Monday, June 20, 2016

Parting Ways with an Agent

Signing with a literary agent is one of the many exciting steps a writer can take toward publication. Unfortunately, the truth remains that some writers will eventually part ways with their agent, whether for good or for not-so-good reasons. Often, this isn't a process we talk about, so despite the fact that a good many writers experience it, we end up feeling quite alone in the experience. Below, we've compiled quotes from writers who've had to part ways with their agents, in the hopes that you find some solace in the advice and encouragement if you are going through this (though we sincerely hope you find the most perfect of perfectest of agents the first time around!).

While collecting quotes, it was interesting to note that there are some common themes throughout. Even if you are unagented, we absolutely encourage you to read through each of these. There is some wonderful advice in here about what to ask agents before you sign with them.

"It took me so long to get an agent the first time (5 manuscripts!) that for a long time I tried to ignore my mounting feelings that it was time to move on. I was terrified that the first agent was the ONLY person in publishing who would ever connect with my work. But when I finally realized I had to - for a combination of reasons, including communication issues, editorial feedback that didn't resonate, and multiple manuscripts not selling - it was such a relief to move forward and be proactive again. I was fortunate enough to get a new agent within a couple weeks of querying. Not everyone is so lucky. But I encourage people who are miserable with their agents to think about whether they're better off staying in a miserable situation or taking the leap and perhaps being without an agent for a while."

"You never know what an agent-writer relationship is like until you’ve gone through it. My relationship with my previous agent worked until it didn’t. I left my agent because I knew what was in my heart: that I was no longer a priority. It was the only way I could finish the WIP I had stalled on. Leaving took courage. I didn’t know if I could get another agent again and how long it would take. The self-doubt was crippling and the second time in the query trenches felt worse, but in reality, it was a better request rate, etc.  My advice to a writer thinking about leaving their agent is to go with your gut and be professional."

"I parted ways with my agent because, time and time again, she was not enthusiastic about anything I wrote after that first manuscript. It was terribly disheartening, and it went on for years. S/he would not submit a manuscript s/he didn't like, which meant my career came to a halt for 18 months. By the end, I felt like I was writing to please him/her rather than myself--and still s/he didn't like it! After finally parting and adding the revisions I wanted to my manuscript, I received a huge amount of interest when I queried and was fortunate enough to, again, have a lot of options. This time around I signed with the agent who I felt was not necessarily the best match for my one project, but the best match for me as an author."

"Leaving my agent was both terrifying and empowering, scary and freeing. After more than a year of working with this person to take my books to that next level, I was going back to square one: once again in the query trenches, asking more agents to take a chance on me and my books. I was told it's easier your second time around, but even with that introduction--"I'm looking for new representation after amicably parting ways with my first agent"--I got a mixed reaction from agents. It's not a guaranteed request, because in the end it's up to your book to grab an agent's attention. I know that without my critique partners and close writer friends at my back every step of the way, I would likely never have been brave enough to start over and try again."

"The best advice I've ever received on working with an agent is that the agent should make writing easier for you, not harder. It took me a long time to come to terms (2 manuscripts and 1 1/2 years) with the fact that my agent was perhaps not the "perfect" agent for me. Parting ways was a difficult, but ultimately very healthy decision. We parted very mutually, with the understanding that the writing I was producing was very different from what I had been offered representation for. It was time for me to find an agent that had the same vision for my writing career that I did."

“I left my last agent after I had been with them for about nine months and had been on submission with one book. It was basically friendly, and I'd tell anyone wanting to query this agent that they would be great for authors with slightly different career goals, but we weren't on the same page. Ultimately, it's hard to tell how you're going to work together in the long term, based only on email and maybe a phone call or two (although I do think there were questions I should have asked and didn't, I was so glad to have the offer).

My first indication that things weren't going the way I hoped came when we were on sub. We had very different ideas about which publishers to submit to (namely, whether to include digital imprints and very small presses on the first round) and, while my agent agreed to only submit to the publishers I was enthusiastic about, I later found out they had submitted to publishers I had specifically asked them to wait on.

I definitely wouldn't recommend parting ways with an agent who is enthusiastic about your career just because your first book doesn't sell, but in my case, when that first book didn't sell, I didn't get the vibe that my agent was excited about the next book. They wanted to keep subbing the same book, where I was ready to shelve it and focus on my recently-completed book 2. Both are legit strategies, but what it came down to was that we didn't agree.

When I started feeling like my second book wasn't going to be given a lot of love, I initially gave myself a week to think about it. If I still felt that way at the end of the week, I would terminate the contract. I ended up only waiting about four days, though, because the thought of QUERYING, of all things, made me excited about my career in a way I hadn't been in a very long time. If the thought of being in the query trenches actually makes you happy, it's probably a good sign your relationship with your agent isn't working.

Parting ways itself was extremely painless. My former agent was professional about it and responded to my request quickly. I spent the next few weeks polishing up Book 2, and jumped back into querying with a much better idea of what I was looking for this time around. In the end, I ended up with multiple offers from some amazing agents, and a very hard--but exciting--choice to make!

If you're thinking about leaving your agent, the best advice I can give you is to trust your gut. Does talking to your agent about your career leave you feeling enthusiastic and reassured, or stressed and frustrated? If you have friends who are with different agents, how do you feel when you talk to them? Do you feel that your agent is doing as much (if not necessarily in all the same ways) for you? How do you feel when you imagine being represented by someone else? Being back in the trenches? Being unagented for awhile? For me, at least, the answers were pretty easy once I decided to listen to my heart.  Again, if a prospective client were to ask me about my former agent, I would have a lot of GOOD things to say as well. But it ultimately wasn't a good fit, and I'm glad that I took that leap, and eventually found an agent who is more in tune with my career goals.”

A few pieces of advice for querying writers: ask how the agent anticipates going on submission (print deals vs digital-first or digital-only; which publishers you'll sub to and for how many rounds), have the agent tell you specifically what they liked about your book and discuss revision ideas (how they respond to what they liked about your book might give you an idea for it they will like your writing voice across multiple books), tell them about other book ideas you have and see if they are interested, and ask who else in the agency will be involved (will there be interns or assistants who will read your work? other agents who will act as support and advisers?. The answers to these questions and your comfort level with them will vary writer to writer, and that's okay, but it's still a good idea to ask!

"I've left two agents since 2014. Both times, I had a gut-deep feeling that it was what I needed to do. Querying after leaving the first agent helped me find the second one pretty quickly, but it also caused me to rush my decision and choose wrong again. My takeaways were this: don't choose an agent for star power, and don't choose one just because you like him/her as a person. It's a business relationship, so choose the person whose vision for your work aligns most closely with yours, and who doesn't mind telling you what the plan is to sell your book(s). Communication is of supreme importance."

"While my former agent was as sweet as pie and checked all the boxes for enthusiasm, we weren't the best match professionally. My biggest concern was communications. In my corporate life, I work for a handful of clients. It's expected that I respond to communications same day. With agents, their "handful of clients" is quite larger, so responses may take longer, but my former agent once required three nudges, across a total of 8 weeks to respond to a pertinent email. I had a situation similar to this multiple times. We discussed the situations on the phone, but, unfortunately, her communication skills didn't improve. Another concern I had was her tenacity as an agent. She's was my avenue to an editor/elusive book deal, but she didn't have the drive I was hoping for, an example being our submission period of close to a year with only responses from a third of the editors she pitched. I personally didn't want her to simply knock on doors, I wanted her to knock them down. With a new manuscript, I made the scary decision to find an agent better suited for my career goals, and I'm truly blessed to have found my current agent. In just over a year of being together, she's secured me 3 book deals with 2 major houses, along with a TV option." 

“It probably took me longer to part with my agent than it should have, as I had a niggling feeling for quite sometime that things weren't quite working. I adored my agent as a person, but the business side of things just wasn't working. It was one of the hardest things to do (and scary!), but I owed it to myself to try and get my career on a more even keel. When I left, I had the prerequisite terror about entering the query trenches. At the time, I went through some hefty personal issues, so I put a query or two out, then stopped to deal with life stuff. Several months passed before I sent another few queries out and I ended up with 3 offers. However, it was perhaps one of the most anxious periods of being a writer. Giving up a sure thing for the unknown. But I absolutely recommend it to writers who just don't feel that their author/agent relationship is working. Be brave.”

"I knew I wanted to part ways with my first agent a year before I did. She was uncommunicative and ineffective, and terse and snarky when I did manage to get a hold of her. But I hesitated for so long because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find someone else who'd want to represent me. But I shouldn't have been scared. I shouldn't have waited. I found a new agent two months later. The fact is, by having that first agent, you've already been vetted. Yeah, technically you can include "seeking new representation" in your query's subject line, but I didn't in my new query. If your writing got you one agent, your writing will get you another. So don't let fear hold you back from biting the bullet. Having no agent is far better than having an agent who's stagnating your career. Even if the worst happens — even you don't find a new agent — any option is better than an agent who ignores you or doesn't prioritize your work. Remember, self-publishing is not just a fallback option these days. You are your own biggest advocate. Above all else, it's up to you to figure out how to connect with an audience. And just because publishing is slow as molasses doesn't mean you have to be. Don't let fear slow you down."

Other helpful resources:
On Parting Ways with Literary Agents 

*If you've parted ways with an agent and are interested in adding a professional, anonymous quote of your own, please feel free to contact us!*

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