Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Want a Divorce

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Question of the day: If I don't feel like my agent is a good match for me or lacks enthusiasm about my work at this point, how do you divorce an agent?

I am a divorcee. This will come as news, however, to my husband. :) No, really, I have divorced an agent, and like many divorcees (both from their agents and their spouses), I am so much the better for it. So I do speak from experience here.

The first step in breaking ties with your agent, in my opinion, is to have a frank discussion about where the relationship is and where the relationship is heading. Not unlike what you'd do when you're debating breaking up with a boyfriend (or feel like he might be gearing up to break up with you - sob). You'll inevitably dread this discussion - I lost countless nights of sleep and probably a few pounds too - anticipating mine, but it's a necessity. It's also the fair thing to do both for your agent and for your career. It's possible, for example, that you have different expectations in terms of communication than she does, and you just need to have a head-to-head to get on the same page. Be clear about what isn't working for you in this discussion and ask her (or him) if she feels the same - if you've, in fact, reached an impasse or if this is something that you can get past.

In my case, it was clear that my first agent had lost faith in me, and I was frustrated to all hell with her. So I called her, and we chatted. She was willing to keep working with me, but I certainly didn't want someone in my corner who barely wanted to be there. So I walked. (And felt 100% liberated in doing so.)

If you're at the point where you don't even want to have this conversation (which again, I think can be critically important because your agent might not even be aware of your complaints) and just truly believe that it's time to cut bait, you need to notify your agent before you shop around for a new one. I've actually read recently that some agents don't mind you putting out feelers - sending out some referral emails or "hey, would you be interested in this" emails - before you cut ties, but I'm not so sure. I think it's sketchy - agents know each other, they know each other's clients, and in my opinion, I think you should fully wash your hands clean of one agent before moving on to your search for another. Is that a horrifyingly scary step? Of course. But it's the ethical thing to do, and as I always say here: it's better to have no agent than a crappy agent.

So if you decide to move on, either send your agent a kind but professional note or give her a call, and simply say that you think you should amicably part ways. You don't have to get into the nitty-gritty and you certainly shouldn't convey a sense of anger or bad blood. This is a business relationship, though many of us tend to personalize it, and you should try to keep your parting as business-like as possible, in my opinion. This industry is small - and who knows when you'll run into this agent again? Best to leave it amicable and instead devote your attention to finding someone new.

Anyone else out there leave their agents? If so, did you look for someone new BEFORE getting out? How do you feel about that? How did you take steps to getting your divorce?


Heather Bestel said...

I'm only just setting out to find an agent - haven't even got up the aisle, and now you've got me thinking!
I guess I'm going to have to make the best decision, based on the information I've got at the time - and my gut feeling.
If it doesn't work out then all I can hope for is an amicable parting - for the sake of the children/books!

Amie Stuart said...

I'm big on covering my butt. Emails are nice, but I recommend a certified letter. For whatever that's worth.

That said, I did the certified letter thing with my first agent. Like Allison's previous agent, she'd lost her enthusiasm.

I was very bitter and it took me a long time to start searching for an agent again. Not because I wanted an agent, but because I was too stubborn to let the bizness end of writing beat me.

With the second agent, I refused to change a project, and she subsequently wished me the best of luck with it and that was the end of that.

That's right...She dumped me. For the record, this was the second project we'd gone three rounds on and I think both of us realized that we weren't as good a fit as we'd hoped to be. It happens. It was amicable and I'd still recommend her for a number of reasons.

I think the odds are that at some point in your career, you will have to part ways with an agent. Sad, but true.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

It was mutual with my first agent, and blessedly so -- it's so true that no agent is better than a bad agent.

I almost signed with someone a few months ago, but it fell apart after some very exciting initial conversations. Better now than later.

Anonymous said...

I amicably (and by mutual agreement) parted ways with my first agent.

I was never so glad of that amicable part as when, a few years later, I found myself sitting on a panel beside my ex-agent at a professional conference. It really is best to be professional and avoid burning bridges, because one way or another, chances are your paths will cross again.

Besides, like with all relationships, sometimes it's not that either of you were wrong. It's just that you didn't belong together.

Guy Chambliss said...

A divorce is difficult for all those involved. Especially the kids - they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the pain. But it's a part of life, and you have to make some hard decisions for the sake of your family. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it simply couldn't work anymore.