life after leaving your literary agent

What Happens After You Leave Your Literary Agent

Before we get started, some of you may have noticed I haven’t been very active here for a while. The simple truth is I didn’t feel like I had anything important enough to say. I got down on myself. It took a lot of thought and soul searching for me to find my voice. You see, this all goes back to my childhood of abuse (both mentally and physically)…that “quiet” mindset – keep your head down, be quiet, and bad things won’t happen.

I’ve struggled with self worth my whole life. Most days are better than others. There are always moments when self doubt creeps in. Scratch that. It’s always there, in the back corner of my mind. Most of the time I don’t pay any attention to it. Sometimes is won’t be ignored. BUT, I’m a practical guy. Even though it took me a little longer to shake the yuck from myself, I finally did.

Okay, now on to the post.

I’m not going to get into specific dates, times, or use names. Slinging mud publicly isn’t my thing. The purpose of this post is to share some of my experiences so other writers can get an idea of both the good, and the bad, of publishing.

Have you ever wondered why authors/writers rarely talk about parting ways with a literary agent?

While I can’t speak for anyone else, it made me feel like a failure, like I did something wrong. Quite often, as growing writers, we see agents in a mystical light. When we sign with one we can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops. That kind of enthusiasm is a good thing, but it’s often coupled with naivety.

I was lucky when I left my agent. I knew what I wanted and what I wasn’t getting from her. I also wasn’t afraid to let our relationship fail. Which is terrifying considering my career was on the line.

I also want to be clear about how I signed with my former agent. I came to her with a three book deal on the table. I queried the hell out of my book with every literary agent who repped anything remotely similar to my book. I was rejected by all of them. A few gave me constructive feedback. My former agent was one of those agents. I filed that away. After striking out with agents, I tried small presses. If anyone has submitted to small presses, you know this takes time. Months and months. If the editors are seriously considering your book it may take six months to a year before you get a final verdict. Eventually I got an acceptance from one of my top choices. Not only did they want my first book, but they wanted me to write two sequels. A trilogy! I was excited. But not excited enough to just sign on the dotted line.

It’s important to remember that through the entire query process I learned. Whether it was dealing with potential literary agents or editors or any other literary professional. As newer writers we must not get star struck. Before signing anything we must remember that our future is at stake. I think my upbringing and time in the military served me well in this regard. I got excited, sure. But I never let it cloud my judgment. I remained cautious, vigilant. I always made sure I was looking out for myself.

Now that I had a three book deal on the table, I felt like I had some leverage. So I used it. I remembered one of the agents who treated me like a human being. Because let’s face it, querying feels so cold, hollow. And not because writers don’t get what we want (representation), but because most of the time we don’t even get a response. We’re made to feel less, like we’re not worth an agent’s time. As a result I tended to notice the agents who treated me like an actual person when they had no reason to. I sent off an email stating who I was, past interaction with the agent, why I was reaching out now, and what I wanted. Looking back, I should have seen her rejecting the manuscript, but offer representation after I had a book deal, as a red flag. You live and you learn. I had to take a shot.

Another red flag came during “the call”. My agent requested that I call her. Each time we spoke, I called her. Looking back I suspect it was to save the long distance charges. Plus, during our calls, she always cut me off. There was always something more important than her newest client. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t clingy, or mental, calling and needing to talk constantly. All I wanted was a monthly chat, either by phone or email just so we could stay on the same page. From day one, communication was an issue. I filed that away.

As time passed it became clear may agent was only my agent for the guaranteed paycheck that three book deal represented. In all the time I had a literary agent, I never once received feedback on manuscript. I don’t believe she read it all the way through. Why bother when an editor already acquired it? At least that’s the feeling I got.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand publishing is a business. Literary agents need to eat too. Money is money. But we were supposed to be a team. Coming from the Air Force, I knew a thing or two about teamwork. Looking back, I never felt we were a team, let alone on the same page.

Fast forward eight months. The small press changed their business practices overnight. They gave authors who hadn’t been published yet an out. I couldn’t, in consciousness, stick with a deal I felt was unjust. Since my trilogy wasn’t scheduled to release for another couple of months, I requested a dissolution of my contract. I emailed my agent and told her what I wanted and why. She agreed, but I felt like she thought it was a mistake. She always suggested I never leave money on the table and that if a publisher wanted another book, you give them another book. Like I said, I couldn’t stick with a deal I no longer believed in. It would have been different if I knew everything before I signed. Things changed. I changed with them.

After the dissolution of my book deal, the plan was for my agent to go over my works in progress and together we would discuss our next step. Something that should have taken a couple of weeks stretched on for months. This is where I decided to step back and see if my agent really cared about me. After an email each month for two months, I waited. And waited. And waited to see if she would get back to me. After an additional couple of months, I definitively knew I had to part ways with my agent. There was no communication. There was nothing.

My next step was to voice my concerns and giver her a chance to explain things. Each time she had a reason why she didn’t have time for me. So we repeated the cycle a few more times until I said I couldn’t accept things the way they were any longer. I gave my former agent numerous chances to rectify things. I tried to behave in a professional manner and believe I did. When I requested my leave, she didn’t try to talk me out of it or anything. To me, it seemed like the guaranteed money was gone, so I didn’t matter anymore.

There I was with no three book deal and no literary agent. I went from thinking things were awesome (insert the LEGO movie song here) to absolute rock bottom.

What do you do after you part ways with your literary agent? You press on. Just because I didn’t have a book deal or an agent didn’t mean I stopped believing in myself or my work. I had two books finished and several short stories published. I had to have been doing something right.

The most important thing, at least for me, was to remain professional. I like to treat others the way I would like to be treated. As long as we can do that, it’s okay to have differences of opinion.

I’m grateful to my former literary agent. She negotiated my contract and got me the best deal. She even got it dissolved when I requested it. Her business skills were great. I learned a lot about contracts because I asked questions and stayed involved. I no longer feel lost when a publisher sends me a contract for a short story. I don’t want it to seem like my entire time with my agent was bad. It wasn’t. It just wasn’t what it should have been.

Most authors will advise up and coming writers to do their homework before signing with a literary agent. This can only take you so far. There are some things you can’t learn from an agent’s interviews or a half hour phone call. Unfortunately, you have to get in there and discover things for yourself. If you realize you’ve made a mistake by signing with an agent you’re not compatible with, be honest. Try to work things out in a way that will benefit everyone. There’s no reason to stay with an agent who you don’t feel has your back. Why would you want to?

The next time I’m ready to sign with a literary agent, I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for. I’d like her/him to communicate easily, have some common interests outside of books, and be honest. I want to know if I’m messing something up or if she/he thinks I can do better. Even though I’m creating the stories, she/he has the expert knowledge of the publishing industry. We should compliment one another and make one hell of a team.

As up and coming writers we mustn’t get caught up in the myth of instant credibility we believe having a literary agent brings. Signing with a literary agent, while exciting, is only a step on our career as published authors. Having a literary agent doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Nor does it guarantee success. We all have to put in the work. Agented writers too. As long as we can be kind to one another and keep improving, then I have to believe that we’ll all find our way eventually. And if you’re sitting there wondering if you’ll ever find a literary agent, just remember my story and know there are worse things than never signing with an agent. You could sign with the wrong one. Nobody wants that.

Keep writing. Keep improving. Stay as positive as you can. Have a little faith. You’ll get there. I know you will.


Things Don’t Always Go According To Plan

Trying to break into publishing the traditional way isn’t easy. I knew that before I stared. What I didn’t know was exactly how difficult my path was going to be. Not so long ago my literary agent and I parted ways. Without going into too much detail, I was the one who requested the split.

Sometimes we do what we believe is right and things still go wrong.

I’ve always been a hard worker. Tell me what you need and I’ll get right on it. Even when things turn to shit I’m the kind of person who keeps a clear head and takes charge, finding alternate ways to get things done. My time in the US Air Force only amplified those traits. That’s why my situation is so frustrating.

But I have to let it go. I can’t control everything. I can’t control what other people do, or don’t, do. All I can do is what I believe is right, even if that decision is one of the most difficult I’ve had to make.

When you get knocked down, get up and get right back at it again.

What really bothers me is you don’t see many authors talk about things like this. It’s like some dirty secret. A couple of days ago I posted something and took it down. Fear crept in. Would I burn bridges with other literary agents? Am I important enough for anyone to even care? Then I realized that I have nothing to hide. I did everything in my power to remedy the situation.

I decided to write this post because there have to be other writers/authors out there going through the same thing. Maybe they’re reluctant to part ways with their agent for fear they may never sign with another. Each of us has some idea of how we’d like to be treated, whether it’s by a literary agent or a stranger on the street. We know when we’re not being treated the way we’d like to be treated. If we think something is wrong, it probably is. I’m confident enough to trust my gut instincts. Sometimes separation it the best possible scenario.

For me, it was about communication. I wasn’t getting what I needed in the communication department, which, I believe, is the most important part of the relationship between an author and literay agent. The problem is there was no way for me to know this until I was in the middle of it.

What does an up and coming author do when their relationship with their agent isn’t progressing in a positive direction?

There is no simple answer. No two people are the same, just like no two situations are the same. What I can say is that if you express your concerns in the right way, often over and over, and things don’t change, you’re allowed to act. Remember, it’s your writing career. If you don’t stand up for yourself (for your authorly wants and needs), why should anyone else?

As long as we remain professional, and give the agent ample opportunity to address our concerns, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t act. Leaving my literary agent has taught me to identify, exactly, what I need from my future literary agent. Conversely, it’s also shown me how I don’t want to be treated.

We can learn from every experience, even the not so pleasant ones. The bottom line is if you’re having issues with your literary agent, you’re not alone. Remain professional and stand up for what you believe is right. You have every right to expect the absolute best. How people treat you says a lot about how they feel about you. I may be willing to overlook some things, but my eyes are always open. When you ask for change (within reason) and change never comes, something is wrong.

Don’t dwell on the past.

What happened once won’t necessarily happen again, especially if we learn from the past. We must not look at every literary agent the same way. We also must not let fear of failing again cripple us. We must move forward with grim, yet positive, determination. Basically, don’t let it get you down. You signed with a literary agent once, you can do it again.

There’s a Flyleaf song called New Horizons with the lyric, “When the times keep going wrong, then we go right.” I can’t think of a better statement. Just because things are going wrong doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Doing the right thing is rarely the easiest thing, but it’s always the best thing.

Even though one door closed, another will open. I’m not leaving until it does. For now, it’s on to new horizons. Until next time, be good to one another.