When It’s Time to Fire Your Agent, Part 1

Written by on July 7, 2011 in Books & Self-Publishing, Writing Tips - Leave a Comment

You’ve finally perfected your pitch and nabbed a literary agent for your writing project. But you’re starting to have a sneaking feeling your agent may not be the right fit for you. What now? Firing your agent can be a difficult—and terrifying—decision. But an agent who’s not working for you can be worse than no agent at all. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re deciding whether it’s time to move on.

Please note I’m not talking about agents whose actions are outright illegal or unethical. If you’re concerned you may have signed up with a scam agency, check out Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Both sites offer resources for writers who have been defrauded.

1. Do I have an open channel of communication with my agent?

Different agents have different communication styles—some agents will check in with you regularly, and others won’t be in contact unless you’re working on a project at the moment. What’s important is that your agent is clear about his or her communication style. Your agent, like any businessperson, should respond to your emails in a timely manner and keep you apprised of any important developments. If your agent is consistently not responding to you, there may be a larger issue that needs addressing.

2. Is my agent open about the submission process for my book?

Your agent should be especially communicative with you when you have a project on submission. Your agent should discuss with you how you’ll handle the submission process—for example, will he or she forward rejections from editors directly to you? Let you know every time he or she sends your manuscript out to another round of editors? Again, different agents work very differently, but your agent should always be clear with you about the status of your manuscript.

3. Does my agent have a submission plan?

Your agent should have a clear plan for your project, and a solid list of editors who may be a good fit. There’s no “standard” submission process—some books will sell over a weekend, and others may take a year. Some books may only be suitable for a small number of publishers—for example, if you’ve written a technical how-to manual or a collection of  experimental short stories. If that’s the case, your agent should let you know that your book will only be going to a few editors. Otherwise, your agent should be sending your book out to as broad a list of editors as possible—which isn’t to say that he or she should be submitting your book at random! While your agent may not have personal relationships with every editor who ends up with your project, he or she should be submitting to editors who have worked on similar books or are interested in the subject you’re writing about. Your agent should provide you with a list of the editors who have your book, if you’d like to know.

4. Do I have a bad feeling?

It’s always a good idea to pay attention to your instincts. Publishing can be a confusing business, to say the least, and it’s easy for writers to get overwhelmed. Your agent doesn’t need to be your friend, but he or she does need to be your advocate. You may feel as though your agent isn’t that interested in your work, doesn’t share your ideas about where your career is headed, or just doesn’t quite mesh with the way you work. You may have an incompatible communication style, or your agent may want you to focus on a type of project you’re no longer interested in writing. It’s not at all uncommon for writers to work with a number of different agents throughout their careers, and it’s important to remember that you don’t need to keep working with an agent who’s not a good fit for you.

Is it time for you to move on? In my next post, I’ll discuss how to fire your agent gracefully.

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