Pub Rants

When the Agent Says Good-bye

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STATUS: It’s Friday and I’m off to the family reunion fish fry.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? No music at the moment

So today’s entry is short and sweet.

I promised to reveal some tips and thoughts from our Agent Cartel panel at RWA. Well, yesterday’s entry was one of them—it just so happened that I had the event happen to me recently.

As for the reverse, I’ve actually never fired a client. When I take someone on, it’s with the idea that I’ll get a chance to rep them for their whole career. Now, that doesn’t always happen.

A client might decide to move in a different direction (like become a thriller writer) and I would be a terrible agent for him or her. In the first year of my agency, I was handling some self-help, sports, and history nonfiction. As the agency grew, I realized that my passion was truly with fiction and decided to stop pursuing those kinds of projects (unless for current clients who mainly write fiction). Jennifer O’Connell obviously comes to mind because I did sell a chick lit divorce book for her and was happy to do so but it is unlikely that I would have taken on a new client with that type of project.

And I still rep my history writer as well but chances are good he may in the future want an agent who specializes more in that field and if that’s the case, I’ll do my best to hook him up.

I’ve also had a client stop writing altogether and disappear without leaving any forwarding information. I have no idea how to contact the person. And after 2 or 3 years, even though there wasn’t a formal certified letter sent, I’ll assume that our relationship has terminated.

But agents also say goodbye and from the stories on the comment threads, it sounds like they haven’t handled it any better. Sounds like we all could use a new goodbye paradigm.

13 Responses

  1. Michele Lee said:

    For those of us who don’t yet have an agent what should we expect from then? Is an email touching bases once a month unreasonable? Even if it only says “No bites yet”? Perhaps we have different ideas of what it professional behavior and how long things take. I always assumed submission would go faster via an agent. So if I give 6 months to a year for a queried agent to read a full mss should I give that much for the editors an agent sent the mss to to read as well?

  2. Annie Dean said:

    I think writers tend to be an anxious, worried lot, as a whole, and I am no exception, although I’ve gotten pretty good at turning off my fret tendency.

    Generally speaking, your agent will contact you when (s)he need something from you: revisions, a press piece, new bio, a photo. (S)he will also contact you when (s)he has something to discuss, good or bad.

    Beyond that, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about how often you should talk, as far as I’m aware. I would recommend resisting the urge to send random e-mails: “Hi, just checking in” all the time. You don’t want to become a pain in the ass high maintenance author that your agent wants to avoid. I would apply the rule of contact in reverse: e-mail your agent when you need something or when you have news that relates to your writing career. E-mail him/her because you won a prestigious writing competition, not because your favorite gum tree was attacked by parasites.

  3. robin said:

    There must be a story there with the long lost writer. Was he/she abducted by aliens? Lost in the jungle? Devoured by her own Siamese cats? Did he get hit on the head, develop amnesia, and get a new job with an advertising agency?

  4. Anonymous said:

    You must be really good about choosing clients if you’ve never opted to part ways with one. In Herman’s book (at least the last one I saw, circa 2001), there was a question posed about “the client from hell.” Agents were asked to define same. They were all a bit different, but basically said the same things.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Hmm, the client from hell? How does this work? Does a client stop writing altogether, or miss deadlines? What is bad author behavior?
    What are a client’s responsibilities to an agent as you see it? What happens if the client doesn’t carry her weight? Do you expect them to keep in touch?
    What happens if you can’t sell a book? If an author doesn’t give you another book, you keep them on your list?
    I find it curious that an author can fire an agent for being noncommunicative, but an agent would just keep someone on their roster once they take them on forever. Am I reading this correctly?

  6. WitLiz Today said:

    Listen, it’s easy to fire a bad agent or a bad client. That happens often, and you can say au revoir in a bathtub of shit and not feel badly about it.

    What’s not so easy, is when the relationship has been good and goes sour, or expectations change between agent and client, or boundaries change for whatever reason.

    In this case, the benefit of the doubt, has to go to the agent. That means its incumbent upon the client to make sure the relationship ends without acrimony, that the agent is left feeling they did the best they could, and if it has to end, the client takes the agent out for one helluva night at the Blitz Hotel Bar and Restaurant.

    And no, I’m not an agent, or a client. I simply try to follow the rules for decent human behavior.

    Btw, for those of you that think the agent is your employee, think again. Walk a mile in their shoes, and you will have a vastly different perspective on it. So the word “fired” is inappropriate. Going separate ways might be a better way to put it. Make sure when you separate you’re blitzed as hell and holding hands.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Witliz said

    “Btw, for those of you that think the agent is your employee, think again. Walk a mile in their shoes, and you will have a vastly different perspective on it. So the word “fired” is inappropriate. Going separate ways might be a better way to put it.”

    Excellent point. Everyone talks about “firing” and how the agent is supposed to work for them. Baloney. It’s a partnership, not an employee/employer relationship. The agent takes on a writer, usually before they’ve proven themselves to be anything more than a hopeful future. The agent works like crazy, for NO money mind you, all on faith in the future of the writer. Taking a chance that their faith and judgment in the writer will pay off and they’ll make their 15%.

    Some advances are pretty stingy. I’ve heard $1000. for a first book. So that’s what? $150. for how many hours of work?

    When you have to say goodbye it should be on good terms. The writer owes the agent more than they can repay because it’s intangible. That agent had faith in the writer before anyone else. Enough to put their money where their mouth is, and how many people or businesses can you say that about?

  8. lizzie26 said:

    This whole client/agent thing is definitely not a marriage. It’s an affair. Or two college roomies who decide to rent a place together after graduation.

    It takes two to make things work. If it doesn’t, well, one person has to take the initiative. In that case, it should be in person or by phone call, no matter how hard that is.

  9. Nicholas Borelli said:

    My agent said “goodbye” after a year and a half. He loved the book but could not place it. I had two more novels completed at the time as part of a series. He wouldn’t try to pitch any of the others or all three as a series. Now I have four books completed in the de’Conti series and a fifth will be done by year’s end.

    Don’t publishers want authors who are not one book wonders?


    Nick Borelli

  10. Ally Carter said:

    Let’s not forget, too, that once an agent sells a project for you she is always your agent for that project. She’ll be getting your royalty statements and checks and all that jazz. Once an agent has sold you you’ll be tied to them in some way forever, so it’s important to choose wisely when you’re starting out–don’t sign with someone just because they’ll have you.


  11. Anonymous said:

    This is actually kind-of funny… I think I am probably the one who stopped writing altogether and vanished without forwarding information!

    Kristin, I just checked into your Web site to communicate with you about that… I know it’s years later… and I don’t live on the continent anymore… glad it could be a blog anecdote at least!


  12. Anonymous said:

    For Michele Lee,

    When I signed with my agent, she agreed to forward me copies of the editor’s replies. There’s been no need for me to “touch base” with her.

    I know agented writers with different agreements. Some receive monthly email reports from their agents. Some only want to hear from their agent if there’s good news. So when you receive an offer of representation, simply ask the agent how she/he prefers to communicate.

    But remember, it’s not your agent’s job to boost your ego.

    As for submission times to editors, it can vary. There are those enviable stories of writers who’ve received a contract within days. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had my manuscript with one publisher for about three months.