie said...

I've been told of at least three of these issues . . . all from the writers' side. I think you've been fair and balanced in this post, Georgia, and I'd advise writers to read your advice. Very helpful. Thanks, Shelli!

Alice V said...

Good blog post! Very informative for those of us who still need an agent and even for those that don't have one yet (like me). Going to retweet!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great advice. Not only in agent/writer relationships but in other professions where someone is a client.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice - thanks :)

Anonymous said...

This post was very informative and gave me food for thought. Thanks!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Excellent advice Georgia. As writers, we often have overactive imaginations and the waiting can drive us bonkers.

I'm in Australia and my agent and publisher are in the UK. All our communication is via email and it's all good. However, I also know they're very busy and often can't answer emails for a week or so. While I'm waiting, I take a spoonful of my own medicine and keep busy.

Kelly Bryson said...

Hey Shelli- this was a great post. I'm still trying to figure out what I need in an agent, so reading about what can go wrong is a huge help. Thanks!