Breaking Up is Hard to Do: When Is It Time To Find A New Agent?

Posted on Thu, May 24 2018 9:00 am by Dawn Frederick

image text: Publishing & Career Tips with Dawn Frederick


For many authors, the search for an agent is a long and sometimes challenging process. While there are many agents in the world, finding an agent who “gets” your book idea and connects with it on a personal and professional level is a journey of sorts. Sometimes this process may need to be repeated, even after one has already worked with an agent.

The reality is that many authors may find themselves working with more than one agent in their writing lifetime. Sometimes agents will shift gears, taking on a different role in the publishing process or leaving the business altogether. This is to be expected; it’s a normal thing in the industry.

Yet, there will also be times where “real life” steps in, and they will need to re-evaluate their role as an agent. I have mentioned in previous posts that when this happens, it’s important to give your agent space to handle the situation. Sometimes there’s a death in the family or illness. Other times it may be a case of burnout, as this job is not a clock-in, clock-out job on any level.

Still there may be times when it becomes abundantly clear that you’ve grown apart as an author-agent team. Your initial reaction may be to walk away; it’s a natural reaction in a very emotional and creative realm. But it’s also important to step back, look at the bigger picture, and think about these three things:

1. Are you feeling anxious about your book? About the publishing process? Maybe your book is on submission? This is normal. Some may feel a need to pressure their agent when this happens. Even going so far to consider leaving the partnership. Talking to your agent, another writer, and/or other professionals that you trust may help alleviate those nerves. Generally this should not be the reason one parts ways with their agent.

2. Do you feel like your agent doesn’t share the same communication style? Every agent is different, so every agent will have a different communication style. It’s a good idea to have that discussion before signing with an agent and to respect boundaries along the way. Generally most agents will not give real-time reports of how a book is doing (daily/weekly). Please remember: we will always reach out to our authors as soon as there’s news to share, as we are working hard to advance our clients’ careers. Much like dating, sometimes two great people are not suited to be together, and usually it’s due to incompatible communication styles. Agents recognize this, and having a healthy conversation before parting ways may help get the partnership back on track.

3. Your agent isn’t actively selling books in your category any longer. Maybe they are slowly stepping back from agenting. This does happen; in fact, it’s normal in the publishing industry. I assume any agent (myself included) will have to do this someday; it’s inevitable as we get older.

Many agents will adjust their categories over time, adding new ones and removing past ones. This means that the authors they work with will be impacted. Should this happen, once again, have a healthy conversation with your agent before seeking new representation. There is a possibility they may make the exception for your books.

Case in point: I remember a client from my early days who agreed we should part ways when I no longer worked with their category. We adored one another. It was an emotional phone call as we both got along magically. They ended up finding a new agent and had many books published afterwards. I’ve enjoyed seeing their success over the years no less. ☺

So what steps should you take before breaking up with your current agent?

1. Talk to your agent. It’s not easy, but at least it’s a chance to have a healthy discussion. Remember that a love of books (and specifically your writing) brought you together. This door needs to be closed before you begin the search for a new agent.

2. Keep it professional. There are many agents, and we all try our best to respect one another. Many of us are friends. We are all in publishing for one reason—because we share a goal of helping authors get their books into the world. Always keep it positive as you move forward.

3. When you start querying and reaching out to new agents, please mention you were previously represented. This is especially important if you have already been published. Sometimes we’ll need to connect with the previous agent if there are questions about sales numbers/contracts/etc.

4. Try to avoid “Serial Agenting” if at all possible. If one has gone through many agents in a short period of time, there’s a good chance there are some larger challenges that need to be handled. So take your time in finding a new agent. Rushing into a new author-agent relationship will take away valuable writing time and creative energy. Your book will benefit from consistent, quality agent relationships, and you will too.

Hopefully this will help writers who find themselves at the agent crossroad. Just remember, always keep it positive, be professional, keep an open mind, and you’ll be good to go.

Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.