Jumping Ship

My previous post on why you should not look for a new agent while still represented elsewhere elicited several comments asking how one does jump ship.

Look at the contract you have with your agent. There's a clause in there that says "30 day notice by either party". That's how.

Oh? No contract? You send a letter, NOT an email, NOT a carrier pigeon and NOT a phone call.

You say "later gator".

In all cases you wait 30 days and then you're free to query again.

And for the commenter who asked if I would blacklist or blackball or drop a piano on the head of a client once they'd left the fold, the answer is no. This is a business and sometimes things don't work out. I've released clients, clients have left me. I have ex-clients of very good agents, and some deranged agents have ex-clients of mine. It all works out.


lizzie26 said...

Interesting. On Kristen Nelson's blog, this was discussed, and she said she didn't like receiving a certified letter from her now-former client. She'd have rather received a phone call. Either way, you part ways first, before you find another agent.

Maria said...

The way I read it, Kristen seemed more disconcerted by not getting a phone call as a possible first step. The letter took her by surprise, but I don't think she was against letters for the final ending.

As the discussion trail there said, you have to end it in a clear manner . There were several examples from authors about why the certified letter was a very efficient and professional method.

It's an informative post; anyone wanting more info should check it out.

ktbuffy said...

One of the most unprofessional clients I ever had chose, without notifying me, to not only sign with a new agent, but to do with a book that she had TALKED about with me, and which I'd read parts of and was looking forward to reading more. An exchange of certified letters followed after a conversation with our legal counsel. Fun! My favorite part, though, was telling the editor who signed her what she'd done.

If an author can be that unprofessional and just plain stupid in one aspect of her "business," I think it's only fair to let other of her business partners know how she works. It's not blackballing -- it's keeping the channels of communication open and clear. Truth is, as an agent you're much more likely to be in contact again with an editor, than with a former client. Who would you rather have on your good side?

I pick the one who buys stuff from me.

Anonymous said...

This all sounds pretty much like any decision to fire someone. I also take Kristin to mean that the firing itself -- either way -- should not come as a surprise. When it does, it casts doubt on the good faith of past interactions, since the ish was there festering, but concealed until the swoop fell.

Don't we all want to know how we're doing, since its's easier to steer from far in advance, than it is to screech to a surprise stop that might include a crash?


-c- said...

There are really no good reasons to keep an agent while you look for another.

They are not your "boss" and you are not looking for another job. They are your business partner.

You must wait out the 30-60-90 day clause before the new agent can touch you. What are you going to do--query an agent and then say...uh, by the way, you can't start until after Christmas?

What if this agent who you hate makes a sale for you while you're shopping around for another? You are stuck with her on that sale, forever.

And what if she is out busting her balls for you while you are looking? What terrible karma for you. What a pain for your new agent, who is having the waters muddied by the hour.

And what, exactly, will this potential new agent of yours think of you for going behind your old agent's back?

But let's say you have the agent from hell. She does nothing for you. She ignores you. She's a harlot. She lies and steals. It is not true that any agent is better than no agent. It is, in fact, better if you break it off than if you get dumped yourself.

I signed with a pretty good agent way back when who couldn't sell my first book (not her fault). Six months into my rewrite, I parted company with her. I did it because I couldn't stand her. I did it when I did it because neither of us had anything to lose. I did get another agent. I'm very glad I had the guts to leave, and that I left the way I did.

Dave Kuzminski said...

You have one extra slash on the end of Kristen's link.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Since the likelihood of me finding an agent is quite low, I guess I can say this and it won't matter if I'm blackballed:

Calling it "keeping the lines of communication open" does not lift what you did higher than the level of petty office gossip.

If it was unprofessional of your client to drop you as she did, it was equally unprofessional of you to return the favor.

Admittedly, there may be circumstances that you haven't conveyed, but if all is as you said, you were hurt, angry, tried to engage legal counsel, and it didn't work. The author left. You retaliated in the most petty way possible, tattling.

If I knew your name and was still interested in representation, you'd go on my short list of agents to avoid along with ... well two or three others, all "reputable" and all not the sort I wish to represent me.

And talk? Don’t you realize writers talk too? We do. We compare notes. Boorish agents get noted, though I'm unaware of any author trying to hurt the business relationships of an offending agent.

You make money off us. You treat us with disrespect. Perhaps it was this attitude that got you fired. In most businesses, certainly in mine, failing to treat even potential clients with respect is fatal. Some of you agents demand more respect from potential clients than you give. We notice. At least I notice.

It’s a complex business world where competence counts. Competence can be overridden by surly behavior. Others notice when we’re surly. Do you think the editor to whom you spoke didn’t? Don’t you think he wondered why the author left you and why you resorted to tattling? Perhaps he already knew and was wise enough not to comment.

Anonymous said...

Years and years ago, I asked my first agent for career advice. (I had just finished out a contract, and had several paths I could possibly take for my next project.)

Her response: just pick a project, and if it didn't work out, I could always have more kids/focus on family. (!!!!)

I asked her to please re-think her advice and I'd call back in a week. A week later, she said her opinion hadn't changed. I said I thought our views of how to approach my writing career were too different for us to keep working together. THEN I sent her a certified letter thanking her for her help on past projects and breaking the tie.

THEN I waited a few weeks (even though I didn't have a contract with this agent), and started querying other agents.

BTW--this particular agent was NOT a member of AAR. Live and learn.

My current agent is much more professional, a member of AAR, and is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Anonymous said...

So what do you do if an agent liked your work, sounded out publishers, suggested changes and then ignored you so you're left in limbo? There's no contract so legally, you're not a client. Would you just head back to the agent trawling or inform the blighter first?

Anonymous said...

sha'el: who are you addressing???

Jake said...

“There are really no good reasons to keep an agent while you look for another.”


No, there ARE reasons for that. You never know how long it's going to take to find a new agent, and the reason a writer seeks a new representation while staying with the current one is that like you said, you also never know what's going to happen to your book during your search for a new agent. And you don’t know either how things will go with your potential agent. There's a lot of uncertainty here. So why would you blame a writer when he does something for his benefit, that is, play the safe route. Agents always do whatever it takes to make money--they often dump writers or treat them like shit.

The Rejected Writer said...

sha'el has hit it on the head. Agents work for writers; not the other way around. In the best of circumstances, they work together, but that doesn't change the fact that without writers, agents have no job. Full stop.

Now, back to writing.

Nut said...

Good for you, anon (with new agent).

Serenity Now! said...

After just signing with an Agent in June, I am still LOVING HER... but the important thing is that early in our relationship we made sure to go over the clauses in the contract about how we would be able to EXIT the relationship properly.

Most people don't want to talk about that, they don't want to admit that they may one day want to leave...

-c- said...

Jake said: No, there ARE reasons for that. You never know how long it's going to take to find a new agent, and the reason a writer seeks a new representation while staying with the current one is that like you said, you also never know what's going to happen to your book during your search for a new agent.

By this, it seems like you are implying that a sale is all that matters, even if it is by an awful agent. But if an agent you hate can sell your book, so can an agent you love. And will the agent you hate make the right deal for you? Or just go after the money. How would you know? You don't like or trust the agent. And now you're stuck with her on this deal forever. And when your first book tanks and this awful agent ignores you, what then? Wouldn't it have been better to wait for someone who you really liked and trusted to help you create the career you wanted?

Jake said...


First of all I don’t hate or love an agent. It’s all business. Yes, a sale is all that matters. I’ll love any agent who can get me a book deal. I don’t care whether she’s a witch or not. I had agents telling me how talented I am but that’s meaningless if she can back it up with her sale. What matters is competence like someone said above. If my agent only goes for the money—her commissions, that’s great! It’ll make me get more money! I have been writing for years and years and I am currently unemployed and almost out of money, so show me the fucking money!!!

mark said...

Hey anon # 3: Just because you haven't signed anything, doesn't mean there's no contract. Contracts don't have to be written to be valid. All that's necessary in most contexts is a firm agreement of some kind where each party has made a specific promise to the other. If you have a verbal agreement with your agent, reneging on that agreement might count as breach of contract, depending on what the situation between you is. (And it certainly counts as poor form.)

I can't imagine it would be likely for the agent to actually sue you for breach of contract, even if the contract is in writing, unless she could prove she'd spent time and money plugging your book and was on the verge of a sale when you cut out. But the point remains: whether your agreement is in writing or not, you should honor your agreement.

The usual disclaimers apply: this is not a legal opinion, consult an attorney if you have a specific question, etc.

--M., a lawyer by day

Maria said...

Uh, "rejected" ...it might be pointed out that agents don't work "for" writers. It's a partnership.

Yes, agents do things on behalf of the writer; that is the job. But when writers or agents assign themselves as "boss" that is going to be the start of moving a relationship downhill.

It's very easy to believe as writers that we are the talent, it is our work and we should rule the roost. The truth is, like anything else, we don't succeed all on our own.

Just like the agent has nothing without a book...well, a lot of us are sitting around without a foot in the door because we don't have an agent.

Whether we like it or not, there is more to getting a book out there than just writing it. Publishers take on financial risk to get the book out there. The agents, love'm or hate'm, may be your first set of "edits." They are in partnership to help sell your book. They know things about the business that you don't. They may be the reason you make money on a book vs give up all your rights for diddly.

If I have learned nothing else from this blog it is what agents do. I have also learned how they view their talents and what they bring to the table.

They aren't all perfect, but then, neither are the writers. Whether we like it or not, in this system, we need each other. That's why it's a partnership.

Malia said...

Just putting my .02 cents even, even though MS will more than likely sic Killer Yap after me or shoot me with the clue gun ---

I believe that every individual has different circumstances. If handled in a professional above-board manner, the process of changing agents can work under any scenario. Do what's best for you. Use professional behavior. Never lie.

word ver: nrkryav == nitwit after a few gin pails

Annie Dean said...

Part of the problem is that authors don't always know what to expect from agents. Obviously, they work with you to sell your material, but beyond that, there's a gray area.

Are long silences okay? Maybe we should definite "long". Does that mean three weeks or three months? Does it mean your agent is cooling off on you? Writers become nervous. We're like cats sometimes; if you're not petting us right now, then you're of no use.

The fact is, it depends on your agent. Some are very close with clients and they like to get personal updates, be chatty and personal. Others are strictly business; they get in touch when they need something or when they have news.

It's best if you know your personality type (and how the agent relates to clients) before you sign with someone, so you don't wind up unhappy with the match. Most of us want someone whose honest, enthusiastic about our work and well-connected in the industry. Beyond that, it's a little like being a newlywed and learning each other's habits with cautious optimism.

Carrie said...

Agents working FOR writers? No, my friend, this is a partnership. And if you think it is okay to have no relationship with this person (beyond the almighty buck), good luck to you.

I'm in the beginning of my query process. I'm following all directions for submitting work, and hoping that I find an agent that I will work with for the long haul. Ego has no place here. No agent = no sale.

desert snarkling said...

the reason a writer seeks a new representation while staying with the current one is that like you said, you also never know what's going to happen to your book during your search for a new agent

Well, if you think your old agent has a good chance of selling your book, you wouldn't be looking at leaving anyway.

Unless there are other things about the relationship making you uneasy--in which case you don't want your old agent to sell your book, because then you'll be stuck working together, whether you want to or not, for that book's life with that publisher, even if you leave for the next book. Better to sever ties now, and find someone with whom you work better, and who works better with you.

-c- said...

Jake - Gotcha. That's not me. We just have different opinions.

But about the money...I hear the standard advance is still $7500.

Anonymous said...

shael and jake - bingo! you both walk in the real world. thanks for your comments.

w. starks

golfpoor said...

I, too, thought if you were working with an agent without a contract, there was nothing that said you had to formally end the relationship. I hadn't talked to my agent in eight months, since she'd said something like, 'I usually don't stick with authors as long as I have with you...'
I sent her a revision in January, still haven't heard, and so today I sent her The Letter. Hated to, because we worked together well, but she became disillusioned with rejections. I got the feeling she didn't have a lot of connections in the biz, so she sent my manuscripts to one or two publishers, which I could name, but won't. If I asked if she sent to say, Dell, she'd say 'I don't know anyone there.' She wasn't AAR, or very well-known, ie, known on the web or in the trades.
Feels kinda funny being agentless, but I needed to move on.

golfpoor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ktbuffy said...

Maybe I shouldn't comment first thing in the morning before I've had my caffeine!

That aside, Sha'el, yes there were circumstances involved that I did not convey, nor do I intend to. All that aside, what I was trying to put across was my belief, as Miss Snark has said, that the truly professional thing to do in a business relationship is, in fact, to behave like a professional; in this case, by notifying one's agent according to the terms of the legal contract for representation that the author was unhappy and wished to go elsewhere BEFORE signing with another agent. In which case I like to believe I would have wished her the best and been delighted with her future success.

As it was, I was not given the chance to be gracious. I had been speaking of the author and her works with other editors, believing she was still my client to promote, and was quite unpleasantly surprised to find out via the good ole internet that she had sold a book elsewhere that we'd spoken about. I may have behaved rashly, but I believe I did the right thing in notifying her editor.

Anonymous said...

"The Rejected Writer said...
sha'el has hit it on the head. Agents work for writers; not the other way around. In the best of circumstances, they work together, but that doesn't change the fact that without writers, agents have no job. Full stop."

Agents would work FOR writers if writers actually paid the tab...you know, like buyers' agents in real estate. Forget the rules and make your own: pay your dream agent for his services by the hour out of your pocket. How much enthusiasm would you rack up for some demanding whiner you probably shouldn't have taken on in the first place?

We writers want it all ways: we want the perfect agent with great hookups, who adores our work, works contstantly on our stuff for free, and who has no one above us on his list;
we want to run the show;
we want a great book deal; and
we want our egos to be stroked.

All that will happen if your book sells and hits the NYT list.

Until then, you are just a wannabe, who likes the idea of being able to say he has an agent, and having an agent to boss around and blame for his book not selling.

Get over yourself.

Recognize that your agent is your partner and your best booster in your efforts, and without that agent you're just another box in the slush-pile.

Anonymous said...

Yes! But even with upfront discussions, it can be hard to tell how "friendly" the relationship will be until you're in it. I'm getting a sinking feeling I may be with the wrong agent for me. Kind of hard to tell when she won't call me back...

spongey437 said...

"Look at the contract you have with your agent. There's a clause in there that says "30 day notice by either party". That's how."

The problem I have with this is that if an agent decides he is going to cut you loose he then tells you that he is giving his "30 day notice". But by all rights, he will stop trying to sell the book for those 30 days and thus his 30 days notice is really 0 days. While you have to wait having basically no representation for those days.

Then, if you decide to leave and give your "30 days" notice, one of two things I see happening.

1. The agent wants to keep you and really tries to sell the book in those 30 days in hopes of making his commission off you.

2. He completely stops trying and again he is done while you have to wait with no representation for 30 days.

Seems that the author gets the short end of the stick on these deals in either case.

Anonymous said...

KTBuffy, bottom line your former client jumped ship and got her book sold. Good for her. You responded by smearing her with her editor. That editor prolly figures you're vindictive and petty, babe. Congrats.

Annie Dean said...

Kind of hard to tell when she won't call me back...


I love my agent (in a purely professional sense). She's smart; she knows the business, and she's enthusiastic about my work. Whenever I get an e-mail from her, I feel like it's Christmas because she uses sexy words like "auction" and "pre-empt".

However, I've never called her up. We teleconference at her request to discuss things, but I leave it up to her. If I have questions, I send an e-mail she can respond to at her convenience (although to her credit it's always the same day). Today it took about 50 minutes.

Before today, it had been about three weeks since we communicated, but I knew she was working up a submission list for my current project, and I was busy writing. For me, this is perfect. I feel like we're getting the job done.

Maybe something like this will work for you? Try not to be anxious. You write; let your agent do her job. She likes your stuff or she wouldn't have signed you. Don't shoot yourself in the foot over wedding-night jitters.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear KTBuffy,

I would have been distressed to learn of my discharge via the Internet.

I'm certain I wouldn't have discussed the matter with her editor unless the editor broached the subject first. Even if the editor asked questions, I would have been as circumspect as possible.

Why? It seems unwise to me to share in the sins of others. You're not responsible for her bad behavior, nor are you responsible for the business relationship she has with her publisher. Putting yourself between them in anyway cannot help but hurt you.

I'm certain that antiquarian booksellers don't confront many of the problems agents do. At a certain level there is some considerable competition. It hurts to be ill treated by a long-time client. There is unfairness in every business. Booksellers aren't exempt. I can tell you we're not.

But, we aren't our clients' parent. We aren't there to regulate their conduct, ethics, or good sense. It seems wrong to do so. Who's responsible here? Let the one responsible for the conduct carry the burden of it.

About two millennia ago, a teacher whom I admire suggested that while we can carry the burdens of others, each should carry their own load of responsibility. If this precept is good, then it is unwise to assume the responsibility of others -- even if they irritated the devil out of us by their stupid and unethical conduct.

Calling discussing the matter with her editor “rash” is probably an understatement. People hate it when they feel we’re taking on their life-responsibilities. Few, I think, articulate the cause of their discomfort, but on some level they’re thinking, “Hey, you’re not my mommy!”

Anonymous said...

I hate to compare this to intimate relationships, but the fact is that many potential partners view one as being more desirable if you are already involved with someone else.

When you have an agent, especially an agent who is known in the industry, you are treated with a certain amount of respect. Not much, of course; but vastly more respect than you receive when you are both unagented and unpublished.

Does everyone wait until their divorce is final before dating again?

Okay, you say, this is a BUSINESS relationship, and that's different. Fine. Do most people quit their jobs and wait until they are unemployed to start looking for another job?

It is standard form to look for another job before giving notice.

Oh, sorry. I forgot. The agent-unpublished writer relationship is a partnership, right? And Poland is one of our equal allies in the Iraq war, too, right?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark

The agent in question sounded out publisher friends informally on the basis of my partial. Requested the full, liked it, we met up and he asked for some changes. Then zilch. He ignored a call and an email. At no time did he actually say he would represent me. It's been 8 months. Wouldn't anyone take that as a 'thanks but no thanks'?

Anonymous said...

I've ended relationships with four different agents (and I know that sounds bad, but I've been in the biz a very long time, and two of those agents I had for ten years each). In each case, there was a 30-day clause like we've been discussing. In each case I called first and discussed the matter with the agent, then sent a formal letter.

In each case, the agent agreed to immediately withdraw the projects he/she had out with publishers. In one case, the agent was hopeful of a sale and asked to retain the rights on that one book with that one publisher for an extra couple of weeks, to see if he could get an offer. (And rather than start over with that slow publisher, i agreed.)

This process of withdrawing isn't always quick, sometimes because the publishers are slow to respond. That's what the thirty days are for--to clean up loose ends. If there aren't any loose ends, you don't have to worry too much about the thirty days. Go forth.

And if there's been no agreement of representation, verbal or otherwise, and the agent isn't reponding to you, you certainly don't owe them anything. Move on!!!

Anonymous said...

annie - like what you had to say as well...

w. starks

jdgzf said...

Seems to me that ktbuffy is referring to a client who did not notify her, ever, that she was leaving.
Instead the author--kt's client, had sent kt--her agent, the ms in question, on which kt had begun to work (as in, per contact).

In the meantime, the author had also gotten a new agent.
Yanno(tm) queried, sent partials, sent ms, gotten accepted, contracts sent and signed -- the whole song and dance.
And that new agent had then sent the ms around, and gotten it accepted.
Seems to me all this takes quite a while.

Therefore, logically, this isn't someone who was just worried about being unagented, briefly, while changing partners.
Instead, this is someone who was quite illegally double-agented for a long time.

(Hey -- if one agent takes X months to sell your ms, how long will two agents take? X/2?
How about three agents? X/3?
Hell, these agents have got nothing better to do with their time anyway, right?)

This is what contacts are about.
Therefore, it is definitely, and approriately, lawyer time.
Further, if I worked with an editor, and I knew an author had behaved this badly, yes, I would warn them.
People who ignore things like signed contacts don't tend to only do it once.
If I were the editor I would want to be warned about this person..
In fact, I'd be pretty steamed to find out kt knew the author was a sleaze, and knew I'd signed her, but neglected to warn me.

M. Cody said...

In defense of ktbuffy and of agents in general - let's remember that when an agent acts in an unprofessional manner, the author can report them to a wide variety of websites - an agent blacklisting, if you will.

If an agent is screwed over by her author, what recourse does she have but to inform her editors? After all, those editors are going to make certain assumptions when they see an author has sold a book elsewhere. It's only fair that the agent have the right to defend her side of the story, as it were.

There is no "Agent Beware of the following Authors!" website that I know of. Perhaps there should be . . .

And this is coming from a struggling writer. Checks and balances, after all.

countessolenska said...

Nah. If an author has a verbal contract with her agent, she has zero obligation to give 30 days notice. (Same goes if she has a written contract that doesn't specify a notification period, but that would be unusual.)

That said, the justification for requiring notice is to allow the agent to tie up loose ends -- finish negotiations, follow through on submissions -- and prepare a list of the folks to whom she's submitted your manuscript, if one is being shopped around.

If nothing's being shopped, no offers are on the table, foreign and other subsidiary rights are all sold up (lucky you), notice is a meaningless concept. But if your contract says you must give it, you must give it.