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Agent Contract Expiration

If you sign with a literary agent and have no success placing your novel over the course of a year, what are your options after the official contract runs out? Can you search for a different agent and try again after some serious re-writes and editing? Is self-publishing worth considering? Is it time to give up, even if you believe the novel has potential?

Well, that depends on the contract. We don’t have a contract that automatically expires so I’m not sure I’m the best one to answer this question. Our contract, in all jest, is for the rest of your life. What I mean by that is while we have a very easy termination clause, we hope to take on a client for a career and we don’t want to be limited by time, either on our behalf or yours.

So I guess what I would ask you is what does that contract say. Does the expiration date mean automatic cancellation or does the expiration date only mean that you are now allowed to terminate? Once a contract is terminated, however that happens, you are allowed to do whatever you want. You are allowed to search for another agent, self-publish, or even quit and do something different. You know, you are also allowed to take a new project to your agent and continue with that. Many of my clients were signed with one project and first sold with another. Just because you sign with a project doesn’t mean that’s the one you’re going to sell. Signing that contract should be a commitment on both sides to venture forth and build a career together, not just sell a book.

What I would say is that if the book has already been around, and a year has passed, I would hope that you have something new and fresh to take back to your old agent or to new agents. It never does a writer any good to spend a career focusing on just one book.


Category: Blog



  1. The way I figure it, while I'm trying to get an agent with 'this' book, I'm writing 'the next' book. My hope is to get 'this' one published, but I want more than one. So, while your agent is busy pitching one book, you should definitely be working on another.

  2. Question: Have you, or any agents you know, signed a client on the basis of potential? E.g., you request a full, decide it's not quite right for you, but you like the writing, and you like the author, and decide to take him or her on because you see great potential, and you want to nurture it?

  3. Well said and interesting. You made my day with a new concept and a logical one. I'm amazed at conference e the number pf authors who are not excited about their next project or don't have one in the hopper.

  4. Great post, especially the emphasis on writing the next thing. The good part about moving forward is that, as with many things, your writing improves with practice. So, if you write one thing and it doesn't sell, but your second project does, you can go back and look at the first book and revise. That way your first book isn't a failure, it's a project in reserve.

  5. I've noticed that a great number of new writers do focus too much on their first project. This is a great reminder to folks that they have to always be thinking ahead.

    When book one is on submission, book two should be the current WIP, and book three should be percolating on the back burner.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I like the "for life" contract as that type of business partnership is what I want from an agent. The frenzy in recent years has created confusion about agent-editor-author relationships. I recently explained this to a friend so please correct me if this is wrong:

    The author works FOR the editor on the book. The editor is married to the book for the life of that book, as it benefits the publishing company where the editor works and receives a paycheck.

    The agent works WITH the author as an advocate to career of the author. The agent must love the author's books, and the author must write books the agent is motivated to sell.

  7. I'm definitely going to second working on a second book in the meantime! Not only will you improve skills and be able to write better books in the future (and maybe even apply some of that knowledge to revisions of the first book), you'll have something ready to go if the first book doesn't work out for some reason. And even if the first book does sell eventually, you'll have a second book ready to offer, too!

  8. The key issue here seems to be, this author thinks her book “has potential.” Well of course. Every author believed her book “has potential.” If she did not think that she never would have sought out an agent in the first place. Now, a year later, it appears nobody agrees. If she wants to do some serious re-writing she apparently got that message. So what is the gain in finding another agent?

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