Ask The Scribe
After reading this week Scribe’s advice on agents, check out WLT’s Third Thursday September 20, 7pm at BookPeople on ‘How to Land a Literary Agent!’
Q: How do you know when it’s time to switch agents?
This is a toughie but one that is asked often. It is not uncommon for authors to have multiple agents over the course of their career; but that doesn’t mean authors should “dump” their agent at the first sign of a problem.
When the author/agent relationship is working, and working well, it is mutually supportive, built on open communication, business acumen, and trust. Some clients require their agent be a cheerleader, an editor, an advocate. Agents can be all those things but your particular agent has strengths and weaknesses, like we all do. The best way to keep the author/agent relationship healthy is to have realistic expectations, to communicate openly, and to reassess career goals often.
But all that does not guarantee you and your agent will be partners-of-the-page forever. The author/agent relationship may hit troubled times: a division in career direction, another round of revisions (and one you may not particularly agree with), touch and go communication around contract negotiations, or any myriad of pitfalls that make publishing a minefield.
If and when the relationship your author/agent relationship hits the rocks, don’t do anything drastic. This is not the time bad mouth your agent to friends, or blog about whatever is bothering you, or to send a registered letter ending the relationship without thinking. That is the time to have an honest conversation—first with yourself and then with your agent.
Ask yourself: What is the real issue? How could the relationship improve? Am I being too sensitive? Am I being impatient? Once you know the answers to those questions and any others that address your particular situation, it’s time to talk to your agent.
Address the issues as a professional when having “the talk.” Remember your agent is a business partner, even as friendly and familiar as you’ve become. Listen to what your agent has to say in terms of what the issues you are raising are. Your agent may have similar concerns as you do or others to add to the conversation. Be open. Do not be defensive.
When the conversation is over, take some time to contemplate how the talk went. Does your agent agree you may be at a crossroads (and don’t be surprised if at some point in your career you agent may be the one to initiate the ending of the business relationship)? Did you feel heard? Is there a plan of action going forward addressing the concerns? Do you have a renewed sense of trust and mutual support?
Once you contemplate “the talk” it is time to take action. Be sure your agent knows you are committed to moving forward or that you feel it is time to end the relationship. Pull out your agency agreement and follow all termination stipulations. Do not fear your agent will hate you. Do not fear you will never get another agent. In fact, your previous agent may have suggestions for you in terms of who may be a better fit.
And only after you’ve ended the agreement, do you go agent hunting. But during the whole decision making process, whether it takes place over six hours or six months, stay calm, centered, and remain positive. It is not acceptable to pitch other agents before ending your current agenting relationship, but there is no law against beginning the research of googling prospective agents, asking friends if they are happy with their agent and why. Do your research. Believe in yourself. Your new agent is waiting to read and sell your work.
Bethany Hegedus’ books include Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte/Random House) and Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books). Both novels were named to the Bank Street Books Best Books in 2010 and 2011, and Between Us Baxtersgarnered a star from the Bank Streets Best for outstanding recognition. Forthcoming from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. Bethany has served as the Hunger Mountain Young Adult & Children’s Editor since 2009. Currently, Bethany owns and operates The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop, and event space in S. Austin, Texas. She teaches privately and speaks across the country.
Welcome to our new advice column for writers. ”Ask the Scribe” will come out every other Tuesday beginning September 4, 2012. If you are a current Writers’ League of Texas member and have a burning question about craft or the business of writing, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Your submission cannot be anonymous, however we can keep your identity anonymous when it is posted on the blog.