Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Agent Shopping

I currently have an agent who has a good reputation and has a decent track record. I have done all the background checks I can and when I signed felt I would be well represented by this person. However, through a series of situations and over a six month period with 0 submissions to publishing houses despite a great deal of talk about multiple submissions, I am beginning to believe that this business relationship is not a good match.

What I would like to know from you is, is it bad protocol to start feeling out the waters with other agents (querying) while still under contract? I don't want to do anything unethical or something that would tarnish my reputation as a new author, however I also would like to have an agent that is doing their job asap. And if it is okay to start querying while under contract, do I mention that I am under contract and looking for a more suitable agent?

First let me congratulate you on making the decision early on that this might not be the right relationship. Too often I see authors flounder with an agent who they don't feel is a good fit, but out of fear they won't find another. Taking control of your career from the beginning is a smart move.

I'm going to assume that you've talked with your agent about your concerns. Often I find that assumptions are made about what others are doing without really knowing the facts. For example, I'm constantly shopping books, talking to editors about the work my clients do, hounding publishers for money and contracts, etc., but I'm not always filling my clients in on every step I'm taking for them. For all you know, the agent could be talking you up to editors.

Okay, on to your question. Yes, it's bad protocol to shop for an agent while you're under contract. Honestly, it's a breach of contract and puts all parties, including the agents you're talking to, in a very uncomfortable position. What if your agent happens to be best friends with one of the other agents you're talking to? How does it make you look to other agents if they know you're the kind of author who might go behind their backs when unhappy? That being said, it does happen all the time. While certainly some agents will feel "protocol be damned," others might tell you to get back in touch after your relationship has been dissolved.

The smart and easy thing to do is quit the relationship and then query. After all, what if you're querying at about the same time your agent decides to start talking to editors about your book? Suddenly you're not going to have much of a project to talk to agents about since by that time it will have been shopped.



Anonymous said...

To the question asker-- I was in your shoes once, and while I dithered, the excellent agent fired me. She made it clear in doing so that she thought my career was over, and I believed her.

Two months later I had another agent and the book contract that the first agent couldn't get me.

But yeah, you do need to take the plunge. Don't query other agents without terminating your relationship with this agent.

Anonymous said...

I'm going through something similar at this very moment. Am I scared to test the waters??? Absolutely, but my current agent tells me things like "This still needs work" but never explains further what exactly is wrong with it. She tells me things like "I'm going to have this back to you by Tuesday." Tuesday comes and goes, no words. Yet, she talks and helps all her other clients. The black sheep feeling has come and gone and I'm going to start querying next month for a project I just finished.

Ann said...

The message suggests an atmosphere of fear about talking to anyone. The comments echo that feeling. But all that comes about because the writer can't stand the wait. What I can't understand is this concern about breach of protocal. Why would it be unethical to talk, unofficially, to other agents? Then terminate the contract if and when another, seemingly more effective, agent relationship is established.

Colin Smith said...

I've not been in this situation (I don't even have an agent yet), but I have read that it's always best to sever the old relationship officially before embarking on a new one. From the writer's perspective, there is the fear that, for as long as it took to get the "bad" agent, by becoming agent-less again, you're starting over at square one. I don't know this is necessarily the case. If you managed to get an agent, even if it didn't work out, this demonstrates your work is marketable, and your chances of getting another agent, at least in theory, should increase.

My question: would you mention the fact that you recently terminated a contract with an agent in your query? On the one hand that sounds negative, but on the other it tells the prospective agent that *someone* in the business thought your work worthy of their time. What's your take, Jessica?

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I'm currently looking for a new agent and I state that in my queries. I agree with Jessica that you should terminate your relationship before you shop for a new agent.

Elissa M said...

An agent/client relationship seems to me like any other relationship. If there's a problem, talk about it and try to resolve it.

If the problems can't be solved to everyone's satisfaction, terminate the relationship. THEN start dating (querying) again.

It's the only ethical way to handle this.

Anonymous said...

What Ann said re: the atmosphere of 'fear'. I don;t understand this protocol, either. If you're in a job you're not happy with, you start shopping for a new one while you still have a job. I frankly don't see why the author/agent relationship should be all that much different.
This is business, surely?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

For those who think you should be able to shop for a new agent while working with one. How are you going to handle the situation when your current agent starts shopping your book? Now you're shopping a book that's been shopped (when two weeks before it wasn't). That's going to completely change the way a new agent is going to look at you.

Jane Lebak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

We've all come a long way since I sent my first query letter to your agency probably around 2002. I guess there is something to be said for perseverence: HACK will be published by HarperDavis this June. It's been a long road, with some unforgettable adventures. Here's one that I know you will get a huge kick out of: