Pub Rants

Etiquette: Talking About Your Former Agent

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STATUS: My hubby has been out of town all week but is finally back tonight. That puts me in a great mood.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LIKE THE WIND by Patrick Swayze

These blog postings might have several facets. We’ll see.

A recent letter I received got me thinking about this topic. In the letter, the writer was looking to switch agents because her project hadn’t sold. That in itself isn’t a problem. I can understand the frustration. The problem rested in how the issue was presented in the letter. The writer had incautiously written that the agent had only submitted the work to a few junior editors and then had promptly lost interest.

This may be true but it’s not in a writer’s best interest to present it that way. Maybe these are some up-and-coming young editors. Maybe X number of houses for the submission was appropriate. Maybe the Agent did his/her job. Ultimately, the inquiry letter ended up sounding more like sour grapes from disappointed hopes rather than a professional statement of the circumstances.

In other words, the writer sounded like a potential problem client, and I’m sure that wasn’t the writer’s intent.

Now I can totally sympathize with the disappointed hopes part and feeling abandoned by the agent. What I’m recommending here is that if this is the case, you feel it privately, but that’s not what you share in your new cover letter to prospective agents.

Keep it professional. Simply state, “I am currently looking for a new agent. I do have a project that was previously submitted to XYZ editors. I have revised it significantly and would like to go back on submission to some new venues for the work.”

And that’s if you really need to disclose this information at all in the first round of contact to agents. I always recommend just sending out a general query letter first so as to get agent interest. Then if sample pages or a full is requested, then ‘fess up to the prior representation and submission—sticking only to the facts (as in it was sent to “XYZ editors at XYZ houses).

Keep all other opinions to yourself. Once established with the new agent and you feel comfortable sharing the more personal perspective, then go for it. But in the query letter, just the facts ma’am.

17 Responses

  1. Sherry Thomas said:

    When in doubt, say less, not more. You can always say more later. But it’s much harder to take back what’s already said.

    Says Sherry, who still says too much.

  2. Anonymous said:

    “Say less not more” – that being said, if a screenplay based on a novel that has been significantly rewritten and retitled was written/marginally submitted (TV only) 3-4 years ago, when must this be mentioned, if ever?

    Screenwriter says “never” since so much time has has passed and title/story is different. He thinks no one would even remember the old version and that I would only be shooting myself in the foot to state this when a full is requested by an agent seeking material that could be adapted to a screen play. It’s a no-brainer to guess that I am now faced with this exact dilemma.

    True or not true?

  3. Anonymous said:

    I have a friend (truly, I do) who wants to leave current agent. How does she phrase this, exactly? And should she wait until current agent finishes the current submission round? Or is it wiser to pull out before too much is invested in this particular agent?

  4. I. M. Bitter said:

    Hi Anonymous #2,

    Here’s Agent Kristin’s list of acceptable reasons to seek different representation.

    I know I read a detailed post about the protocol of how to leave an agent on either Agent Kristin’s blog or Miss Snark’s, but I can’t find the post. If any of you other readers remember where to find it, please pass the link along, meanwhile, here are the things I remember off the top of my head.

    1) Hire an attourney who specializes in the entertainment industry to review your contract and write your letter.

    2) Be professional, aka, no hissy fits and name calling.

    3) Do NOT query other agents until you have alerted your agent IN WRITING that you are terminating the relationship.

    4) In the letter, there is no need to go into details about why you’re leaving. Part amicably, don’t list all the things you know they did wrong. See #2

    5) You will most likely have to give 30 days notice, (look to the fine print in your contract).

    6) Request a list of the editors and publishers to which your manuscript has been submitted.

    7) Did I mention, act like a professional? (Can’t be said enough.) It’s business, not a divorce. And even if it feels like a divorce, please remain civil. See #2

    8) And again, hire an attourney. This is not something that you want to mess up. They are worth the $500 you’re going to have to pay them. See #1

  5. anonymous #2 said:

    Thank you! I vaguely remembered seeing that list, but this was very helpful, and I greatly appreciate it 😀

  6. Reid said:

    I was called in for a job interview for weekend sports at a local TV station last week, and even though I wasn’t looking for another TV gig, I went on the interview. I was somewhat amused by the Sports Director who, in the course of a ten minute discussion, managed to call the last two weekend guys who worked there a racist and a drug abuser.

    How you treat people who aren’t there to defend themselves says a lot about you.

  7. OpenChannel said:

    Anonymous #1 – I would say it’s nothing you need to mention in the query process, but once you acquire an agent, it would be best to tell them. If I were an agent, I’d want to know.

    Then the agent can decide what to do with the info… which may be nothing.

  8. Rob said:

    I think some of that attitude may relate to the fact that some writers don’t look at this like a business and professional courtesy is needed. They get so wrapped up in the fact that the book is their dream and forget it is a business for agents and publishers. I wonder what type of communication the writer had with the agent before giving up.

  9. Aimless Writer said:

    My first question (maybe I missed it?) would be how long she was with the other agent? I would imagine some books take longer to sell then others. Did she give the other agent enough time?
    Would you insist on knowing who the other agent was? Would that matter?

  10. TherapistWriter said:

    But would a second agent be interested in taking on a ms project that has been shopped around already? Even after a revision, many agents are going to take a pass if the editor field has been narrowed, regardless of the reason why. Wouldn’t it be better to stick with the not-so-good agent for this project and try for a different agent with a new ms?

  11. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Oh, the old “junior editor” thing. Love it. Obviously, “junior editors” could not possibly recognize a good project when they see it. They are never hungry, looking to build their lists, and excited to discover someone new.

    Please. Everyone was a junior editor sometime. How do you think senior editors get made?

  12. Anonymous said:

    Hi Krisin, how many editors would you say should a ms be submitted to before the project should be “put outside to be shot?”

    I love my agent, and trust her compltely, and she’s submitted to probably 12-15, some of them making it to the committee round tables, but when should a project be completely exhausted? Thanks!

  13. Anonymous said:

    What about if your agent claims your project has been shopped to 10-15 publishers, but his reported response rate is like, 3?

    As a person I admire & like him, but I don’t wanna waste my time. Is 75% a common “loss rate” amongst publishers? Do they really lose projects that often, or should I disbelieve what my soon to be ex-agent says about where he’s sent it? Once I am agent free, do I treat these as houses not submitted to, or otherwise?

    A quandary. I want to comply with Directive #2 at all times, but knowing how would be good, too.

  14. Danny Boy said:

    Good advice… make nothing public, most especially when wooing your next agent.


    Tell other writers. Screw the agent to the wall when discussing their lack of action with your peers. We all deserve to know if there’s a shingle that’s been hung over the door of an imbecile. Spread the word, and it shall set not only you free, brothers and sisters.

    (PS- an agent or writers with a dedicated agent shouldn’t make a frigging peep here… this is for the poor schmucks still pounding the pavement.)

  15. Anonymous said:

    But what if your agent misrepresents you during submission? A friend of mine was devastated recently because her agent sent her book to a publishing house/imprint geared toward Latinos – because the protagonist is Latina. The editor was interested, and asked the agent what the author’s ethnicity was. Based on my friend’s last name and skintone, the agent (incorrectly) assumed that she wasn’t Latina. The agent responded to the editor with this misinformation, and the editor completely dropped interest as a result. The imprint only works w/ Latino authors. Problem is: The agent didn’t bother to ask my friend what her heritage was till it was too late.

    I imagine this especially happens quite a bit with Latina/o-geared imprints, because people have such a narrow definition of what it means to be Latina.

    My point is: Is this grounds to find a new agent? And in the letter looking for a new agent, should she mention what happened?

    Two agents had originally offered her representation. Any tips for when an author “comes crawling back” to an agent they (kindly) turned down in favor of an agent who eventually made a huge snafu?