Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Stigma of Changing Agents

I’m often asked how an author should handle the process and logistics of changing agents, but rarely am I asked about the stigma jumping agents can cause, and lucky for you, this is something I’ve never thought of.

A reader recently emailed to ask if leaving an agent makes it more difficult to find another agent and if it labels her as high maintenance and difficult to work with. I’ve never, ever thought that because an author was changing agents she must be difficult, unless of course the previous agent came up to tell me how difficult that author was (but that’s something different entirely). Authors change agents for so many reasons. Some decide to take their careers in a different direction than their current agent represents, some just don’t mesh with the current agent, and some just decide that a career needs a shake-up and everything, including the agent, must go.

The author-agent relationship is extremely personal and so are the reasons for keeping or leaving it. Agents know this and understand this. The only red flags that go up for me is the author who is trying to get me to represent a work that another agent has already shopped. I don’t want someone else’s leftovers (so to speak) or the author who has 2 to 3 agents in 2 to 3 years. I’m looking for long-term relationships, not an agent jumper. And I guess I’d also be concerned about an author who is blaming her previous agent for everything that’s ever gone wrong in her career. While the agent might not be perfect, it’s doubtful she’s at fault for everything.

So of all the things you need to worry about, giving yourself a bad name is not one of them when switching agents.



Anonymous said...

Ah, great post. I'm in similar straights right now. Long-time agent and I parted ways amicably. So I'm looking.

I am querying a new project in my search for a new agent. I am also diligently working on another project.

However, your post raised another question re your comment on 'don't want leftovers'.

Once I secure representation again with my new project, would there be any interest, etc. in showing the new agent an old project that was shopped around but not extensively? The book did receive some positive rejections from the few the agent shopped it and an offer was actually made by a small, but well-known press that we decided to pass on. When the project received another rejection that was when the agent seemed to lose interest or at least momentum. It is 'leftovers' but I think it's a strong book that deserves another chance. Or is it now irrevocably damaged goods?

Anonymous said...

I do worry about the agent 'stigma'. I was with Agent #1 for 2 years, and agent #2 for six months. Different sets of problems for both.

I hate that I'm going to be branded as an 'agent hopper' now that I'm on the search for #3 just because #2 made promises and failed to deliver.

We're looking for long-term relationships too. I wasn't any happier to bounce from #2 than he was to have me bounce, but it was the right thing to do for my career. Sometimes external circumstances come into play, and then you're stuck with a black mark on your reputation. And then what do you do?

Mark Terry said...

Seems to me that all of your reasons cited are valid. A writer-agent relationship is a business relationship and these may change as the writer's (or agent's) business changes. It doesn't all have to be personality issues or even business issues, just that the writer has decided on taking a new direction and the previous agent may not be the right one for that new direction.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about my name. I turned down an agent's offer once. She came across as bitter, claiming that I wasted her time. She seemed close to her clients (from the vibe I got from her clients) and she certainly liked to talk a lot. --I was the one trying to END one of the phone calls. No telling what all she's said to other agents or her clients.

I try to stay positive and hope agents are out there thinking, "I'm sure the writer had a good reason for turning her down."

T. M. Hunter said...

A reader recently emailed to ask if leaving an agent makes it more difficult to find another agent and if it labels her as high maintenance and difficult to work with.

Finding an agent is difficult enough...how could it ever be made more difficult?


Anonymous said...

Which leads to the next question. How hard it is to move a seires from one publisher to another--from a small publisher to a larger house?

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:43, I wonder if we dealt with the same agent. When she was courting me as a client, she told me way too much bizarre stuff about herself, other agents, and her clients both past and present. It made me wonder what she'd be saying about ME if I ever shared anything confidential with her. The overall impression I got was of a bitter, insecure, and generally toxic person who somehow manages nonetheless to pass for normal with people who don't spend a lot of time with her.

I understand what you're saying about your name and whether your reputation would be damaged if an agent like that believed you'd slighted her. I had to change my career strategy somewhat and take a few other precautions in order to avoid the blowback I was certain would follow my withdrawal from her sphere of influence.

To this day, I hope she never finds out anything about my current status. In your case, if you're still looking for an agent, I'd say make sure to avoid agents who are friends of hers. That's what I did.