Pub Rants

Category: career suicide

For many authors, the thought of voluntarily ending their relationship with their literary agent can be heartbreaking—especially if their agent search was long and difficult, or if they genuinely like their agent. But like a marriage, sometimes what initially looked like an ideal pairing turns out otherwise.

Perhaps you’ve read Kristin’s “What Makes a Good Agent” article series in this newsletter and decided your agent doesn’t measure up. Or possibly you’ve known for some time that the relationship wasn’t working and have concluded it’s time to move on.

Assuming you’ve done everything you can to address the issues with your agent, what’s the next step?

How to Leave Your Agent

First, review your agency agreement. Most contracts specify that the relationship can be terminated by either party with 30 days’ notice.

Unless your agency agreement says otherwise, terminating your relationship by email is fine as long as the agent confirms receipt. If you choose to send your agent a letter via certified mail, it’s a good idea to email him or her in advance to let them know the letter is on the way.

If your agent has submitted your book to publishers, you’ll need to ask for a list of every publishing house he or she submitted your book to. Your agent owes you this information, as well as the status of each of those submissions if any are still pending. Understand that according to most agency agreements, your previous agent will be entitled to receive compensation for sales they made while you were under contract with them, even though you are no longer working together.

As with any professional relationship, take the high road. Feelings and emotions are involved, but don’t get caught up in the emotional aspects of the situation. You may have legitimate grievances. Your agent may be understandably upset. It’s important to stay calm and professional. Be polite and amicable. Thank your agent for all the hard work they did reading and submitting your work without compensation, and move on.

When to Start Looking for a New Agent

Most agents advise terminating your current relationship before looking for another agent. Some authors are understandably nervous about breaking up with their agent before they have another. However, keep in mind that publishing is a small world. If you decide to send out feelers before ending your relationship with your agent, odds are good your current agent will find out.

True story: Agent X and Agent Y, who worked at a different agency, were friends and often referred potential clients to one another. One day, an author looking for a new agent wrote to Agent X. Agent X read the pitch letter and went online to learn more about the author’s book deals—which is how Agent X learned that Agent Y was the author’s agent.

Assuming Agent Y had referred the client, Agent X wrote a quick note to thank him for the referral. Half an hour later, Agent X got an angry email from the author saying he hadn’t yet spoken to Agent Y, and now that agent had fired him. Naturally Agent X was no longer interested in working with this author either.

Once you and your agent have parted ways, your next objective is to find an agent who will be a better fit. It helps to write down what you feel you need in an agent. One you have a list of prospective agents, try to talk to some of their clients if at all possible to ask about the agent’s management and communication style as well as your other concerns. There’s no point in leaving one agent only to fall into the same kind of relationship with the next.

Above all, don’t feel guilty for ending a partnership that isn’t working. This may be difficult if you and your agent are on good terms, but remember: In the publishing world, enthusiasm is incredibly important. Authors need an agent who loves their work, and who believes the author might be the next big thing. If this isn’t the case for you, leaving your agent might be the best decision you ever make.


Karen Dionne is an internationally published thriller author, co-founder of the online writers discussion forum Backspace, and organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat and the Neverending Online Backspace Writers Conference. She is represented by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management. 

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

Scarier Than Halloween

STATUS: The last 70 degree day. Okay, I’ll admit it. I popped out early to play a round of really bad golf. The weather was beautiful. The company sparkling. Kristin shanked every shot into trees. Ah yes, I’m THAT horrible beginner on the golf course that you never ever want to play behind of.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THRILLER by Michael Jackson (I mean, duh, what else could possibly be playing on the iPod tonight.)

What’s scarier than Halloween? Writers signing publishing contracts not fully understanding what they are signing.

I figured I’d devote this entry to scary clauses in contracts that actual writers have signed.

1. The option clause into perpetuity.

Such a monster! I’ve seen this in too many small publishing house contracts to count. Any decent option clause will allow the publisher a look at the next project (usually narrowed down to specific type and genre) and that’s it. Unsuspecting writers have signed contracts where they literally have to show a publisher every work they do–even if the publisher doesn’t want it. The clause obligates them to then show their next project, and then the next project and so on.

I think any writer can get out of this (and the court will rule in the author’s favor) but probably not without some substantial cost and a good lawyer.

2. Low royalties based on net.

Don’t get me wrong, having royalties based on net isn’t necessarily egregious. It is when the publisher tries to pass off royalties based on net to be equivalent to royalties based on retail price. In other words, they offer they same as “standard” such as 10% to 5000 copies, 12.5% on next 5000, and 15% thereafter but it’s based on net receipts.

Sounds good until you calculate the math. 10% of net equals about 5% of retail price. Not exactly the same thing so do your monster math.

3. Warranties and Indemnities clauses where the author is on the hook for all the costs.

The author should only be fully responsible if they are found guilty and in breach of this clause. I’ve seen clauses where authors are on the hook for the full cost of even an alleged breach and yet they have no say in the proceedings. Oi! Even Frankenstein got a better deal.

4. Joint accounting.

Publishers love joint accounting. That means they link the monies of multiple books together. In short, an author doesn’t see a penny of royalties until ALL books in the contract earn out and only then are royalties paid. You might be waiting years and years to kill that zombie.

5. Unmodified competing works clauses.

If you aren’t really really careful, you might be legally obligated to not pursue any other writing work until the books in your contract are out of print and the rights revert back to you.

This is definitely worst case scenario but depending on the language in the contract, you might have backed yourself into this corner. Talk about hamstringing your career as a writer.

For me, in this digital age, the above are way scarier than anything that might go bump in the night.

Guaranteed To Give You A No

STATUS: It’s Thursday already?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ARTHUR’S THEME by Christopher Cross

About three weeks ago, the agency started receiving a series of calls from a local gentleman writer. Anita, being the lovely and generous person that she is, answered, gave information and lots of resources to help out the caller.

Evidently that wasn’t enough because this person proceeded to call us several times a week insisting that he had to talk to me. The first couple of calls Anita answered and calmly explained why she doesn’t forward inquiry calls to me and offered help in general terms. When he became belligerent with her, she stopped answering the phone when caller ID clearly showed who it was.

Then we received lots of voicemail messages. It definitely got my attention but not in any way that’s going to help this person’s writing career.

Then he decided to visit the agency in person.

Folks, let me just say that if you come to the office and try and browbeat my assistant, you will be dealing directly with me and you won’t like it. Even though I posit myself as a nice Midwesterner, you will see the Big B—up close and personal. No one treats my assistant that way.

And I’m sure this goes without saying but at that moment, there was no way this person could have pitched his book that would have induced me to look at it.

Not All Publicity Is Good Publicity

STATUS: The dog days of August. I handled over a 100 emails and got caught up. I concluded a film deal (won’t be able to announce for a bit so sorry) and did a phone conference about a contract as just a tad bit of what I did today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STAY (I MISSED YOU) by Lisa Loeb

I know you’ve heard the saying that all publicity is good publicity. Well, I can certainly think of a few instances where that might not be the case and when I saw this article about an author who made the news because she shot her father in the rear end, I thought to myself that there really couldn’t be a better of example that I could offer of this.

Especially since the author describes her writing as redneck noir. Suitably apt? So maybe the lesson here is think before you shoot?

Mea Culpa—Never A Position Of Strength

STATUS: Ack. Is it really almost 1:30 in the afternoon? Time to hit that TO DO list hard.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONESOME TOWN by Ricky Nelson

Or another title might be—don’t tweet in anger if you don’t like your book review.

I’m not sure how many of you have followed the Alice Hoffman Tweet debacle but here is briefly what happened. After a non-positive review in the Boston Globe by reviewer Roberta Silman, Author Alice Hoffman shot off 27 twitter tweets in response—one of the tweets included Silman’s email and telephone number and Hoffman urged her fans to respond to the review.

Uh, authors don’t do this. A reviewer is entitled to his or her opinion (hence, the point of reviews).

If you don’t like a review, you don’t like it. Move on. Trust me, mea culpas are not a position of strength. Regardless of whether you are justified or not, this does not put you, the author, in a positive light.

And, as Hoffman realized, you’re just going to end up having to issue an apology through your PR firm.

Now I think you can tweet about how sad you are about the bad review but why draw attention to it? Lots of readers pay very little attention to reviews. Recommends by friends are the largest seller of books. Your friend might not have remembered the Globe review but they might remember this tweet debacle.

So what will be accomplished? Is all publicity good publicity? Maybe this was a great promo stunt and readers will wonder whether they agree with the Globe reviewer and thus buy the book to read it?

What do you blog readers think?

My thought? I think people reading about this incident will just think Ms. Hoffman can’t handle criticism and maybe that old adage applies: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Criticism and bad reviews are a risk in publishing.

The Art Of Getting Blurbs

STATUS: Completely slammed today so I haven’t had a chance to do anything with my trip notes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY BURNS A HOLE IN MY POCKET by Dean Martin

So I’m going to be totally lame and let a lovely author make my point for me today. An author of mine alerted me to this post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted over at Red Room and I personally think that every author and aspiring writer cut and paste this advice into a file that you can review over and over.

There really is an art to requesting a blurb. A way of handling it professionally. A way of being gracious if a request is declined. A way of being gracious if a request is granted (goes without saying) but sure enough, one misguided author has managed to flub it completely.

So here’s the link to Lauren’s advice.

Not to mention, Red Room is a rather cool place. You might want to look around a bit. Lots of good stuff for writers on this site.

Another Memoir Scandal In The Headlines

STATUS: Piping Mad!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OMG! Somebody is practicing their horn nearby and I can hear it through the vent (maybe a tuba?) And trust me, they need the practice.

Unbelievable! Yet again, an NYT story on how a hugely lauded memoir called LOVE & CONSEQUENCES is basically a fabrication.

Funny how all the memoirs that publishers have bought and have deemed “big enough” have been nothing but fiction disguised as a memoir. The publisher, Riverhead, is now recalling the 19,000 copies that released last week.

I am steamed. Kim Reid and I worked very hard to find a home for her memoir NO PLACE SAFE. An amazing story. A beautifully written story. A completely truthful (and we can back it up with full documentation) story.

Do me a favor? Go to right now and buy a copy of NO PLACE SAFE that’s actually a true memoir. Buy it so these yahoos in publishing will quit paying six figures for what is essentially a work of fiction.

If I hear one more story in the news about a fabricated memoir, I’m going to spit.

Okay, rant over.

And even though John’s memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE did extraordinarily well (and Kim and I are often in envy of his sales numbers), his story is also true.

So if you want to support truth in memoir by making a purchase, I guess you can buy a copy of his as well. (But only if you buy a copy of Kim’s—she says wickedly).

One Path to Career Suicide

STATUS: Yes, I know. I didn’t blog yesterday. I got back to the hotel too late to form a coherent sentence. I’ll try and make up for it tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICKED GAME by Chris Isaak

Here’s a bonus tip garnered from an informal agents’ roundtable I attended (otherwise known as the bar). We were chatting about things that might not constitute author career suicide but might come close and that is when an author disses his/her editor in a public forum (be it blog, chat loop, on website, etc.)

This might seem rather obvious as something that might not be wise to do but it’s obviously not for some folks because I heard a number of stories where an author had done just that. So let’s highlight a few things.

1. Know that the editor will always find out. (Just take my word on this. The Grapevine is powerful.)

2. This makes an editor rather disinclined to help that author (or to want to continue with that author).

These types of public proclamations do not forward a writer’s career. Enough said.

On to much more fun topics such as the first RWA Spa Day hosted by yours truly. Yep, it was good to be a Nelson Agency client on Wednesday.

My authors (and their editors who could attend plus some few key guests) had a day of pampering at the Spa at the Crescent.

From left:

Top row: Nancy Berland, Linnea Sinclair, Me, Lucienne Diver, Simone Elkeles
Bottom row: Sherry Thomas, Brooke Taylor, Leah Hultenschmidt, Marianne Mancusi
Several authors/guests not pictured because they were off having amazing massages and didn’t pop into the lunch area until later (or they weren’t willing to be pictured in a bathrobe!) There were 17 of us total.

Mum’s The Word!

STATUS: I love when editors email and say they are ready to buy!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTBREAKER by Led Zeppelin

This is my public service message to help out all my fellow agents. A lot of writers (published and unpublished) blog these days so I want to send out a helpful hint to all you unpublished writers who blog and who now have representation and are just about to go out on submission.

As soon as your manuscript is submitted, mum is the word. You can’t blog about the manuscript, the submission, the editors who will see it, or any rejection letters because guess what, interested editors will often read the writer’s blog.

And how do I put this delicately? There is just information that we, as agents, want to control about the status of the submission (for example, who is interested or who has rejected it and if the writer is blogging about it… well, you can see where issues might arise).

Repeat after me. Mum is the word. Do not blog about it.

The Best “What Not To Do At A Conference” Story Ever

STATUS: I don’t know what it is about Mondays but I seem to rarely accomplish anything that’s on my list and every Monday seems this way. The real work can’t happen until Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONELY NO MORE by Rob Thomas

If this were a contest, I think I would win hands down. I defy any other agent to come up with a story as good as this one but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments section.

I was doing a panel at one of my recent conferences when this happened (and as you know I’ve done several already this year so I’ll just let you guess which conference this was because it’s no reflection on the conference organizers if one of their attendees is a clueless boob).

One of the participants stood up to ask a question, which I, and the other members of the panel, were happy to answer, when his cell phone went off. He asked us to wait until he finished the conversation for us to answer his question. I’m not making this up.

But it gets better.

I wasn’t too inclined to be all that helpful by answering the posed question but hey, it’s not the rest of the audience’s fault if there is a rude person in their midst so I begin my answer. Cell phone rings again. Participant, still standing, answers it. I don’t stop to wait and finish my response.

The guy finishes the call and asks me to repeat my answer. I decline. Next question please.

I probably don’t have to tell you what was running through the panelists minds but it goes without saying that this person could have written the best book in the entire universe and I would have refused to represent it.