How to Fire Your Agent
(Encore presentation of a previous post.)
There comes a time in every agent’s life when one of their clients needs to move on. Yep. We all get fired by an author at some point. It isn’t pleasant, but it’s a reality in business.
What are some reasons writers opt to terminate their agency relationship? I think four big ones top the list. (1) The writer believes they’re not getting enough attention; (2) the agent has dropped the ball too many times and the writer no longer trusts them; (3) the writer and agent disagree about the best plan for the writer’s career path; or (4) the writer finds out that the agent is doing something unethical or is somehow not a legitimate literary agent.
Not to Be Taken Lightly
Ending your agency relationship is a personal decision, and I think it should be preceded by a great deal of thought and a sincere effort to correct the problems that are making you unhappy.
It’s a fact of life that people find it difficult to end relationships, even relationships that are making them miserable. Consequently, people often do it artlessly. It takes maturity to try and repair the relationship before ending it. There’s a lot of fear involved in telling someone that we’re not satisfied and asking if there’s a way to fix the problems. Often, there’s also hopelessness: we assume the person is not capable of change, so we don’t believe there’s any point in talking about it.
But I’m a believer in talking to the person with whom you’re unhappy, in this case, your agent. I think the mature way of handling a situation like this is to say, “This isn’t working for me. Can something be changed?”
When people get fired from jobs, it’s often (not always) after one or more warnings. The employee is given a chance to recognize where they’re failing and step up to the plate. If they’re unable, then they’re fired. I recommend taking this approach to terminating your agency relationship. Talk to your agent and give him/her a chance to fix things. Of course, this doesn’t apply if the employee (or agent) is guilty of a serious error or egregious offense, in which case, you just fire them and be done with it.
What I really don’t like is when writers talk to a lot of friends and others in the business about their unhapppiness with their agent—before officially terminating their agency relationship. That’s just rude. If you’re looking for another agent before getting rid of your current one, have those conversations confidentially. Don’t gossip.
Try To Address the Problem
If you’re unhappy with your agent because you’re having a hard time getting them to respond to you, and it has gone on for awhile and you’re really frustrated, launch an all-out effort to reach them. Send several emails and leave a couple of voicemails, all within a few days. Be brief but clear, saying something like: “I’ve been having a hard time reaching you and I’m at the point of reconsidering our agency relationship. Would you please respond to me so we can discuss where to go from here?” If a week goes by and you don’t hear anything, it’s time to terminate the relationship. Do what you need to do, according to your agency agreement (if you have one).
How To Do It?
You may wonder about specific protocol—do you sever your agency relationship on the phone, in email, in a letter? Your answer depends on the length and depth of the relationship, the way you and your agent have primarily communicated, and what your agency agreement specifies. The longer the relationship, the more crucial it is that you do the hard thing and have that conversation verbally (then confirm the decision in writing). In a relationship of less duration, especially if the agent hasn’t sold any of your books, and/or you have no formal agency agreement, you’re probably fine writing an email.
Before making that call or writing that email, make sure you have a clearly defined goal. If you’re calling or writing to express dissatisfaction and see if there is a way things can improve, that’s a different conversation from the one in which you’ve made up your mind and want to terminate the relationship.
Write it down if you have to, but please don’t be so bashful that you are unable to utter those all-important words: I need to terminate our agency relationship. If you’re nervous, and especially if you feel bad for doing it, you’d be surprised how easy it is to avoid saying it outright. Your (soon to be ex-) agent is left wondering what just happened and whether they still have a client.
Get the Terms of Your Exit in Writing
It’s crucial that the terms of your termination are clearly spelled out in writing and agreed upon. This means you need a document detailing the status of every project your agent touched, and what rights to it, if any, your agent retains and for how long.
Most of all, try to handle these situations with wisdom, respect and maturity. You may be swayed by frustration, as happens in all relationships, but you’ll be much happier with yourself if you handle it with professionalism.
If you’re not sure you have a good reason to fire your agent, but you’re very unhappy, then the best thing to do is talk to someone confidentially, somebody who knows this business and can give you good advice, or even better, talk to your agent. Be brave, be strong, and treat your situation with integrity. As in all relationships, good communication is key.
Q4U: Have you had to switch agents in the past? Do you feel you handled it appropriately? Was it hard?
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent