When Your Agent Lets You Go

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

We always hope a literary agent/client relationship is forever but let’s talk about those times when an agent must let a client go. Most “at-will” representation contracts spell out how the relationship will proceed and how it will end if that is the case. (An “at will” contract means that either side may end the contract for any reason– the only kind of agreement you should ever sign.)

Here’s the scenario: your agent calls, sends a letter or an email gently withdrawing representation. What does it mean? What did you do wrong? Does it mean your career is over?

Before I talk about what it may mean, let me tell you what letting you go does NOT mean:

  • Letting you go generally has nothing to do with your writing. Your agent would never have offered representation if he didn’t love your writing.
  • Letting you go doesn’t mean your career is over. In fact, it may mean just the opposite.
  • Letting you go doesn’t mean the agent doesn’t like you. Again, those issues were put to bed long before he decided to offer representation.

What letting you go may actually mean:

  • The agent has submitted your work widely and has not been able to find a place for it. He is letting you go in the hope that another agent will have some other possibilities in his “rolodex” to find the perfect publishing home for you. It is not fair for an agent to hang onto a client when he’s not able to make it happen for him.
  • He may be throwing in the towel because it’s been a couple of years since you’ve given him anything new to sell.
  • Letting you go may have more to do with the agent’s workload than with you. Things change all the time. An agent may decide he wants to dip back into writing and the only way to do it is to lighten the load. Or perhaps an agent has a family crisis, say taking on the care of an aging parent. Something has to give and very often an agent will have to give up a promising new author.
  • Above, I said that letting you go doesn’t mean the agent doesn’t like you, however, he may have discovered that your work style and his work style just don’t mesh. Maybe your expectations are way beyond what he is able to deliver. He’s tried and found out he can’t answer three emails a day from you and keep up with the rest of his work. 🙂
  • He may be letting you go because you don’t seem able to hear his suggestions or value his input and he wants you to find the right partner to team with.
  • Letting you go may be nothing more than the result of an agent deciding to leave the business.
  • Or maybe your agent feels like you are fresh out of compelling ideas and believes that if you partner with another agent it may get your juices flowing again.

We could keep the list going forever. Remember your first romantic break-up? “It’s not about you. It’s really about me.” That’s probably pretty close to the truth for many an agent who finds he needs to let a client go.

I’ve had to let a number of clients go over the years. It was almost always because I realized I couldn’t do justice to him or his work for one reason or another. I’ve watched many of those authors go on to great success. And happily, I’ve been able to retain a friendship with almost all my former clients.

The important thing is, if you find your agent letting you go, to be sure to ask the reason. Try to get a good understanding of the decision making behind it. Your agent may have some good ideas for how you should proceed. Be sure to end the relationship on a good note. Chances are you’ll be wanting to send the former agent a signed copy of your book in the days to come. 😉

 

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