Ready, Aim, Fire (Your Agent)!

For a debut author, receiving an offer of representation from a literary agent is a huge moment. Once you have an agent, you have it all, right? Validation. Security. A six-figure deal and movie option.

Well, sort of.

The reality is, agents don’t always work out. Some quit the business. Others switch agencies and/or genres, which may mean they no longer service their existing clients. Others do a poor job of selling their clients’ books.

And in other cases, a particular author and a particular agent just don’t mesh.

That’s what happened to me. I’d received an offer of representation for my debut novel, the YA science-fiction adventure SURVIVAL COLONY 9. The offering agent seemed perfect: she was enthusiastic about the book, knowledgeable in the field, connected to the right people. I signed the contract, revised the manuscript per her notes, and then. . . .

Then I’m not sure what. I didn’t hear from her for a long time, which was odd; we’d been communicating regularly up to that point. When she finally got back to me, the news was grim: the revised manuscript “needed work,” she told me. Lots of work. Professional editorial work, to the tune of $5000. I told her I didn’t have that kind of money. She told me she wouldn’t send the manuscript out on submission until I had it professionally edited.

So I fired her.

Well, okay, maybe fired is the wrong word, inasmuch as she wasn’t my employee. Technically, I exercised the termination clause in our contract. But it sounds way cooler to say I fired someone.

To this day, I have no idea what went wrong. Maybe she lost interest and was trying to drive me away. Maybe this was some kind of kickback scheme whereby she’d take a cut of the editor’s fee. (Such schemes do exist.) Maybe someone higher up instructed her to focus on another project. Who knows?

Or maybe we just weren’t suited for each other, and the relationship wasn’t meant to be.

Two valuable lessons here.

First, if you’re ever in a comparable situation, don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s something wrong with you (or your manuscript). Many writers go through multiple agents before finding the right one. It’s a normal part of the business, a normal part of human interaction. Just as fifty percent of marriages fail, so do a certain percentage of author-agent relationships.

Second, if this happens to you, don’t make the mistake of clinging to a failed relationship in hopes that it’ll improve. In all likelihood, it won’t. The real reason authors, especially debut authors, cling to such relationships is that they’re afraid they’ll never find another agent. But that’s not true. If one agent liked your book enough to represent it, another agent will. So be honest with yourself. Admit the relationship isn’t working. Then cut your losses and move on.

That’s what I did. And in short order I had a new agent, an offer on my novel, and a book to hold in my hands.

Plus, I get to go around telling people I fired someone.




7 Comments on “Ready, Aim, Fire (Your Agent)!

  1. Did you find it easier to find the second agent than the first? Was there actually a practical difference, that is to say; like, were you able to approach the second batch of agents with more credibility than the first batch? Or was there a more ephemeral advantage–like a confidence from knowing you did it once? Or was it just as hard the second time around?


    • Good question. It was easier the second time, largely because my manuscript really had benefited from the revision (and thus I got more requests to see the full) and because I was more savvy, i.e., I asked more critical questions of those agents who showed interest and wasn’t all starry-eyed about being offered representation. Along these lines, I was brutally honest with the agent I eventually chose; I told her, without naming any names, that I’d been burned before and wasn’t about to be burned again. That wasn’t something I could say in a query letter, obviously, but once an offer was on the table, I felt comfortable telling the offering agent what I expected of her.


      • That’s really cool to hear, actually. I had another friend who was about to “fire” her agent, but I never heard how that went. I think she had a similar experience in the end, though.

        Good luck with the continued adventure.


  2. Oh yes, been there. The sick, twisted, sick feeling on that day turned out to be worth it…maybe. Having surfed four agents now, I’m still seeking the perfect wave.


  3. Pingback: Second Book Blues | All The Way YA

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