Tuesday, June 03, 2008

When to Cut Ties with Your Agent

I’ve talked a lot about the author-agent relationship and imagine that there are a lot more posts on that topic in my future. I’ve certainly covered how to fire your agent when she is ignoring you, but what about the agent who is paying attention to you, but just can’t seem to sell your work? How do you know when to cut ties with this person?

The really difficult part about answering this question is that I can’t, really. I can give guidance, but making the decision to fire an agent is really personal and, frankly, I always feel that if you’re asking that question you’re probably ready to let go. I’ve often likened the author-agent relationship to dating or marriage, in a business sense, and I think this is no different. How often have you dated someone and known long before it was over that it was over, but instead of doing anything about it you just went along with the way things were simply because it was easier? If you say never, then you are either lying or you married the one and only person you ever dated, because at one point or another I think we’ve all done that. Okay, maybe it wasn’t dating, maybe it was a friendship, or your agent. . . .

Here’s the deal: if you feel your agent has lost confidence in you or your work or you feel that you need to be going in a direction that your agent doesn’t seem to want you to go in, you need to have a conversation. After nearly ten years in business it should come as no surprise that I too have had clients fire me. I don’t think any of us have gone our separate ways feeling any animosity for each other, at least I didn’t, but in at least a couple of instances I felt like the client was really, truly, for the first time telling me what she wanted, when she fired me. Communication can make all the difference in any relationship, and if you’re not good at it, now is the time to practice. Call your agent up; if she’s not ignoring you, then she’s presumably taking your calls, and have an honest conversation about your concerns, what you’re feeling, and what you would like to see more of. If you have a good agent she’ll be just as honest back, and at that point you’ll know whether this relationship is really going to work. Are the two of you now on the same page? Do you think you can continue to work together?

If the conversation didn’t go as you had hoped or you still really feel that this is no longer working, then it’s probably time to cut and run. Listen, no one can tell you when to break up with your boyfriend, divorce your husband, quit your job, or fire your agent. Sadly these are all decisions we need to make on our own, in our own time. The author-agent relationship is sacred; the agent is the one person in your career who you can consistently count on to be in your corner, and if you’re not feeling the love, maybe it really isn’t there.

As for the question of firing an agent because she can’t sell your work, well, that’s a personal decision too. There is no time frame on when a work should sell or if a work should ever sell. What you want, though, is an agent who continues to believe in you and your work and is willing to stick by you. Remember, though, an agent, like an author, can have periods where she too feels discouraged and upset. If we’re excited about something and it doesn’t sell, you have to give us the same mourning period you give yourself. It’s only natural.

Obviously I’m one side of this equation. What about authors? Any advice?

Jessica

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