Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time for a New Agent

I’m a bestselling author with a very successful track record. I’ve enjoyed working with my current agent, and obviously we’ve been successful together, but find that we’re growing in different directions. When looking for a new agent, do I need to query traditionally by sending equeries and following agents’ guidelines, or can I simply call the agents I’m interested in and see if they’re interested in me?

While you probably could make phone calls, I do think your best course of action is to start the query process again. Of course, you’ll need to dissolve the relationship with your current agent first. I know that I feel strongly that before considering a new client I need to make sure I’m not poaching on someone else’s territory. I want to make sure all of you obligations (i.e., agent agreements) are wrapped up.

Agents have made it quite clear they do not like phone calls for queries, and I think that’s no different for published or unpublished authors. There are a lot of people out there seeking representation, some with experience and others without. If we spent all of our time fielding those kinds of calls we’d have no time for anything else. On top of that, agents work odd hours, and trying to catch one can be tricky. Just ask our clients.

I also think sending out queries will get you a faster response time. I would strongly suggest you note in your subject line that you are a bestselling author seeking new representation. This will make you stand out. If your name is recognizable, put that in the subject as well. The one advantage here is that you’ll probably have to worry less about how perfect your query is.

Are you seeking representation for a new project, or do you have a project in mind? I find that it’s a lot easier for me to seriously consider a new client if we’re going into a new project together. I also think it’s a better situation for you. Unless you’re looking for someone to simply take up on the same types of projects you’ve been working on, or the same series you’ve been writing, it’s going to be hard to know if this new agent is right for you unless you know if she’s enthusiastic about your next project. Therefore, pitch the new project. I like that better than someone who simply tells me that I’ll want her because of her previous successes. That’s not fair to you or me. Sure I will, but will I be the right agent for your future successes?

I also believe that a more traditional query process can help you. What if the agent from your first phone call offers? It’s going to make it harder for you to connect with other agents since you haven’t contacted them. Sending out five to ten queries to agents you are interested in puts you in the driver’s seat, allowing you to interview and really talk to all potential agents and choose the one that’s really right for you, hopefully the one you’ll be able to stick with for quite some time. I would also suggest that, for example, if three agents respond (and make offers), but you still haven’t heard from the one or two you’re really hoping for, follow up with those and let them know you have an offer (phone is okay for this). They simply might not have gotten to your query as quickly.

I suspect you’ll have no trouble getting the interest and attention of agents. The key is getting the interest and attention of the agents who really envision your future in the same way you do.



Kimber Li said...

Geez, even bestselling published authors have to go through Query Hell? Again, and again, again. What a drag. No wonder authors are afraid to leave bad agents.

Anonymous said...

Definitely query. I'm a nationally bestselling author of six novels published with a large traditional publisher. I pitched a novel to over thirty agents and was turned down by all. Only a couple of agents treated me differently because I was previously published. Most treated me like I just anyone in the slush.

Obviously there was something wrong with my project and I've since abandoned it but I was amazed that nobody wanted to take me on with my track record which included several starred reviews and all kinds of accolades. When they say this business is tough, they ain't kidding. I wished I'd stayed with my agent. She wasn't the greatest for sure but it's really rough out there and extremely humbling.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Absolutely query... it's vital that the agent you sign with be enthusiastic about the project they'll be representing, and for that they need to see a proposal.

There is no way *around* query hell, only *through* it.

Claire Robyns said...

Great advice, as usual :)

Oh, I wouldn't so much mind the query process if I were a bestselling author. I think the experience is as different as heaven from hell for an aspiring author and a bestselling author


Tamara Hart Heiner said...

great advice. Especially liked what anon said.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think I'm going to take up painting, opinions are immediate and if nobody wants to buy my art I can always hang it over the couch.

Kristan said...

Great advice -- I hadn't thought about "what happens if the phone call leads to an offer" (and how that might limit your search for the best agent fit) -- but man oh man do Anonymous's comments sound scary... :\

Mira said...

Anon 8:18 a.m., I don't think you should feel humbled at all. I think you should be rightly proud of your accomplishments.

What is happening to you is a not a reflection on you, but a reflection on the system. If the system is not bringing back into the fold an author with a proven track record of creating quality works that make lots of money, that's a terrible flaw within the system.

You might consider e-publishing. Check out what J.Konrath is doing:


With your name recognition, you'd probably leap to the top of the charts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mira for your encouragement. I respect Konrath and his ambitions but I want to be with a traditional publisher again. After my failure with that novel, I brushed up on my storytelling chops and wrote another novel. I'm going to shop it again in the next week or so.

I have a few novelists friends who are going through the same thing. You don't hear about it a lot because it's embarassing to talk about. Hence my anon status.

Anonymous said...

"Of course, you’ll need to dissolve the relationship with your current agent first."

But if you then can't find a new agent, or a better one, you've really *hurt* yourself.

We don't expect someone to quit his old job before going out to find a better one.

How about being completely transparent and telling presepective agents you have an agent but are dissatisfied with him?

ryan field said...

Good advice, especially for authors who have proven track records with books and sales in one genre and are thinking about switching to another.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Anon 10:41 - my support is heartfelt.

Again, I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about!! You wrote several best-selling novels - any agent would be lucky to represent you, any publisher would be lucky to publish your works.

This really is a flaw in the system - a fairly serious one, from my perspective anyway.

So, I hope, in your struggles with a difficult and pretty nutty system, you don't lose sight of the fact that you are extremely talented and have a tremendous amount to offer.

If it helps - I'd trade places with you in a flash. I'd love to be a best-selling, praise-winning novelist, agented or not. Sounds like great fun to me.

You'll find your agent. It will happen.

But -- if you run out of options, let me know. I'll represent you. I'm not an agent, but for a best-selling author, I'll figure it out pretty darn fast. In fact, send your friends, too. I think I could make a good start at opening an agency with all best-selling authors on my list. :)

I wish you the very best of luck!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Great advice. A little disheartening to hear that even well-pubbed authors have a tough time then finding representation in order to change agents. But good to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm a published author, but not a bestseller. My work has gotten great reviews, but I had not sold enough to be a bestseller (yet).

Secondly, I don't think there is a flaw in the system. As with all things worth having, traditional publishing is difficult to get into, but well worth it. From all the things your agent (a good one, anyway) does for you (which is far more than simply selling), to all the things a traditional publisher does for you (which is far more than merely printing the thing), the system works and is worth it. It is a vetting process, and I think, basically a good one.

Also, unless you're self-employed, you go through a similar process to get a great job. This is no different. It requires dedication and perseverence - which reserves success for those who hang in.

Lastly, a "bad", or disinterested agent can be as bad as having no agent at all. I know because I had one and now I'm out there querying again, too. If your agent doesn't return your phone calls, and a lot of other things, then you're hosed, and you might as well end your relationship with them, because it's the same difference.

It won't be easy, but again, nothing worth having ever is. I *will* get new representation and I don't plan to give up until I do.

To the person who wrote the original question on this post, and to Anon 8:18, I say "Hang in there! You *will* succeed."

Unknown said...

Anon 11:00, while not all agents know each other personally, a lot of them do, and they move in the same circles... if you contact one agent and tell them you're dissatisfied with your current rep, not only is your current rep going to hear about it, other agents may too. You'd be shooting yourself in the foot pretty bad, in my opinion.

Leaving an agent is more like a romantic relationship than a job. Leave one before you take up with another. It's the standard in this industry.

Jessica's advice about pitching a specific project, not just your authory self, is a great insight. Good luck, bestselling author!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Jessica. Leaving an agent is hard, but the WAY you leave him/her can make all the difference.

"How about being completely transparent and telling presepective agents you have an agent but are dissatisfied with him?"

No. Because all these agents will be able to think is, "If he did it to him, he'll do it to me someday." Make a clean break and leave with a clear conscience. Comparing what we do to "regular jobs" is ultimately just a pointless waste of time. It's not like other jobs and it never will be.

Mira said...
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Mira said...

Oh, I guess I should explain why I think it's a flaw in the system. Briefly, since I've posted alot here today.

First, best-selling authors are extremely rare, and one that wrote six of them has a proven track record.

The industry survives finanically because of these authors. 85% of authors don't earn out. The 15% that make siginficant amounts of money are the reason the industry is viable.

For an author with a proven track record of making the industry money to be unable to find representation is mind-boggling. That his or her friends are also in the same situation is a serious and rather scary situation - scary for the industry.

It's not scary for the author. The author can e-publish. This person is choosing not to, but they can if they decide to do so. And all of that revenue will leave traditional publishing.

That's a flaw.

And once again, I want to point out that my prime motivation for pointing out these things is I'm trying to be HELPFUL.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I felt a need to post quickly and explain something from my perspective. Keep in mind I know nothing about Anon 8:18 and I'm primarily addressing Mira because I think there are a few misconceptions in what you are saying.

"national bestselling" while fabulous, can mean a number of things. It does not necessarily mean NY Times and absolutely, does not guarantee big money. I have seen a number of authors who have had "national bestselling" books at one time or another, but very quickly stopped making lists and/or never made quite as much money as the publisher was spending in advances.

An author who sold six bestselling titles has had a proven track record at one time, but there's no saying where that track record is now. Were those books published recently or 20 years ago? Did the last six books the author published have terrible numbers and maybe were not bestsellers?

I want to clarify, this has absolutely nothing to do with Anon 8:18 and I want to thank this person for allowing me to use her (him) as an example. I am sorry Anon is having a difficult time, but it sounds like you are a smart business person and will recover. You seem to understand this business.

I just want to make it clear that while Anon is struggling and has had success, there are a lot of variables to consider and being a bestseller once (or six times) does not guarantee ease another six times.


Pat Brown said...

If you follow his blog, agent Nathan Bransford had to query for his YA novel, just like everyone. Who knows if what he was got him better treatment -- after all, being able to agent doesn't necessarily mean that person can write.

Anonymous said...

wry wryter:

As a former painter who's transitioned into writing, I've noted your exact sentiment. If you're in the visual arts, you can post all your work on a Web site and get feedback from all around the world. No one has to approve it first, and you stand a better chance of "being seen" and getting representation because of it.

Obviously having a Web site or blog is a marketing tool for an author, as well, but if you want to go the traditional publishing route, you can't post all of your novels for free before finding an agent. Very different product.

There's also no stigma to the equivalent of self-publishing for visual arts (well, at least not in the contemporary market). It's totally fine to rent a DIY space, organize a show, market the hell out of it, and get some attention.

Setting aside the making of either art form and how easy/difficult that part of the process might be for any individual, I think it's far easier to have your work seen and appreciated as a visual artist than as a writer because the norm is for people to look at it without buying it. (And it's a lot faster to sample; books take far longer to read.)

I find this pretty depressing, actually. I try not to think about it too much and just continue on.

Mira said...


Thanks for your gracious response. What you're saying is interesting to me. I would never have thought that best-selling doesn't equal big money. And I see what you are saying - we don't know the details of the particular situation.

So, if I'm pointing to a potential problem that doesn't exist in publishing, I hope I will be kindly ignored. But given the current landscape, if I have accidentally landed on something real, I hope I won't be. :)

As an aside, I realized lately that some people can perceive these rants I go on as a personal attack. I can not stress enough that they are not intended that way. I'm talking about an industry, not the people within it. I hope that comes across, and if it doesn't, I'm sorry about that! That's so not my intention.

Thanks for allowing me a voice on your blog.

Angelica Weatherby said...

I must admit I think of the popular book series I read/wanna read when talking about best-sellers. Pretty much I understand this market as based on the books, not based on the author. I know I'm not much help here since I am more of a vivid reader or artist.