If you are lucky enough to get attention from several agents, and are required to make a choice, the time-honoured way of getting to know each other sufficiently well to take the relationship further is for them to take you out for a drink, or even a meal.
At this stage the power rests with you, but remember that if you do sign up, the agent you select will be taking a percentage of everything you earn. Who will push your interests harder? Whom do you get the best vibes from? Sharing income you have created with someone you really don’t get along with may be fine if you feel that they are securing you better deals than would have been possible otherwise, but if you come to feel you are being given insufficient attention, it may just be irritating.
an agent is a bit like getting married, and you need to be equally cautious.
Love at first sight seldom works – so don’t leap into an arrangement with the
first one who offers to have you. Before you sign, talk to publishers about how
they respond to the one you have in mind. Treat their answers with a degree of
caution but keep your antennae bristling – are they putting you off someone who
will strike a better deal than you currently get (good for you), or because
they personally can’t stand the sight of them (not so good for you). Think
clearly about what you will do for each other; look each other in the eye. Meet
and talk, for goodness sake. Consider a pre-nup. But once you are married,
stick with it, and work at the relationship – for the sake of the children, in
the hope that they might grow up to be best-sellers.’
Stewart Ross, addressing the AGM of the Society of Authors, September 2006
‘I spent last week selling myself to an exciting
new author. So far we have had three meetings and as many conversations – not
to mention countless email exchanges. The author is now auditioning three
agents and I have my fingers crossed that she comes my way. If one agent wants
you, the chances are you are going to be in a happy position of being able to
choose. Appointing the right agent is the most important decision you will make
– they can make and break careers.’
Simon Trewin, United Agents
Leave your agent only after careful consideration
Continuing the marriage analogy, falling out of love with an agent is of course perfectly possible. Think carefully, though, before you take any drastic action.
If the problem is one of your writing confidence, or panic about a deadline, your agent may not be the best person to contact first:
‘Do not have a crisis meeting with your agent.
When it comes to the terror, agents are with the enemy. The last thing they
need to know is that their client is cracking up.’
Terence Blacker, author
Instead, try to talk through your options with an objective friend or colleague. Discussing the options out loud, and with someone who is not emotionally involved, often makes the problems seem more manageable or helps you realise that perhaps they should be communicated in a different way.
If you do decide on drastic action, and that moving on is your only option, leaving an agent is in theory a simple process. You serve notice, according to the terms of your contract, and try to find someone else.
Timing can however be tricky. You cannot leave an agent who has already started touting your new book (so if you have discussed it with them to the extent that they are able to say they have been selling it for you, you will have to wait until your next book).
But as I have repeatedly said, getting – or remaining – published means you are operating within a buyer’s market. There is always someone younger, prettier, and cheaper than you available to write, and you may not find it as easy as you think to find another agent.
Agents and authors do fall out, and there may be fault on both sides, however wronged either party feels. But the simple truth is that both other agents and publishers will be wary of authors who have hopped from firm to firm, concluding (perhaps not entirely unfairly) that such authors find long-term relationships difficult, and will be tricky to deal with. And there is always another author available …
The other difficulty about leaving an agent is that you leave behind, with them, the books you worked on together. In the future they may not be best motivated to secure good deals for that work. Be careful.
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