Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Q. I’ve been with my current agent for about 3 years, but business is being handled in a way that lets me know I need to change. Will my publishers frown on that and will it have a negative impact on my relations with them? Also, when do I actually change from one agent to another? What’s the best time?
A. First, my sympathy. It’s a challenging situation when a relationship is no longer working and one must sever. But to continue to grow, once you know you must, then you must. So kudos on not rationalizing or making excuses–which we are all wont to do because we really resist change and tiptoeing outside our known comfort zones–and facing this challenge squarely and head on. It is in your best interest to do so.
Changing agents, so long as you do so professionally and ethically, is very unlikely to cause challenges between you and your editors/publishers. They’re interested in your obligations to them. Handle those well, and they should be happy.
On occasion, you’ll run into a situation where an agent has an enormous amount of clout with a publisher, and the publisher doesn’t want to rattle the agent, but even then, conducting oneself with positive, constructive and professional ethics usually protects all the parties.
Most publishers are quite accustomed to authors changing agents. It’s relatively rare to have an author who stays with the same agent his/her entire career, though it does happen. So on being notified, most don’t so much as blink, just accept the new information and get a clear grasp on where the obligations to the old agent end and the new agent begins.
You change when you must. Sometimes that’s mid-contract, sometimes it’s more convenient. By changing when you must, I mean it depends on the reason for the change. If an agent has been unethical, you shouldn’t wait until the end of a current contract. If the reason isn’t specific, just a general, “This isn’t working anymore,” then you might consider waiting until the end of the contract. Again, you must use your judgment and business sense and make your decision based on what you feel is best.
When is the best time? Frankly, when you need to do it. I can’t tell you the number of authors I’ve seen wait when they should have moved and then had good cause to regret it. The EASIEST time is far less challenging to answer. Optimum time is of course when you’ve satisfied outstanding contractual obligations. So that your new agent takes over on the new contract.
Now, because of option clauses, it depends on your agreement with your existing agent. Some do have an interest in the option book and some don’t. If your agent does, then you’ll have to work out an agreement on it so that it’s the last book or s/he forfeits submitting the option. You’ll have to negotiate a compromise that is agreeable to both of you.
If your agent has no interest in the option book, then you can fulfill the existing contract requirement and then notify the agent that you’ll be leaving.
You do this in accordance with terms set forth for severance in your agency agreement. If you don’t have one, you might talk about this on the phone to the agent, but do follow up in writing with the actual severance letter for your records. Be sure to include a specific date that represents the final day the agent has any interest in outstanding projects currently under submission.
Again, you’ll need to check your agency agreement because some agents claim a six-month interest in any submissions they’ve made. Though, I’m not seeing or hearing that as much lately as I used to hear/see it.
If you have any further questions on this, feel free to email. I know this is an unsettling move–it is for all authors–but sometimes you have to go out on a limb because that’s where the fruit is, you know?
One more bit of advice: be patient and very specific about what you want in your next agent. Remember, it’s a relationship much like a marriage and you must choose your partner very carefully because of the significant impact s/he will have on your career and your life. Don’t rush. Take your time. And be extremely picky!