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:

  • Not being honest. How can an agent not be honest and say he sent material out on a certain date when in fact it wasn't done? Honesty is a must.

  • Not returning phone calls within a reasonable amount of time. I consider three days reasonable.  

  • Doesn't seem to care for your work. If you have an agent who has disliked three or more manuscripts of yours, you two are probably not a good fit.

  • You don't think your agent likes you, your work, or isn't enthusiastic. You know better than anyone by the way your agent treats you.

  • Not turning money around fast enough.  Find an agent who will agree to 'split' the money, that is, have the publisher send your money to you, and the agent's money to the agent.

  • Your agent has a habit of arguing with editors. Sound bizarre?  It's not.  it's happened to me.  This is MY career, my relationship with my editor with my editor is crucial and I can screw it up on my own just fine.  I really don't need to pay someone to do it for me.

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:

  • I don't think we're a good fit/match.

  • I think my career is going in a different direction than we originally discussed, therefore, I think it's best if I find other representation.

  • I need some time to reassess which way my career is going and so, at this time, I think it's best if we terminate our agreement.

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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