How to leave your literary agent – this two-part article will show you how to separate in the right way at the right time, without causing any hard feelings, burning any bridges, or damaging your writing career and reputation.
This article is, ironically, part of an 8-part series called Hiring a Literary Agent. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you also read our other article on this topic, called How to Fire Your Literary Agent.
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How to Leave Your Literary Agent Checklist
There are lots of reasons that you might want to learn how to leave your literary agent. You might feel like you’re not getting enough attention. Maybe your book (or new book) hasn’t sold yet. Something has happened to make you stop trusting your agent. Or you’ve had one or more disagreements about the direction of your work.
If you want to know how to leave your literary agent, it starts with having the bigger picture in mind and a clear plan. Believe it or not, no matter how awkward or painful your current situation might be, it is possible to make your situation even worse if you don’t consider all of the following on my How to Leave Your Book Agent Checklist. Click here to learn how to work with me 1-on-1 as your book marketing and publishing coach.
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#1 – How to Leave Your Literary Agent
Are You Absolutely Sure Your Agent Is at Fault?
As a former book agent I know that there are times when authors think an agent is doing something wrong, and he isn’t. This is usually because of miscommunication, a lack of communication, or some misunderstanding.
For example, one of my clients once left me a nasty voicemail telling me how disappointed she was in me. She said that I hadn’t gotten back to her about her new sample chapters that she’d emailed me. I asked the author what email address she’d sent the material to because I hadn’t gotten a thing. Turns out she’d sent it to a completely wrong email address.
This is just one of a dozen examples that I could share with you. So be slow to assume that everything is a disaster and it’s time for you to learn how to leave your literary agent. You might be right, but look at your situation objectively. Are you 100% sure there’s a problem? If not, consider scheduling an introductory consulting call with me so you can explain your situation and I can make suggestions.
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#2 – How to Leave Your Literary Agent
If There’s a Problem, Have You Done All You Can to Fix It?
As a former book agent (and husband who’s been married for 11 years), I can assure you… people are willing to compromise and/or change when they realize there’s no other option, and they’re given the opportunity to do so. But you have to go about it the right way. Just make sure you give it your all and try. Don’t just send one or two emails or voicemails and get hopeless. Or stick your head in the sand because you’re too afraid to confront the issues at hand.
The first step in solving the problem or terminating the relationship is getting your agent’s attention, which might not be easy. Sometimes agents “fall of the radar” and seem to disappear because they’re so busy. So you you might need to “make a little more noise” than usual. Send several emails and leave a couple voicemails over the course of a few days. Keep it short. Say something like: “I really need to get in touch with you, I’m at the point where I’m rethinking our relationship. Will you please get back to me in the next few days so I know what to do next?”
If a week goes by and you don’t hear back from the literary agency, you know it’s time to end the relationship (scroll down to #3 on my How to Leave Your Book Agent Checklist).
If your book agent calls you back:
- Compliment your agent for one or more things that you feel he or she has done well during your time together
- Say that you’re [upset/disappointed/angry], give your reason(s) and perhaps say that you’re thinking about leaving
- Ask your agent if he or she would like to talk about it and see if you can continue working together
If you do this, you might not need to learn how to leave your book agent. Again, for delicate situations like this, consider scheduling an introductory consulting call with me so you can explain your situation and I can make suggestions.
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#3 – How to Leave Your Literary Agent
Did Your Agent Sell Any of Your Books?
Okay, if you’re still reading this article… it probably means that you’re past the point of no return. You don’t believe your relationship is a healthy one, and it’s time for you to learn how to leave your literary agent. If that’s true you need to decide whether you want to end your relationship completely, or stay in touch on a limited basis.
It’s a lot like divorce. If your agent didn’t sell any of your books (like a divorcing couple that doesn’t have any children), it’s easy to completely break all contact. There’s no reason for you to stay in touch.
However, if your agent has sold one or more of your books, you might want to remain “friends.” That’s because your agent will be collecting a commission in perpetuity (forever, for the life of the project). And you might have questions about future royalty statements.
In this situation, you might be able to convince your agent to amend the “Agency Clause” in your publishing contract(s) and arrange for “split payment” of future royalties. That means the publisher will pay you and the agent separately going forward, and send you both a copy of the previous period’s accounting.
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#4 – How to Leave Your Literary Agent
What Does Your Author/Agent Agreement Say?
How to leave your book agent? Start by dusting off your author/agent agreement. Find the section that includes language about the “term” or duration of representation. It’s usually 12 months, but it could be more or less.
If the term hasn’t expired yet, you can still terminate the agreement without cause if you get the agent’s permission. If the agent refuses to give you permission but you feel you have cause and the contract has been breached, you’ll need to convince the agent of that and/or consult an attorney to help you get out of the contract.
If the term of your agreement has expired, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free to get a new agent. Many literary agencies have “auto-renewal” language in their contracts that automatically extends the contract term unless the author submits (in writing) a request to terminate the contract.
Again, refer to your author/agent agreement.
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#5 – How to Leave Your Literary Agent
Are You Planning on Getting New Representation?
If you’re planning on working with another literary agency, the timing of your separation is important. Although you might be tempted to query or flirt with new agents before breaking it off with your existing literary agency, don’t do it. Again, the author/agent relationship is a lot like marriage. You shouldn’t be looking for someone better while you’re still with someone else.
If your book agent hasn’t sold your book yet, there’s probably still a lot happening that your book agent might not tell you about. Your representative is investing hope and faith in you and your work. Query letters are being written, publishers and editors are being researched, meetings are being set up, phone calls are being made, emails are being sent. There isn’t just pitching but also follow up and nagging. And all of this is happening without your literary agent getting paid.
If your publishing agent has sold your book, there’s also a lot happening that your book agent might not tell you about. Your representative is thinking about the direction of your overall career and future titles, working on subsidiary rights, staying in touch with editors and other publishing contacts to make sure your book(s) are staying on track and in the forefront of everyone’s mind… and getting maximum exposure. And sometimes people have to be chased for you to get paid on time.
Bottom line, break it off before you start looking for someone new.
Otherwise, your new agent will never trust you.
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How to Leave Your Literary Agent – Next Steps
If you’ve gone through this How to Leave Your Literary Agent Checklist, and you still want to know how to leave your literary agent… consider getting the 1-on-1 support that you need by clicking here to work with me 1-on-1 as your book marketing coach and consultant.
Then click here to read the next article in this 8-part series
and learn How to Fire Your Literary Agent.
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