Firing an Agent
by Sharon DeVita
Most authors will tell you that at one time or another they stayed with an agent long after that agent was ineffective. Why? Because authors have a tendency to NOT want to make waves, to not want to create 'trouble', to not want to make enemies, and even more important, they fear if they fire their agent they may well never get another one.
Speaking as an author who has kept an agent on long after it was prudent, and has had to fire more agents than I care to admit, I'd like to give you some tips that might make the process a bit less painful.
First, when do you fire your agent? Well, that's a personal decision only you can answer. In my case, I've fired agents for all of the following:
Okay, so let's say you've decided it's time for a change. How on earth do you fire an agent? Well, carefully is my best advice. Remember, everyone in this business has a very long memory. Your agent of today could be an editor at your publishing house next week. DON'T BURN YOUR BRIDGES. If you must fire your agent, you need to make sure you are within your agency agreement's rules for termination. If you have an agency agreement, read it. Some say that you can only terminate within thirty days of the annual anniversary. Try to strike such a clause from any agreement you sign with an agency. If you really want to terminate the contract, write the agent a letter, tell him/her that you don't feel you two are a good fit, and you think it would be better for both of you to simply terminate this agreement. Most agents will agree. They don't want unhappy clients.
Regardless of what your specific reasons are for terminating an agent, be very careful what you put in writing. Yes, we're writers and very verbal, but I repeat, be very careful what you put in writing! Simply use a generic term/reason such as:
Notice, NONE of these reasons say one word about the agent's actions, behavior, etc. Why? Because like I said, don't burn your bridges. You don't want someone badmouthing YOU in the industry. Agents, like editors and authors, talk, so be careful what you say. It doesn't matter what the reasons are for the termination. YOU KNOW the real reason, and that's all that matters. The key is to terminate the contract. Once you're free, you can pursue other representation. And please remember, do not bad-mouth your old agent to your new one! Agents talk.
Watch what you say. Don't burn your bridges. Be nice.
However, there is an exception to this rule. If you feel your agent has done something totally unethical and/or illegal, such as not paying you money, or withholding money you don't believe is due, you have a responsibility to yourself and your career to rectify the situation. It could be a simple math problem or a misunderstanding. You should make the agent aware of your concern, and give them a chance to explain or rectify the situation. If that doesn't work, then take the proper steps to file a complaint with RWA and with AAR. But even in this case, do NOT badmouth the agent in public. If what you're saying is NOT true, you're setting yourself up for a lawsuit. I'm not saying that you should lie to your friends about your agent. You know who your friends are and who you can trust and confide in about an agent. Choose your confidants in this matter carefully.
Remember, this is your career. Choose the people you want to represent you and your work wisely.
Sharon DeVita has published more than 23 books with Harlequin and Silhouette. She is a member of Chicago-North RWA and often speaks at local conferences. Sharon's August 2002 release from Harlequin, I Married a Sheik, is the third book in the single-title continuity series, The Coltons.
For more of Sharon's titles, visit our Fiction Bookstore.
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Copyright 2002, Sharon DeVita
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