The Break-up: How to Leave Your Agent

I’m a believer in positive thinking and I try to keep things inspiring on my blog, but from time to time we have to get real and talk about tough things. What happens when you want to leave your agent? How should you do it? What’s the order of things?

Every scenario is different and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but here are some tips and suggestions to make a healthy and professional break. 

Leave your agent first. It’s always better to leave once you know things aren’t working. And no agent wants an email from an industry colleague saying “your client is querying and aren’t you still representing them?” It’s a bad scenario for everyone. Make a plan, part ways and then get back to your query letter.

Querying again might not be so hard. It’s up to you whether you want to say “previously represented and have amicably parted ways with my old agent” or whether you want to query with a blank slate. But if you got an agent once, you can do it again. Don’t let the slush pile keep you from leaving a partnership that’s not working.

Get your information: sales figures, submission lists etc. As soon as you’re querying again agents will be asking about these things. So as you’re parting ways make sure to ask for all the ammunition you might need. It’s better to get it right away than track down a former agent months later.

Remember it’s a small industry. Bad mouthing anyone or keeping secrets isn’t going to fly. Agents want to work with people they get along with, whether they’ve had another agent before or not. So push the trash talk away, and focus on what didn’t work, why, and how you can prevent your new partnership from falling into that old pattern.

Keep it professional, not personal. When it’s time to say goodbye it’s okay to do it by email. You don’t need to pick up the phone if you don’t want to. Either way, keep it classy.

If you want to, make sure you did everything you could. There’s no point putting your head in the sand the minute things don’t go your way. When you sign with an agent in the first place you should feel a sense of whether you can work with this person when things are great and when things are tough. (However, we all know situations change and people change.) Before you leave make sure you let your agent know when you’re having trouble in case your issues are resolvable and you don’t have to leave after all.

Don’t…

  • Write a blog post about your experiences. Some things you need to keep to yourself.
  • Keep secrets. If you’re not happy speak up before the relationship unravels. Or keep secrets from your new agent.
  • Start your new query letter with the negative. Avoid telling new agents how your old relationship went sour. Save that tidy line “amicably parted ways” for your author bio.

Managing your career is about knowing what’s best for you and your work. Sometimes even the best intentioned partnerships don’t work out in the long term and that’s okay. A well-built writing career is a long one.

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6 thoughts on “The Break-up: How to Leave Your Agent

  1. On the flip side. Finding an agent is like internet dating.

    I see their pictures, lined up to be chosen. Their names, Commercial, Upmarket, Mystery, Thriller & Romance. Some posing demure, one statuesque, another stern looking worn from battle, but all distant. It must be like a first date. Kindness and humor make a great first impression. Good looks and good manners are a plus. Intelligence and insight make me want to know more. One agents name if Platonic, perhaps my query should go there. It might have a better chance of being read, and besides – you never know – magic might happen.

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  2. Another awesome article. I split with my agent last summer – but I adored him and it was only because I realized I wanted to move toward fiction and he doesn’t represent any fiction. It was a scary prospect, as if I was starting from scratch (which, let’s be honest, I was/am), but I’m so grateful for the experience and the lessons that came along with it. (Also: the “don’t write a blog post about your experiences” – who does that?! Don’t burn your bridges people!)

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  3. Hi Carly and thanks for the article! I have an odd situation and I’d love to hear your take on it. I signed with a New York agent (in a credible firm) 2 1/2years ago and they were the longest 2 1/2 years of my life – severe lack of communication, no regular updates, no response to email correspondence and no information regarding the contacts made with publishers, even to one point having a publisher contact ME because she wasn’t responding. This spring, I fired her. Nothing fiery, nothing mean, just ‘let’s part ways’. I had to give the agency 30 days ‘in case an offer came in.’ In the meantime, I contacted another agent (one I had turned down to sign with this one), and a small Canadian press that had originally been interested in my MS. Both are currently very interested, the 30 days are over, (as of April 5) and today I got an email from my agent saying an editor from Penguin is interested. What do I do? Is she still my agent in terms of this deal? How do I navigate this with mutual respect, given the fact that I don’t trust her anymore? Any thoughts/advice would be MUCH appreciated!

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    1. It depends on the agreement you signed with the agency. All are slightly different. If the agent that you’ve been with previously wants to put up a fuss they can, technically, because they’re following their agreement. However, you can have a new agent contact the penguin editor if the deal is still on the table. And you can still leave your agent even if they do this deal for you–it would just be the one book that’s left with them, not your career.

      Tough call!

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