I’ve posted about the author-agent relationship here on Writer Unboxed, and have come to the end of the cycle…parting ways with your agent. As someone who has been fired well and fired badly (it’s happened to every agent I know) I’d like to share what I humbly think one should do and not do.
First Step: Reconsidering
First, ask yourself why you want to part ways with your agent. If it’s just that your agent hasn’t been able to sell your book, that might not be enough of a reason. Sorry, but it might just be the book. Or the market. Or the sad state of affairs of publishing–trends, bad track, etc…
So, take a step back and assess the situation.
- Did the agent get the project to the right editors?
- did the agent help you get it into submission-ready shape?
- Is your agent up to the task of rolling up her sleeves and getting it there?
And backing up farther
If the agent did their job in honing the book and getting it into the right hands, and the feedback was that the book wasn’t there, then it might be a case of needing to rework the project.
(I ask myself that question before I take on any new project. If I can’t sell something right out of the gate, is it a book I am so passionate about that I will be excited to work on it through several more iterations? If I am not, then I ultimately step to the side.)
Hopefully, after asking these questions, you will come to the conclusion that it might be a matter of shifting gears, and even more hopeful still, you will be able to do this gracefully, with your agent championing your new approach.
Second Step: The Tough Talk
Of course there are a million reasons I can think of to fire your representation. I have heard some horror stories (and would welcome anyone to share stories here as I think it’s worth having an open dialog.) I work with an author who came to me after her prior agent sat on her book for a year. Yes, one year, without reading it. That is a pretty good sign that you are not a priority in that agent’s eyes. Or the agent who just ignores, point blank your calls or emails. Not acceptable.
But what about when things aren’t so black and white?
Perhaps your career is taking a different turn or moving into a genre that your agent doesn’t handle or have as much expertise in. It’s perfectly acceptable to call your agent and have an honest discussion about that. Or it might be a matter of coming to different conclusions about your current project. For example, I worked with a wonderful author, who over the course of several books also became a friend. When he delivered his latest project, we were not on the same page about what needed to be done with it editorially. In a nutshell, he felt it was close to being ready and I felt it needed an overhaul. I was concerned about my ability to sell the work as it was. We had a frank conversation about edits, and ultimately decided that it was in his best interest to find someone who loved the book as much as he did in the form it was in. I love that he had such a conviction about his work and was not surprised to learn (always lovely, he emailed me first so I could hear it from him) that he was snatched up by a big name agent several weeks later. I wish him only the best moving forward and mention this anecdote here as a perfect break up in that, through it, there remained a mutual respect for one another…AND he found a better fit for his work. A win win.
Of course not every author/agent has this kind of back and forth and I get that calling your agent up and telling them you are leaving may sound scary. I am a bit of a chicken myself when it comes to confrontation so I get the desire to send an email (and I believe most agency agreements that you sign do ask that you put such things in writing) but if most of your dialog is done verbally, then you really do need to pick up the phone and call them. The letter can come second. It really depends on how you communicate.
The only big don’t I want to give is this: Don’t let yourself get to the point of being so fed up with your agent that you are pissed off beyond belief. I have many an agent friend who have been shocked to get a termination letter from a client with no prior hints of frustration. If you are frustrated about something your agent is or is not doing, you need to speak up. Your agent is busy and not a mind reader. If you have voiced your concerns and the problem continues, then it is time to part ways.
Last Consideration: Timing
Finally, the other big question is, do you wait to fire your agent before you find another or do you fire your agent first? As scary as it may seem to be without representation for a time, it’s important to part ways with your agent before looking for someone else. I get many referrals and have signed clients who have terminated representation and it’s usually for reasons mentioned earlier–a shift in what the author is writing or perhaps an agent who is paring back his or her list.
That’s my two cents. What do you all think?