Last week, we discussed some signs it might be time to seek out new literary representation. It may be impossible to end your relationship with your current agent without ruffling at least a few feathers, but there are steps you can take to ensure your exit is as smooth as possible.
Give your agent a chance to make things right
Your agent may not be aware that there’s a problem; think about giving him or her a chance to rectify the situation before you decide to seek out new representation. Set up a time to talk, or send an email with your concerns. It’s best to be as specific as possible—for example, “I’m concerned that you’re no longer enthusiastic about my work,” or “I’m frustrated by our lack of communication.” Try to keep your language neutral, even if your feelings aren’t; it will be hard for your agent to address your concerns if he or she is immediately on the defensive.
Know your contract
If your agent doesn’t seem willing or able to make the changes you need, it’s probably time to part ways. Different agents use different contracts—be sure you know what your terms are. Thirty days’ termination notice is fairly standard in the industry, but other agents may require more time. You’ll want to provide written notice that you’re terminating the relationship—if your agent seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, use delivery confirmation or certified mail so that you have a record. If your agent has any work of yours on submission, you’ll want to ask him or her to pull it.
Keep it professional
You may have realized your agent just isn’t the best fit for your work—or you may have figured out you’ve signed a contract with Lucifer himself! While most agents are consummate professionals, there are always bad apples in a bunch. The important thing is to keep your cool—even if your agent won’t. No matter what happens, keeping your act classy is always the smartest move. If you’re especially frustrated, take some time to cool off—and think twice before you hit “send”! Remember, publishing is a tiny fishbowl, and word travels fast. A reputation for professional behavior will work wonders in your favor.
Wait before you query again
It’s tempting to want to get your work back out there as soon as possible, but it’s best to wait until your relationship with your current agent has officially ended before you start to query again. Agents may be put off by a potential client who’s shopping his or her work around while still technically represented by one of their colleagues. Once you’ve made a clean break, it’s fine to query again. Agents understand that a writer may work with more than one agent over the course of his or her career, and it’s fine to be upfront (“I recently parted ways with my former agent” is a great way to deal with this in your query letter). If your previous agent sent a book out that you’ll be querying again, be sure you have a list of the editors who’ve already seen your work—your new agent will want that information.
Vent to your friends—not to your public
You may have just ended a relationship with the worst agent in the world—but think twice before letting off steam in a public forum. Tweets or blog posts probably aren’t the best places to deal with your frustration, as tempting as it may be to let the world know how you’re feeling. Other agents may not be comfortable working with someone who appears unprofessional in how he or she handles conflict. Likewise, keep your frustrations out of your query letter, and try not to bring them up when you’re talking to new agents.
Hang in there!
Firing your agent and finding a new one can be a stressful process. But remember, this is your career—and you deserve an agent who will be the best possible advocate for your work.