Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: Choosing to Leave Your Agent

Carla Harker is a writer and gamer from Texas who still thinks her former agent is the bee’s knees. Read her sporadic blog posts about games at or follow her on Twitter @DeadlyAccurate.

You spend years writing, revising, editing, and querying. Rejection letter after rejection letter arrives, but still you persist. You know you’re getting close to that one yes.

And then it happens. You get the Call. A real agent with real sales wants to represent you. You do your happy dance. You sign the contract, certain this will be a relationship that lasts forever.

Then reality sets in. Maybe the book isn’t attracting editors. Maybe your agent suddenly ends up with more on her plate than she can handle and something has to give. As the newest or least successful client, that something is you. Or maybe it’s nothing like that. Maybe you simply move into a genre your agent isn’t familiar with. Whatever the reason, it’s time to say good-bye.

But how can you say good-bye when you spent so much time trying to get just one agent to say hello?

Politely. Professionally. Amicably.

The first step is to talk to your agent. The publishing world is a small place, and it’s important not to burn bridges. If there’s a problem, let them know. Is it something they can work on? If you’re moving into a genre your agent doesn’t represent, can they help with a recommendation? Suggest a fellow agent at the agency to be your co-agent? Before you say good-bye, let them know something isn’t working.

But you’ve talked, and it’s still not working out. You need a new agent. That doesn’t mean you run out and start querying. You’re still under contract. Not only is it unethical, it could cause problems if your new agent sells your work while you’re still bound by another agency agreement.

Read your contract carefully and make sure you understand it. Is terminating by email fine, or should you send a registered letter? Do you have to give thirty days notice? What happens if another agent sells the books your agent has represented? Your previous agent may be your agent of record for months after contract termination for books they’ve shopped. That means if a new agent sells the book within that time period, your previous agent is still owed a commission. You may not be able to query previously-represented work for weeks or months, unless you’re fine with paying 15% of your royalties to two different agents.

If you need to send a registered letter, consider giving them a heads up by phone or email. Don’t surprise them. Use this opportunity to ask about anything in the contract you don’t understand before you officially terminate.

Be professional in your cancellation letter. If you’re leaving because you feel there are problems that can’t be resolved, don’t use the letter as an opportunity to rant. Simply state that you’re severing the contract, when it takes effect, and thank them for their time and effort. If you’ve already talked to them, they’ll know why.

Leaving an agent is hard, and it’s not something most writers do lightly. The fear of never finding another one looms large. But it’s a business relationship first and foremost, and it’s important to remember that. You landed an agent once. You’ll do it again.