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. 😉
Image ID 29691457 © Falara | Dreamstime
A very good friend (and successful writer) was dropped by his agent without warning…it turned out that said agent had taken him on a whim, and really didn’t have a feel for the voice, or even the genre.
* The breakup was not amicable; the agent inferred that it was the writer’s fault, and only some sleuthing uncovered the facts, that nothing…NOTHING…had ever been submitted.
* My friend did what any sane person would do. He got drunk, wrecked three cars, and then started looking for another agent, and found one within a week. (His marriage survived; his wife is a direct spiritual descendant of St. Teresa of Avila.)
* The moral is that one should never quit, and one should also never deny oneself a few minutes of unadulterated rage at the vagaries of fate and people. Own your humanity for those leaden hours; then you can move on.
Andrew, I like the perspective that we need to allow ourselves to feel the pain of something like what happened to your friend. Honestly, that would be terrible. The thing is to move on rather than staying stuck in the anger, isn’t it?
I love this, Andrew. It’s okay to feel.
Sarah Loudin Thomas
I don’t like getting drunk and don’t have the nerve to wreck even one car. Maybe just a chocolate binge and a call to my mother for me!
it would be awful if someone quit writing because his agent released him. Believe it or not, we’ve been known to make mistakes. 🙂
Ah, Wendy. Life changes. Decisions must be weighed. I’m weighing in myself, wondering if my new Medicare card is my open door to working fewer hours. I would miss my coworkers (and hope they would miss me). But I trust they wouldn’t blame themselves for the decision.
* One evening, early in our marriage, my husband was in dark mood. “What did I do?” I wailed. He answered, “Do you think you are my only problem?”
* Sometimes we take the blame (credit) where it truly isn’t due.
Good points, Shirlee. Your last line is so true!!
Damon J. Gray
>> “Do you think you’re my only problem?”
LOL!! Ouch! I don’t want to be a problem at all.
Thanks for the chuckle.
I’m glad you pointed this out, Shirlee. Change is always hard.
Wendy, this is (probably) rarely a comfortable top for writers. When I read the title, a part of me cringed, thinking of the “rejection feel” that comes when this happens.
*But, having read your post, you reveal the truth that, often, the reasons an agent withdraws representation is so the writer can find someone who better fits/represents the writer and his/her interests.
*I’m sure it’s got to be a tough decision for the agent to make. Thank you for helping me see this topic with a broader perspective.
Exactly, Jeanne. Sometimes we hold on with white knuckles thinking it is all up to us when God is saying, “Let go. I have success coming from a different direction.”
Wendy, thanks for this view from the other end of the telescope. The writer-agent relationship is both personal and professional, and there can be reasons for ending it. I’m glad to hear that you (and presumably other agents) can come away with continued friendship for the person on either end of the ending.
I meet with one of my former clients once a week for Bible study and she is now represented by a wonderful agent.
We probably should keep Bones’ advice to Spock, from “Star Trek Beyond”, in mind:
“When an Earth girl says ‘It isn’t you, it’s me’, it’s DEFINITELY you.”
Damon J. Gray
Wendy, a question: When one has been let go by an agent, and approaches others, how do these new potential agents view the writer? Is there a dark cloud of suspicion (‘difficult to work with’; ‘clingy’; hasn’t had an original idea in five years’) or is the evidence of previous representation something of a fillip to the reputation?
* And, as I assume the world of literary representation is fairly small, do client ‘reps’ become known among agents?
I ask this because, when I was in the academic world, I was once shown my ‘virtual dossier’; the first entry was, “Works like a coolie, thinks like a burro.”
* The second was, “Living proof that education beyond intelligence is possible.”
* I quit reading after that; not because it was discouraging, but because I did not want a nascent sense of perverse pride to be pricked.
I’m guessing many agents have enough of an ego to say, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take this person to bestseller status right under the nose of . . .” 🙂
Sometimes client reputations do become known in publishing but only the most outrageous, the most public. We have unspoken rules much like HIPAA– we keep things pretty confidential outside our agencies.
Thanks, Wendy. I’d always assumed that of Books and SUch, but didn’t know if there was a generally acknowledged code of ethics in that regard.
Oooh, this would hurt. But it’s a reminder that once we are blessed enough to get represented by an agent, we need to work harder than ever to keep the blessing alive. It’s like any job … if you don’t deliver or you don’t work well as a team, you might not be able to hang on to that job. That must be the hardest part of your work, Wendy. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably hang on to people longer than I should because of the pain. Ugh. By the way, I’ve just started The Painter’s Daughter … I’m completely captured. 🙂
It’s hard to be a people pleaser and an agent. I know. I suffer from these kinds of decisions.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
As you know, my first agent retired. I totally understand the whys of it all, but it still shook me up.
It was hard, but I liken it to a bend in the road, not a cliff.
Besides, my new agent is pretty fabulous, and I know I am beyond blessed.
Like I always say, change is hard. I like things to stay the same forever.
I’m assuming that autographed copy shouldn’t say “NYT best seller six months running. See what you missed?”
*Maybe there are times someone gets kicked to the curb because an agent doesn’t like them.
That autographed copy wouldn’t ever need to mention it! Believe me, we follow those people we’ve let go, often questioning our sanity. 🙂
Actually I think it would be rare for an agent to dump someone because he didn’t like him– we perform pretty careful due diligence before we offer representation. We spend time on social meeting, often stalk them at conferences, ask other writers for references, etc.
The only relationship fail might come with the client’s expectations being unreasonable.
My story has a lot of similarities to your article the only difference was that I let my agent/agency go. The title of my article would be “When a writer lets you go.” Did I handle the break up properly? No. Was I sad? Yes. The breakup was the right choice, the way I handled the break up was wrong. I am in the process of looking back at the situation and trying to find what God wants me to learn from it and apply it to my future journey. On a side note. It’s only been a few days, but I have four agencies I am currently interviewing who have offered me representation. When God says it’s time, we should listen, but where I went wrong is I did what was right, but I handled it wrong.
To Wendy, and everyone that commented, thank you!!
I am blessed to have found this blog, and receive amazing advice from a wonderful group of writers.