How to Fire Your Agent

(Encore presentation of a previous post.)

There comes a time in every agent’s life when one of their clients needs to move on. Yep. We all get fired by an author at some point. It isn’t pleasant, but it’s a reality in business.

What are some reasons writers opt to terminate their agency relationship? I think four big ones top the list. (1) The writer believes they’re not getting enough attention; (2) the agent has dropped the ball too many times and the writer no longer trusts them; (3) the writer and agent disagree about the best plan for the writer’s career path; or (4) the writer finds out that the agent is doing something unethical or is somehow not a legitimate literary agent.

Not to Be Taken Lightly

Ending your agency relationship is a personal decision, and I think it should be preceded by a great deal of thought and a sincere effort to correct the problems that are making you unhappy.

It’s a fact of life that people find it difficult to end relationships, even relationships that are making them miserable. Consequently, people often do it artlessly. It takes maturity to try and repair the relationship before ending it. There’s a lot of fear involved in telling someone that we’re not satisfied and asking if there’s a way to fix the problems. Often, there’s also hopelessness: we assume the person is not capable of change, so we don’t believe there’s any point in talking about it.

But I’m a believer in talking to the person with whom you’re unhappy, in this case, your agent. I think the mature way of handling a situation like this is to say, “This isn’t working for me. Can something be changed?”

When people get fired from jobs, it’s often (not always) after one or more warnings. The employee is given a chance to recognize where they’re failing and step up to the plate. If they’re unable, then they’re fired. I recommend taking this approach to terminating your agency relationship. Talk to your agent and give him/her a chance to fix things. Of course, this doesn’t apply if the employee (or agent) is guilty of a serious error or egregious offense, in which case, you just fire them and be done with it.

Be Discreet

What I really don’t like is when writers talk to a lot of friends and others in the business about their unhapppiness with their agent—before officially terminating their agency relationship. That’s just rude. If you’re looking for another agent before getting rid of your current one, have those conversations confidentially. Don’t gossip.

Try To Address the Problem

If you’re unhappy with your agent because you’re having a hard time getting them to respond to you, and it has gone on for awhile and you’re really frustrated, launch an all-out effort to reach them. Send several emails and leave a couple of voicemails, all within a few days. Be brief but clear, saying something like: “I’ve been having a hard time reaching you and I’m at the point of reconsidering our agency relationship. Would you please respond to me so we can discuss where to go from here?” If a week goes by and you don’t hear anything, it’s time to terminate the relationship. Do what you need to do, according to your agency agreement (if you have one).

How To Do It?

You may wonder about specific protocol—do you sever your agency relationship on the phone, in email, in a letter? Your answer depends on the length and depth of the relationship, the way you and your agent have primarily communicated, and what your agency agreement specifies. The longer the relationship, the more crucial it is that you do the hard thing and have that conversation verbally (then confirm the decision in writing). In a relationship of less duration, especially if the agent hasn’t sold any of your books, and/or you have no formal agency agreement, you’re probably fine writing an email.

Before making that call or writing that email, make sure you have a clearly defined goal. If you’re calling or writing to express dissatisfaction and see if there is a way things can improve, that’s a different conversation from the one in which you’ve made up your mind and want to terminate the relationship.

Be CLEAR

Write it down if you have to, but please don’t be so bashful that you are unable to utter those all-important words: I need to terminate our agency relationship. If you’re nervous, and especially if you feel bad for doing it, you’d be surprised how easy it is to avoid saying it outright. Your (soon to be ex-) agent is left wondering what just happened and whether they still have a client.

Get the Terms of Your Exit in Writing

It’s crucial that the terms of your termination are clearly spelled out in writing and agreed upon. This means you need a document detailing the status of every project your agent touched, and what rights to it, if any, your agent retains and for how long.

Be Respectful

Most of all, try to handle these situations with wisdom, respect and maturity. You may be swayed by frustration, as happens in all relationships, but you’ll be much happier with yourself if you handle it with professionalism.

If you’re not sure you have a good reason to fire your agent, but you’re very unhappy, then the best thing to do is talk to someone confidentially, somebody who knows this business and can give you good advice, or even better, talk to your agent. Be brave, be strong, and treat your situation with integrity. As in all relationships, good communication is key.

Q4U: Have you had to switch agents in the past? Do you feel you handled it appropriately? Was it hard?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Carol J. Garvin

    >I'm not in that situation, and hope I never will be, but I appreciate your honesty and openness on how the process should be addressed. Good communication is obviously essential right from the start of the relationship.

  • Amy Tripp

    >Very good advice. I've yet to have an agent, and if I do have one someday, I hope I don't have to go through this, but if I do this post will remind me to take a mature and clear route.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >I just got my first agent and hopefully he'll be my last. I wouldn't want to end an agency relationship, but if I had to, this looks like a very good post to reference. Thank you!

  • sue harrison

    >I've had to switch agents once, due to my agent's retirement – and that broke my heart. She was incredible. After seven years with the agent who purchased my first agent's business, I finally decided to terminate my relationship with this second agent. I hope I handled it in the best way possible. I know I was kind, but perhaps I should have explained my reasons more clearly. Having to let her go broke my heart, too.

  • Anna Zagar

    >Making the decision to terminate is hard enough. All your suggestions seem like common sense to me, but obviously they're an issue if you felt you should address them. Thanks for the reminder to be professional and courteous, Rachelle. I think this applies in all situations.

  • bygones

    >My agent and I parted ways last year. It was a gut-wrenching decision of epic proportions for me. We did talk on the phone, but once she made it clear that she had no intention of doing anything differently or of even attempting to correct the situation, there was no further recourse. And from all I've seen since, I made the right decision. Still hurts, though.

  • Michael Hyatt

    >This is such helpful advice. When I was a literary agent in the 1990s, I was fired by two clients, two years apart, who simply sent me a fax and then wouldn’t return my phone calls. It was completely out of the blue, and I had no include what happened.

    One called me several years later and apologized. He had been lured to sign with another agent who promised that he could get him a much better deal. He didn’t, and my client regretted his decision and his greed.

    Still, it hurt me deeply to be fired in this way. The good news is that it has really affected the way I terminate people now. (Fortunately, I don’t have to do it too often.) But I always try to be courageous, clear, and human. My goal is always to retain the relationship even if we can no longer work together.

    Thanks for another excellent post, Rachelle!

  • Richard Mabry

    >Glad you re-posted this. Excellent advice.
    And as for your questions: yes, yes, and yes.

  • Yvonne Osborne

    >I think I'll bookmark this post, though I hope to never be in this position, from searching for an agent to firing one. Can't imagine. People gossip too much. The advice you offer here holds true in many life situations. But I hate that picture of Trump yelling at me.

  • ed cyzewski

    >This is good advice to follow, especially in the context of using Skype or a phone call to address the more serious concerns. E-mail is great for sharing information and terrible for handling sensitive relationships.

  • Susan Bourgeois

    >My daughter was fired by Donald Trump in Season 5 of "The Apprentice" so this post is bringing back special memories. She was fired on national TV and it happened on her birthday. Overall, she had a blast and it was a great experience.

    I think your suggestions are great. I don't have an agent but I would imagine that I would form a quick friendship that included a large amount of loyalty.

    I think it's wonderful that you addressed several specific points that you feel should be handled properly.

    As always, thank you for the great information.

  • Mary DeMuth

    >Also remember that this is a fluctuating business. While I haven't fired an agent, I have had three agents. The first two left agenting (hmm, do I have that kind of effect?) and the third is currently my agent.

    You may want to have thought through what you will do if your agent moves on.

  • nobi

    >I agree with you, Mary DeMuth. Thank you very much

  • Jaime

    >Wow. It never dawned on me to FIRE an agent. :P I suppose it happens though … but seriously, a good cup of coffee usually would win favor in my book :)

  • OneBigHappy

    >Someone should use this outline to write a book about leaving a church.

  • Jana D

    >Sound advice that would apply to terminating any working relationship. Professionalism and respect always pay off. Thank you Rachelle.

  • Kim Kasch

    >Respect and consideration go a long way in any relationship – even those that end.

  • Eileen

    >I'm still with my original agent and have no plan for leaving, but I have heard two other reasons that can lead to a writer wanting to terminate the relationship.

    The first is if the writer is wanting to move into an alternate genre (move from YA fiction into adult for example) and the agent doesn't rep the new genre.

    The second being that over the course of a career what a writer is looking for in an agent may change. Perhaps when you signed you didn't want an agent who gave editorial advice or as you moved on you would like to be with an agency with a more aggressive foreign rights department or perhaps you signed with an agent that specializes with smaller literary houses and now you want someone with strong established connections to a more commercial house.

    It may be less of a "firing" versus discussing if the relationship makes sense to continue. As a writer this is a business relationship, possibly one of the most important you may have. Keeping or changing agents isn't about being their friend, but about doing what is best for your career.

  • Sheryl Gwyther

    >Terrific advice, Rachelle. In fact, it would work for any type of human relationship. We all need to learn these skills in kindergarten!

  • Marla Taviano

    >I terminated the relationship with my first agent. I'm not sure I handled it in the best way, but looking back, I'm still not sure what I should have done instead.

    I looooooove my new agent, and I can't imagine ever parting ways. I've just got to get something sold for her though so she doesn't lose hope in me.

  • Mr Lonely

    >nice blog.. have a view of my blog when free.. http://www.lonelyreload.blogspot.com .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog…

  • Crystal Laine Miller

    >This is a great post and one not talked about much.

    It's such a personal and relational business. It's like when you want to change hairdressers or doctors! People would rather ignore the problem or just sneak away quietly (or move…) than talk it out.

  • Jade

    Thanks for your insights, Rachelle. On the brink of firing an agent b/c we apparently have divergent views on what’s good communication. In a phone conversation when asked about the status of projects, he said, “I’m not going to be micromanaged”. I actually laughed. Expecting your agent to call or email you on a regular basis to let you know what s/he’s up to is NOT micromanaging, people out there who are wondering how to “manage their agents or managers”. My experience is that agents are notoriously paranoid — maybe rightfully so — but still. Be upfront if you’re thinking of working with an agent. In the first week of working with my latest one I said, I don’t need you to tell me I’m smart, pretty or good at what I do, but I do love a great communicator. I woulda thought that would’ve freed ‘em up to do the one thing that mattered to me. Apparently not. Happy Agent Hunting!

  • Julie K.

    So glad for this post. I’m in the process of praying through if I should let go of my agent or not. I have tried and tried to communicated with no response. I made the new writer mistake of signing with the first offer and now regret it because I didn’t even get ‘the call’ just a one line “i’ll represent you” email. We never talked expectations and then after I signed I got a long “I don’t do this and this and this” email that basically said all the work is up to me (even to find publishers) and then I should pass the info on to my agent. They said they offered career advice and when I asked about a project I was going to start on I was told that I should just do whatever and they weren’t going to direct me for the industry. What’s the point of signing if there isn’t really advice and representation and no answers when I try to communicate (mind you, they have never given my a phone numebr to reach them at either). Ugh. Still mulling it over, but thanks for the guidance for when/if I let them go.

    • Published Writer

      Dear writer trying to decide about leaving their agent who doesn’t do ‘this and this and this’ and says that you have to find publishers yourself and all the other things you noted. Please RUN do not walk out of that contract. Give your 30 days notice and get out. This person is NOT an agent. Is she/he a member of AAR? If not, they are not accepted in the literary agent community. The things you noted are NOT normal for an agent. An agent works for YOU not the other way around. It may be scary to leave because you feel like you may not get another agent. The truth is, you don’t have an agent now. I can almost promise you this agent isn’t going to do a thing for you. Please leave this person–I won’t call her an agent–and do research on real agents through the Romance Writers of America, SF&Fantasy Association, Novels, inc(NINC), and many other reputable writers associations who can help direct you to the REAL agents who are out there that really want to help a writer become successful. Good luck and I hope you keep writing! : )

  • http://myteainfuser.com/ Sam

    I am so happy to read this. This is the type of info that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc. tea infuser

  • http://www.brucewolk.com Bruce

    Unfortunately, I find myself in this situation at present. My agent sold my first book, but with the second it has been a frustrating, difficult experience to even get a response. Months can go by and unless I initiate a call I never hear from her. Thank you for this. It is deeply appreciated.

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