Bustin’ out: when agents flee the coop

I know authors want to scream from mountain tops when their agents leave – whether for a new job, maternity leave, or operation – because it means an interruption in their book. If it’s a permanent move, it’s doubly scary because they face being orphaned. Regardless of the circumstances, it means that someone else is laying hands upon your literary future.

And guess what? You’re not the only one who is driven to the nuthouse.

When I’ve been dealing with an agent and discussing certain sensitive issues, it’s a royal pain to then start from square one with a new agent. My main concern is whether they’ll agree to issues that were set with the original agent. I may be very near to striking a deal only to have the new agent want to alter those terms the original agent and I had agreed on. It’s frustrating as heck. And I can only think the author is ready to jump off a cliff at that point.

Instead of merrily rolling along, I have to bring the new agent up to date, knowing that my questions or concerns may not be as important to the new agent. Or they may decide they’d rather shop this around to their own list of contacts, which leaves me flailing in the wind because I’ve already spent a lot of time considering the book for purchase.

Or worst of all – the agent simply doesn’t give a rip about this book because it’s not his client. While the new agent is busy with his own clients, my emails can go unanswered for weeks. It’s a matter of priority, and he needs to take care of his own authors first. So where does that leave me?

More importantly, where does that leave you?

I had just such a case a couple years ago. The agent went on maternity leave without telling me – and this was from a very good agency. I’d emailed her numerous times asking for the full manuscript. About a month passed and I received an email from another agent in the office telling me that the agent was out on maternity leave and she was now the agent of record for the book. So I asked her for the full. Weeks passed without a response. Sufficiently ragged off by this time, I emailed again. Nothing. My outrage now in full bloom, I contacted the president of the agency and inquired what I needed to do to conduct business with this agent.

I received an immediate response from the replacement agent apologizing for her lack of communication. She promised to get the full to me asap. I never got it. I wrote back to the pres of the agency and cc’d both agents – the original and the new one – and told them I was dropping this from my goodie pile since it was obvious the new agent’s priorities didn’t include me or this author. I finished up by telling them I had better things to do than chase down a full manuscript.

Sure, I got buckets of apologies, including the long- awaited full, but it was too late. The agent had already laid the groundwork for their lack of concern and professionalism, so why on earth would I want to continue the frustration? I simply didn’t trust her.

And let’s not forget that at the heart of all this is the author who’s sitting on pins and needles wondering what’s going on. While the replacement agent is busy doing her own thing, the author has fallen through the cracks. Don’t let this happen to you.

If your agent is leaving, don’t assume she will update the new agent about the progress of your book. I’ve seen cases where the leaving agent couldn’t bust out of the doors quickly enough and leave the new agent high and dry. If they have no idea what’s going on, it’s easy to shove you under the doormat and forget about you.

Introduce yourself to your new agent and discuss the transition of blending into his clientele lineup. How will it work? If there is interest from a publisher, discuss this with your new agent – and any negotiations that took place. Ask your new agent what you can do to help. This isn’t what you would normally do, but you’re inches away from being orphaned, so this is your new “normal.”

None of this is a guarantee that you won’t still find yourself under a doormat, but it shows that you’re concerned with making a smooth transition and that the new agent will bust her hump to sell your book.

In this changing world, it’s a certainty that agents – like editors – move around or leave the biz altogether. The trick is to know how to handle it so it won’t impair your chances for success.

Has this happened to you? What did you do to improve the situation? Or did you have to do the unthinkable and walk away?

7 Responses to Bustin’ out: when agents flee the coop

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I’m curious on this one too…

  2. To borrow from the late, Gilda Radner’s wonderful character, Roseanne Roseannadanna,
    “It’s always something–if it ain’t one thing it’s another.”

  3. Lev Raphael says:

    As I sketched in a recent Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lev-raphael/agent-follies_b_842938.html), some agents have left me and I’ve left some. But you know what? I have almost always done better on my own. Sold one book in three weeks to Faber and got every contract term I wanted, on my own; moved my mystery series from one publisher to another in 24 hours, on my own. Earned significant amounts of money through paid speaking gigs for my recent memoir, on my own. The terrific things that have come to me in my career–like selling my literary papers to Michigan State University as just one more example–have come through my own hard work and networking. It’s scary losing an agent or feeling you have to leave one, but they’re not the ne plus ultra of a writer’s life.

  4. Lev, you’re an anomaly, as we all know and love. There are times when an author can do it on their own, but it’s not something I recommend. I’ve seen way too many horror stories about authors who didn’t have any representation and ate it badly with an insufferable contract…and I’m not talking small presses, but some of my cousins in NY.

    And, I’m not a real fan of the Writer’s Guild lawyers either because they have no knowledge of the press, the editor, or the author and tend to make across the board decisions that aren’t appropriate. Talk about deal killers…

  5. Bill Webb says:

    So how did the author feel about all of this? I can only assume that yours were not the only emails this agency got concerning this MS.

  6. I imagine they’re extremely frustrated – provided they know what’s going on. I don’t usually have any contact with the author until after the deal is struck. And if I do have contact before a contract, it’s extremely limited.

  7. Lev Raphael says:

    Lynn, I wouldn’t recommend tyoo authors go it alone, but anyone who’s published a few books with an agent already knows a lot and can learn how to negotiate a contract–there’s plenty of information available on-line, all you need is the time and willpower.

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