I Want a New Agent

O Goddess of Divine Snarkiness,

I have a contract with a major NYC publishing house for a work of narrative nonfiction. The manuscript should be completed in a few months.

My quandary is this: I'd like to part ways with my agent, who sold the book. I have heard troubling things about said agent's involvement (or lack thereof) with authors‚ books as publication dates approach. I don't need hand-holding, but I need someone to be actively involved in my career, and I'm not getting that now.

That said, is this a bad time to part ways with my agent? Do I have anything to offer a new agent, at this point, since they would not be getting any profit from the sold book? (and I have yet to write another proposal). There was talk of movie options (which I know is a long shot) but would I take those rights with me to a new agent, or does the old agent retain them? If this is indeed a bad time to break up, when should I do it? I don't want to be agentless when my book is released, since I might need someone to act as a liaison with the publisher.

You're in full tilt pre publication, haven't finished the book, panic mode. Don't worry. This is totally normal.

First, finish the book Right now that is the ONLY thing you need to devote your energy to. What you're doing now (worrying and wondering if you need a new agent) is akin to cleaning the house during finals week. I can tell you from personal experience that you do not pass geology becuase the top of the refrigerator is clean and the spices alphebetized.

When the book is done, and turned in to the editor, then you can think about changing agents.

First, TALK to your agent. Be very very clear what you want. Tell her/him exactly what you wrote here. In fact, you can just link her to this site and say you wrote this question.

Agents are like everyone else; we've been known to slack off from time to time (Miss Snark of course is the exception to that rule...YOWCH!!!! Who hurled that bolt of lightning???)

As I was yapping - Your agent may just need a kick in the pants, and knowing a valued client is contemplating the door is a very good motivator.

However, if you decide you really do want to make a change, haul out your contract and start reading the provisions for termination. Your agent most likely retains an interest in all the subsidiary rights (ie movie) for this deal BUT like all things, that can be waived if you negotiate it.

You don't have much to offer a new agent right now but that doesn't mean you can't query. I get letters all the time from people who are agent hopping.

I'm very very careful about signing those folks up, just FYI. First, this is a small industry and the agent you think is a slacker louse may in fact be a good friend or close colleague. No way am I taking you on if that's the case.

You're right that you need an advocate with the publisher but your editor should be able to carry most of the weight for that short term. If you leave your agent, tell your editor.


Serenity Now! said...

Or... you could only query agents that Miss Snark suggests, that's what I've done and I have a proposal under consideration with an agent right now. LOL

Existential Man said...

i would agree with Her Snarkiness not to make any change until you've completed your book. You will then have to make changes bases on the editorial feedback. Best to have an agent in case there's a problem.

But I would not tell the agent by way of linking to your question on this site. That is a passive way to handle it. Be direct, best by phone--not e-mail.

For more on the the marriage break-up with an agent, check out the latest Your Write Mind column on Backspace on just this topic: "Marry Your Agent or Have an Affair."

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I don't have an agent, so feeling the need to change isn't one of my problems.

I do have an agent problem though. I'm a very self-sufficient person. It is difficult to rely on others. For example, though we could well afford a lawyer, I did the legal work, preparing all the papers and appearing in court, for our two adoptions. I felt compelled to do it myself. This feeling pervades all my life, and it makes seeking an agent difficult.

Oh! The silly questions that wend their way through my cute little head, and the worries that come with them are distressing. ... It's enough to bring the dark and smoky hues to my wings. ... We pixies have such complicated lives!

litagent said...

Okay, what have I missed here? The book was sold; the contract negotiated. Unless the author is having issues with the editor, in which case the agent should be going to bat for the author as the author's advocate, what, exactly, does the author think isn't being done in the furtherance of his/her career? The author has a book to finish. Until then, there is no career. And even then, it's important to remember that an agent's primary job is as a liaison between the author and the publisher. We are not, as a general rule, publicists, marketing directors, book tour planners or promotional magnet designers. If the agent isn't doing a good job being an advocate, then by all means consider changing agents, but be sure your expectations are reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I'd be inclined to wait until leaving this agent (if you do decide to leave) before querying others. That way you won't have to worry about winding up chatting with one of your current agents' best buddies--you won't have to mention him or her at all.

Looking for a new agent before leaving the old one seems like something that could easily blow up in one's face.

All that said, I'd be curious just what an agent is supposed to be doing as the book comes out--wouldn't most of the post-publication work be in the hands of the editor and writer?

Harry Connolly said...

Why is this author planning to drop their agent based on second-hand criticism?

Don't dump your agent because of something someone else said they did to them. Dump your agent because of how they behave toward you and only you.

Finish your book. Talk to the agent about what you want. If you can't get what you want, then is the time to start talking about making a switch.

M.E Ellis said...

If I ever get around to querying agents, I think I'd poop my pants if one agreed to represent me. Literally poop. To imagine changing one after bagging one in the first place is even more daunting.

Best wishes! I hope you finally find the agent that suits you best. Also, congratulations on getting this far. You must be proud of yourself. Keep writing and smiling!


Anonymous said...

I, too, am confused. Perhaps the writer doesn't understand the role of a literary agent.

The agent is the one who guides the manuscript into the hands of a paying editor. Once the manuscript is placed, the majority of conversations regarding the manuscript are had with the editor. Only if there is a break down in communication between the editor and the writer can one reasonably expect one's agent to mediate.

Is the writer chagrined because there's little contact between herself and the agent? If I were the writer, I would be thankful that my agent was giving me space enough to meet my expected deadline. Terrible things, such as canceled contracts can occur when deadlines pass.

When you've completed this project and are ready to move on to the next, then have greater expectations of your agent. Promotion, book tours, book clubs, all are within the purview of the publishing house.

As for second-hand gossip, didn't you learn anything in middle school? Context, context, context.

Sarah H. said...

Yes, I thought it was odd that the writer wanted to change agents based on hearsay. No two people interact in the same way. What is important is how the writer's agent interacts with the writer. Don't worry about the other fella.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Time to put on your Big Girl Panties (or, if you're a guy, think Manties). If you're "hearing" things that upset you, go to your agent and say, "Hey, I heard this, this and this, and I'm a bit concerned. Rather than listen to catty gossip, I thought I'd go straight to the source and find out what's going on. Fill me in." Or... "Hey, although we both know I don't need any 'hand-holding', I would like to hear your ideas for my career overall and show some more active involvement. Whatcha think?" Obviously you liked this agent at some point or you wouldn't have signed with them.

I cannot stand passive-aggressive behavior. Be an adult and COMMUNICATE your concerns.

Carmen said...

"I can tell you from personal experience that you do not pass geology becuase the top of the refrigerator is clean and the spices alphebetized."

It's amazing how important a spotless oven becomes when deadlines approach.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic Q: Is it bad form if I, a one book writer, a newbie, email my editor and tell him, hi, my agent is sending you a new ms to read. I did this a while back, and have been left hanging by my editor for a bit before he responded--nicely, I might add. Did I violate some unwritten rule?