Firing Your Agent


In every author's career there could be a time when you're not on your agent's front burner. Let's hope that this occurs right after he or she has just landed you a fat contract--when there's no need to be in touch so regularly. New writers who've just been taken on by an agent are often unrealistic about expecting to hear from him every week. But agents do have other clients, after all. Here's how you can tell if you've truly been forgotten:

Don't Call Me, I'll Call You...

There are many legitimate reasons why an agent can't talk to you or write back to you the same day you get in touch, but if she's always "out of the office" or on another call, that's reason to worry.

The Black Hole

Are you in the dark about your agent's marketing strategy for you? Do you know where your work is being submitted? Does she send you rejection letters or let you know what the editors are saying in case you should decide to revise your book based on their opinions (if they all have the same objections)? Or do you have no idea what your agent is doing?

Waning Enthusiasm

Your agent may have been enthusiastic about your book or proposal initially, but after three or four rejections she suddenly starts saying it's a "hard sell." Translation: she expected a quick sale to a particular party but is otherwise not interested in spending much time marketing the work; she has bigger fish to fry. Don't expect her to put much energy into your project.

Throw It Against the Wall and See What Sticks

This is often a result of waning enthusiasm. Your agent submits your book to markets that seem comparatively inappropriate, even desperate. She may even say, "They may not go for this, but..." She's just doing busy work, covering the bases on the off chance that she'll make a sale, but the passion is gone and you're the loser.

The Blind Leading the Blind

When you do manage to get a hold of your agent, does she give you a sense that she knows who you really are and what you want out of your career? Does she sound decisive about what she can do for you and offer solid advice? Or does she give you the same old empty apologies, promises, and platitudes?

The "What About Me?" Syndrome

Does your agent have clients writing in the same genre as you? Is their work being sold to major markets that seem off-limits to you? An agent has to think of her career, too, of course, which is why she may put forth other clients she feels can command higher advances or may have better break-out possibilities than you do. Still, if your agent isn't doing everything to put you forward, do you really want that agent?

Major Chaos/General Disorder

Are these your agent's nicknames? Are editors calling you asking for the signed contracts they delivered to your agent over a month ago and which you have yet to receive? Has she tried to sell film rights to a book whose rights are controlled by the publisher? Have you asked for the return of illustrations or other materials only to be told they're "lost in the files?" This person is too disorganized to be an effective agent.

Zero Clout

Are there disturbing signs that your agent isn't taken too seriously by editors? When she submits your manuscript, does it wind up in the slush pile or in the hands of the "first reader?" That's not supposed to happen with an agent. Does she have enough experience, enough dynamism, enough confidence, and enough clout? She doesn't have to be a super-agent to be respected, but respected she must be. Professional writers have all run across the above "symptoms" at one time or another. The agents were all with top, well-established literary agencies. Imagine what it would be like with one of those fee-charging, amateurs who operate outside New York or Los Angeles and is simply not for real. Anyone can hang up a shingle and call himself an agent. They are definitely to be avoided. But even a "good" agent can be "bad" for you. If you're serious about your career, spend as much time finding the right agent as you would a spouse.


Knowing when to fire your agent is the first step. How to do so politely and painlessly is another question. Here are some tips to follow:

  1. If you have a written contract, follow its conditions to the letter.


  2. If you don't have a contract, write a brief, businesslike letter to your agent including the following points:


    • You wish to stop being the agent's client because you feel the relationship is no longer beneficial to you.
    • You ask the agent to stop making submissions of your work.
    • The agent will continue to represent you on any submissions that are still active for a period of 60 days.
    • Request a list of all organizations and people who have rejected any of your unsold work or are still considering any of your work. Ask to be informed of any rejections or offers that come as a result of these submissions.
    • For work already published, the agent will continue to receive royalties on your behalf and forward statements and your share to you within 30 days of receipt.
    • If you choose, you can ask for the return of any manuscripts in your agent's possession.


  3. After you have terminated your relationship with your agent (and not before) you can start looking for a new agent or submit your work yourself.


  4. Do not feel guilty. Authors change agents regularly. If you were experiencing many of the symptoms mentioned in the accompanying article, your agent was probably aware of the problems, too.


  5. Do not be afraid to go it alone. Having no agent is better than having the wrong agent.

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