No one likes to talk about it, but the truth is that sometimes it’s just necessary to fire your agent. You could have the most successful agent in the world, but it just might not be a fit; you could have an agent that you feel was right at the beginning of your career but maybe isn’t right now that you are in a different place. You might have had a great relationship with your agent at first, but things have petered out somehow and you don’t really know why. Most of the time it’s honestly no one’s fault–it’s just time.
No one is pretending, however, that firing your agent is easy. At best it’s awkward and at worst it’s contentious and unpleasant. I have a few tips and suggestions however which might make things a bit easier for all involved. After all, the whens and hows of firing your agent can have a significant impact on your career. Don’t let it be an impulsive act, but a thoughtful and considered one.
- Make sure you’re doing it for the right reason. If you’ve had three agents over four books, it might be some time for a little self-reflection about expectations. It may also be just because you’ve had some really bad luck, but at the least it should trigger some thought about the way you choose a new agent. Make sure you know what you want and then perhaps do a little research with friends/colleagues on whether or not that seems reasonable and doable. Perhaps then make a list of your priorities and be able to discuss them with a prospective new agent. I can tell you many agents will be wary once you are on your third or fourth or fifth (hey, it happens) agent, so you really want to make sure that you are coming from a very reasonable place on this one.
- Consider picking up the phone and trying to work things out. A few times in my career after I’ve had discussions with an author looking for a new agent, I‘ve later received an embarrassed call or e-mail from the author saying that when they fired their agent, he/she convinced them to give it another shot. Point being, that why not talk to your agent about problems before giving them the old heave ho. Give them a chance. It may be that they really don’t realize there is a problem but would be more than willing to try to fix things.
- Consider the timing. This is really, really important. Here are times when you don’t want to fire your agent, because it will make it much harder to find a new one:
- you have just signed a six book contract. This means your new agent is going to inherit a whole bunch of work and not be able to get paid for a whole lot of time. Fire your agent before it’s time for a new deal, not after.
- your book has just pubbed. Most likely, your publisher will want to see how the book is doing before buying a new one. In the absence of any sales information, the best you are going to do is get an advance at the same level. Try to hold out for at least a few months to get some numbers and make the new agent’s job a little easier and to help them be more effective for you.
- your career is on a major downswing. Sometimes this one is unavoidable but here’s the thing: if you have serious doubts about your agent, but your career is going fairly smoothly, you should still not hold off on terminating the relationship. If you’re correct in your concerns about your agent then you should fire them before they have a detrimental effect on your career. You’ll have a far easier time finding a new agent if things are going well for you.
- Did you sign an agency agreement? Consult a publishing attorney to clarify what your rights are ahead of time. Some agency agreements can tie up your rights for a long time and that will play a role in whether or not you fire your agent and when you fire your agent.
- How are you going to do it? I don’t think you should pressure yourself to do it over the phone. The situation is awkard enough to have to stammer through it. Send a polite, kind e-mail or a note. Some agents might disagree on this one but I don’t think a call is necessary.
- No matter how pissed off you are, don’t finger point. This is what you say: Dear Agent, I am so grateful for all you have done for me over the years. You have played an instrumental role in my career and I thank you. But I think the time has come for me to seek new representation and so I regretfully must terminate our agent-client relationship. I wish you nothing but the best and I look forward to working with you on our continued business.In other words, pleasant and vague. You don’t need to outline in detail all the reasons you fired them. Here’s why. Your agent is going to continue to represent you for a very long time (read for the term of copyright or until one of you dies) for the titles that they sold. If you’re cordial and pleasant that increases the odds that they will continue to do a good job for you. Besides that, chances are they are still good friends with your editor and future editors who may buy you, or may even be friends with your new agent. It’s too small an industry to burn bridges unnecessarily.I know plenty of authors who have left their agents on friendly terms. That’s always the goal and it won’t happen if you decide to really tell them off before you go.
- As a follow up to this one, if you badmouth your old agent enough, I can promise you it will get back to them. I’m constantly struggling with keeping my mouth shut, so I feel your pain on this one, but try to keep your complaints to your very closest friends. Again, it’s a very small world.
- As a corollary to 2., if you possibly can, fire your agent *before* you start your search for a new one. In agent-land, it’s considered the courteous way of doing things.
Here are a few links I found on the topic which seemed reasonable to me. In the event of disagreement on this stuff, go with your gut. There is no one path, as I like to say.
http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006/01/how-to-fire-your-agent.html(RIP Rock star blogger Miss Snark. How I miss thee.)
Good luck and godspeed!