Finding Another Literary Agent

Here’s a question from an anonymous reader about finding another literary agent:

I have an agent but I am not sure if we’re the best fit. I would like to think about changing agents, but I don’t know if it’s kosher to put my feelers out while I still have one (is that like looking for a new husband while I have one?). I’m planning to go to a conference soon, so I thought that might be a good opportunity to meet agents, but what if I wanted to put out some casual feelers to a few friends of friends or something? What’s your take on that?

finding another literary agent, changing literary agents
Thinking about changing literary agents? Cut ties with your current agent first.

The husband analogy this reader uses is apt. While some people do look into changing literary agents while they’re still attached, and while more than one relationship has been forged that way, it’s not something I would do or recommend. Sure, we all want to leap out of an iffy or bad situation and know that there’s something better (we hope) waiting for us, but that’s not how it works.

Finding Another Literary Agent: Break With Your Current Agent First

If you make the decision to break with your spouse or your representation, you do have to get it over with, and only then can start the process of finding another literary agent. You may have contacts from when you were first querying, you may have contacts from conferences you’ve attended or people who you do want to reach out to, but the time for that is after you part ways. I don’t know of a lot of agents who will be enthusiastic to talk to you while you still have representation. It may make them think…hey, would this writer go behind OUR backs in times of trouble, if they’re going behind their current agent’s back?

It would be nice, of course, to have the safety net of other interest, but it is a bit sneaky and underhanded to put feelers out before you terminate your relationship. That’s life, though. You have to make the hard decision and do the right thing before moving on to the better situation that you want.

Low-Key Research is Okay While You’re Still Represented

Sure, you can read blogs, follow Publisher’s Marketplace, and do research while you are still represented. You’ll want to be prepared once you’re free from your existing agent, and I understand that. But I wouldn’t make contact, nor would I start combing your network or discussing this with writer or Internet friends. Keep your situation on the down-low until you have a chance to end things in a professional way with your current representation. Keep your integrity and be honest throughout the process. Not only is it good karma (for those of us who believe in that sort of thing), but it will make you feel good about finding another literary agent and keep any possible guilt at bay.

Changing literary agents is a tough process. Still, you’ll want to do this the right way, or it could end up being even more difficult than it has to be. (For more info about matching with agents, check out my post on how to select a literary agent.)

Did you find this practical advice useful? I am happy to be your manuscript editor and consultant for writing and publishing advice that’s specific to your work.

9 Replies to “Finding Another Literary Agent”

  1. Great post. I can see how one might find it daunting to leave an agent before knowing if you’ll be able to pick up another, but I also see how horrid and messy things could get if a current agent finds out from someone else that you’re leaving (or thinking about it). It’s like that FedEx commercial where the boss finds an employee’s resume in the copier…awkward. 🙂

  2. It is SO like a relationship – if you’re not happy with your boyfriend/husband/agent, you’re not happy with them, period. So you should try to work it out or move on.

  3. I would think long and hard about leaving the agent though. I heard that once you leave an agent, it could be really hard finding another one.

  4. I’m one of those people who deals best with potential disasters by having a plan in place to deal with them. So even though I hate thinking about a situation in which I’d decide to leave my as-yet-theoretical agent, it’s comforting and calming to know how the process works, the professional etiquette involved. Knowing the proper way of doing it makes it somehow less of a nightmare. Thank you for this post!

  5. I think it kind of comes down the the golden rule, too. That’s always safe.

  6. I would also urge any writer who may not be happy to consider having a heart to heart with his/her agent first. It’s amazing what a bit of communication and honesty can do to improve a relationship!!!

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