I thought I’d chat today about a subject that most authors don’t want to talk about. It’s another publishing situation that’s a murky mystery. We don’t want to talk about it because we fear never signing with another agent again. We fear looking like a failure. Or we don’t feel comfortable sharing our stories for ethical and personal reasons. But I need to talk about it because it happened to me recently. Like, as in just a few days ago. And it happens more often than we think.
So, what does happen when your author/ agent relationship ends?
The relationship between every author and agent is unique, so I won’t even attempt to tell you how it goes for everyone. But maybe if I share my situation, it will help some of you, and maybe it will help me too. Let me start by saying that my situation has a happy ending. But still, even as I write this, I feel a pit in my stomach—that feeling like something tragic has happned, like someone has died. I guess that’s what happens when an important relationship dissolves though. It’s a death of sorts. An ending. So when it’s over, it does actually feel tragic.
There’s a sense of security, comfort, and commitment that comes with being in any relationship and the author/ agent one is no different. Having a literary agent means that you have an industry professional who believes in you and your work, and maybe it’s the first time anyone has. If they agree to take you on as a client, it means they want to be a champion for your work and that’s an amazing thing. For an author, there’s nothing quite like it. It also means that both of you believe you can work together in a professional manner. It means you have hope for selling future books together. If you’re lucky, it also means that you become friends. That was the case with my agent and me. We had a great working relationship and even though sadly we had never met in person (geography made that too difficult) we became friends too.
You may wonder why I’m sharing this—wondering if I’m about to share something scandalous for the world to read. Well, if you know me at all, you know I would never do that! But more importantly, there is nothing BAD to share. In fact, there’s so much good about my experience with my agent. Seriously. So. Much. Good. Besides, I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing.
I signed with her in August, 2015. If you’d like to relive my getting-an-agent story, you can here. It will always be the highlight of my publishing career—especially since it took me eight agonizing years to find one! We clicked right away and a little more than a year after we began working together, in October, 2016, she sold my debut middle grade novel in a two-book deal. It was a surreal time and you can read my book deal story here. That moment will always be a massive highlight in my publishing career obviously too because it meant that I was about to become a published author.
Spin the Golden Light Bulb and Flip the Silver Switch were published several months apart in 2018. Then, in January 2019, my agent sold the third book in the Crimson Five series, Pop the Bronze Balloon. It’ll release in November, 2020 so yeah, I can safely say there has been so. much. good. Selling three books together in less than five years is still unbelievable to me. It’s something I never expected—more than I could have possibly imagined when we first joined forces. At that point all I could think and hope was that one day I’d see one of my books on a bookstore shelf!
Like any releationship though, even with all the good, working together always has its challenges. Because of this, most contracts between an author and an agent have a release clause. There’s always the possibility that one party will want out for one reason or another. It’s the reality of the publishing industry. My realistic brain knows this, but I guess my heart is still having trouble catching up.
Because that’s what happened to me.
My agent is no longer going to be an active agent. She has made the decision to leave her literary agency. So just like that, our author/ agent contract has been dissolved.
I don’t think talking about the reason would be appropriate. That’s her story to share. But I will say she made the decision after much thoughtful consideration and it was for personal reasons—nothing to do with her ability as an agent. (She was really good!) And while I fully support and understand her decision, it’s still hard. I feel like I’ve lost an ally. I seriously have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t, especially because we are parting on good terms. Besides, books are great connectors and we’ll always be connected through our love of writing and our shared creation of the three Crimson Five books. She made that happen for me and I will be forever grateful for the time I could proudly call her my agent. Sure I’m spending time mourning the loss of our partnership, but I’m beginning to look on the bright side once again—looking to the future.
So, what comes next? Like I said, my situation has a happy ending and I’ll share more on that soon. But let’s talk in general terms…
Once you and your agent decide to part ways and your contract is dissolved, you are free to pursue other representation. There is the possibility of signing with another agent in the agency. That is, if another agent is interested in signing you and you are interested in signing with them. If that doesn’t happen, you’re free to explore other options. In other words, query agents again. I know, I know.That sounds like a daunting task, especially if it took a long time to find an agent the first time. But rest assured, if the reason for the broken contract doesn’t have anything to do with you as a person or a writer, and you have a manuscript that another agent will be interested in representing, then someone else will happily sign you with no reservations. Especially if your work has not already been submitted to every publisher or editor on the planet. And since there are approximatly 1 million publishers and editors out there just waiting for your query letter to land in their inbox, you’re probably okay there!
The same is true if you’re the one breaking the contract, and that can happen for so many reasons. Sometimes the author is unhappy because their agent has been unable to sell any of their work, or the communication isn’t what it used to be. Maybe the agent is over-worked (most are!) and cannot devote the time that’s needed to the author. There are so many reasons why an author could be unhappy. Just know that if you choose to break the contract, you can’t legally or ethically query other agents until you dissolve it officially—in writing. My best advice is that if you’re thinking of breaking it, talk to your agent before you do. Many problems can be cleared up just by articulating that there is a problem. You may have expectations that are different than your agent’s. Knowing and understanding how to manage them may fix everything.
So, know that authors lose their agents all the time. It’s more common than you think, especially because most hate talking about it. But understand that if it happens to you, it’s okay to feel a loss. Especially if it was a good partnership at one point, or throughout the whole relationship. Remember that nothing lasts forever and that sometimes change is exactly what we need to grow. None of us improves without a little adversity. So, feel sad if you need to, but then snap out of it and move on! Big dreams are achieved when we refuse to give up. Don’t give up on yours even if you and your first agent part ways. I don’t plan to! And notice that I said first, because if you were able to get an agent once, you can do it again. Trust me on this one!
There’s more to my story and there will be more to yours too. I’m looking forward to sharing it and I’m really looking forward to hearing about yours also! If you have any experience with this tricky situation and don’t mind saying so, please comment. It’s helps us all to know that we’re not alone in our publishing journey—we’re not the only ones with big dreams who refuse to give up on them just because our path has changed.
I hope this topic has been helpful. Thank you so much for reading! And as always, if you’re in need of story inspiration, don’t try so hard… just let your imagination do the work!