QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, July 14, 2014

When the Happily-Ever-After Ends…

Like many writers, you may dream of the day when you finally get that call or email from an agent, saying he loved your book and wants to represent you. Or maybe you’ve already signed with an agent. Things are going well. You’ve interviewed him to make sure it will be a good partnership, you’ve signed the contract, and you’ve posted, tweeted, yelled to everyone on your street that you are now agented.

But months later—or maybe even years later—things don’t feel like they did in the beginning. The honeymoon period is well past over. Maybe he’s not communicating as frequently as he once did. Maybe he tried to sell a few of your books, but you haven’t landed much of a nibble. Or maybe you sent him your last manuscript, and months later you’re still waiting to hear back from him. And this is after a few friendly reminders, checking on the status of your book—to be met with several “I’m reading this soon” and then silence for another few months.

The first bit of good news is that you’re not alone in this. It’s one of those dirty little secrets many writers don’t like to talk about. We’re quick to announce on our blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter about signing with an agent. We’re not so quick when it comes to announcing we’ve split ways. Often you don’t even know a writer (quite possibly even your friend) has gone separate ways until she announces, more quietly this time, that she has just signed with someone new. In some cases, it takes a writer several agents before she finds one that is the right fit. This can even happened to bestselling authors, but you only realize it when you read their acknowledgments and notice that it isn’t the same agent as was listed in the author’s previous book.

So, what do you do when you’re just not feeling it anymore with the individual who you once declared was your dream agent? For starters, you’ll want to begin a dialogue with them to address your concerns. A few authors I spoke to said this did wonders for their client-agent relationship. Others were met with a simple “This is not working for me after all” response, and the agent terminated their contract, much to the writer’s surprise. Ideally, if this is the case, it’s better to find out the love isn’t there anymore sooner rather than later. No, it’s not easy, because now you’ll have to get back to querying again, if you want to go the agented path. And very few people enjoy that. Some people loathe it so much, they remain silent about their concerns and their writing career remains stalled.

It could also be that your career path goes beyond what your agent can do for you. You might be interested in having a hybrid career (your books are both self and traditionally published), but your agent is against self publishing. This is something you need to consider when it’s time to query again, should you decide to go that route.

If you do decide to look for a new agent, you need to terminate your contract before you contact other agents. Never query agents while you’re still a client. This is unprofessional. Agent Janet Reid recommends mentioning in your query that you’ve amicably departed ways with your previous agent. That’s all you have to say on the subject. Make sure you are querying a project that hasn’t been submitted elsewhere. If your agent did send it out to a few editors before you terminated your contract, you need to mention this in your query. Some agents don’t want to bother with manuscripts that have been previously shopped. Others don’t mind, within reason. If an agent does offer representation on a previously shopped manuscript, she’ll want a list of the editors who have already seen it. Ask for this list when you terminate your contract with your previous agent.

Whether you terminate your contract or your agent does, be prepared to go through the various stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). It’s only natural, just like when you break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse. In a lot of ways, breaking up with your agent is very much like getting a divorce, and it can do a number on your self-esteem. And depending on your reasons for ending the relationship, it can damage your ability to trust again. This is when it’s helpful to talk to other writers who’ve gone through the same journey. You won’t feel so alone, and you’ll see that great things can actually come from the break. I know authors who were “fired” by their agents, only to turn about, sign a new agent and finally land a publishing contract. All they needed was an agent who believed in them.

Have you or someone you know ever departed ways with an agent?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website. She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available. LET ME KNOW (Carina Press) will be available Sept 1st, 2014.


Unknown said...

Not an agent, but I did part ways with my first publisher. They were a small start up publisher and I didn't know enough about the industry to realize that they'd breached contract by keeping my book in the chute for 2+ years. I learned a lot with them though and when we parted ways I landed a new, much better publisher within a few months. I now have my first book coming out in a few weeks. It's been a pleasure to work with my new publisher (WiDo Publishing) as they are very professional. It is indeed a roller coaster of emotion but here on the greener side of the fence I can honestly say I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything. I'm a much better writer now and quite business savvy as well.

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Thank you for bringing up a difficult subject. I think a lot of writers are hesitant to discuss the darker side of things because we are afraid we will come across as undesirable failures. Many times, it's not us, and it's not our books that lead to a parting of ways... but, being the overly-sensitive artists we are, it just feels like a terrible rejection and a statement of our self-worth.

I endured my own agent divorce several years ago, and I *still* don't like talking about it. Good news is that I didn't let it defeat me. I'm still writing, still publishing, and still looking forward to a book-filled future.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

I've parted ways with an agent and a publisher and it was very difficult not to seriously worry that it might be the end of my writing career - which, at the time, was barely getting started. After I signed with my new agent, she landed a 3 book deal in 6 weeks and I wondered why it took me so long to part ways with the first agent - I dilly-dallied with my decision for 3 years, too afraid and in limbo for far too long.

Sarah P said...

It happens all. the. time!

Great post.