Dear Miss Snark,
I had an agent. Her agency sent me a contract regarding The Work and its sequel, which I signed; eleven editor rejections later on the Work and said agent said she would not send it out anymore. She did not request revisions; I offered. She said sure, if I wanted, and then went on to ask what other stories lurked in the depths of my imagination. We discussed four or five plot ideas; she was enthusiastic about one and said, ‘write it’. I did. I sent it to her. To make a long story short, she passed on it—after sitting on it for nine months—and offered no suggestions for revisions. During the nine months she sat on the MS, I had started querying other agents—I let her know that I was—on the New Work; an A-list agency just requested the full. I sent it.
Question one: My contract was for the original Work; it does not apply to the New Work, correct? (The first MS and the second are nothing alike; the first is a Historical Romance, the second a Crime/Thriller).
Question two: When said agent informed me she ‘had run out of editors’ to send the original work, was she in effect signing off on it, or do I still have to send her a polite, ‘You’re Fired’ letter? I plan to revise that original manuscript and start querying anew, but I want to ensure I won’t encounter future problems. What think you (and KY, of course)? (KY thinks everyone should sniff more flowers and all cats daring to live in NYC should be deported to Katmandu)
One: Assume that the representation applies in the broadest sense, and act accordingly. That way you won't be surprised.
Two: Miss Snark is a great believer in little notes that make sure everyone knows who's fired. I call them "memos of understanding" but they serve the same purpose as a "you're toast" letter. I also use them when someone is being a cretin about returning phone calls/emails/signed messenger receipts.
It says something like "Dear Agent, Thank you for the work you did on (insert novel name that is covered by contract). Per your contract paragraph x this is notice I am withdrawing from the agreement for representation. Love and kisses, You're Gonna Be Sorry".
Now, there's probably a clause in that contract that says if you sell that first novel to anyone the agent pitched you'll owe her some dough. There's probably a time limit on it. I know you said you aren't querying anyone for it yet, but look at your contract just to be sure. Don't query until the time limit runs out.
IF there is no time limit mentioned, your wording on the 'you're fired' memo of understanding should say something along the lines of "and it's my understanding that if this novel sells in the future I don't owe you a commission". It's probably not necessary but I'm a very very big fan of having stuff spelled out. You absolutely do not know what can happen when tempers flare and there's talk about who owes what to whom. Those conversations can get very ugly very quickly. Having a memo isn't a fail-safe but it beats the hell out of "I assumed" or "you didn't say".