Letting a Client Go

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 28 2007

Authors are often fascinated by what would make an agent drop them. For me, it’s pretty hard to do and rare that I’ve ever dropped a client, although it has happened. The most obvious reason is that the client is not writing books I think I can sell. There have been times when I’ve taken on a client for a book that I loved and may have even sold, but when the next book comes in I just don’t think it’s right for me. Maybe it’s a different genre or maybe I just don’t like it. Either way I don’t think I could do my best for this client and another agent would probably be better for her.

I’ve also dropped clients (only a few) for personality reasons. Usually this happens very soon after signing and needs to be extreme. I’m not planning on being best friends with a client, but I do need to feel like we have similar communication styles and I don’t need someone who is going to be toxic. I don’t need to be yelled at and I don’t need people swearing at me. If that’s the case I’ll be more than happy to let you find another agent who will listen to you.

And lastly, I’ve dropped the occasional client because I didn’t think she could complete the revisions I thought the book needed before I could begin submitting. This was a mistake I made early on in my agenting career. I would ocassionally take on a client with potential and work with her on revisions. I don’t do that anymore, and neither do most agents. It’s too risky. If the book needs minor revisions, fine. But if I don’t feel I can send it out as is and be proud of it (even without the revisions) I won’t offer representation. I might, however, reject the book and give revision suggestions.

What I don’t do: I don’t set a timeline and drop a client if she hasn’t sold after six months or even six years. I don’t drop clients because they call too much or ask a lot of questions, and I don’t drop clients because we’re not friends. As long as I love your work and believe in you I will stick by you through thick and thin. I don’t give up easily.

So to turn the tables: What would make you drop an agent?


21 responses to “Letting a Client Go”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    My former agent got me all excited about a producer wanting to option my as-yet unpublished manuscript. The deal breaker? Said producer is her son, and he has no production credits.

    How could she possibly be objective and serve my interests? I guess she thought I wasn’t smart enough to Google.

    Yeah, that was the deal breaker.

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Oh-ohh, Anonymous, sounds like the same agent I had. Certainly the same deal and same producer. lol What made me pull the pug though, was outright lying to me when the lie was easy to prove, phone disconnected when I tried to contact said agent and emails returned, and discussing other clients’ business with me, among a few other things. Then I found out several other clients had the same problems.

    It left a nasty taste in my mouth and put me off hunting for an agent. I ended up getting published under my own steam, but this year it’s time to start the agent hunt again.

  3. I would suppose the key reason for dropping an agent (should I ever find one) would be a breach of ethics. I’m hoping, though, research beforehand will nip this before it happens.

    Thanks for the informative post (as always). =o)

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I left an agent because we couldn’t come to terms on a project. She felt it needed more revisions, I didn’t and didn’t even really understand what her issues with the project were.
    I left and went on to sell it myself.
    I also was concerned that this might cause me to lose other future sales–that we just weren’t on the same page.
    No hard feelings, but you are ultimately the person writing the book and have to be comfortable with what you commit to writing. I think we both felt good about the parting of ways.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Bingo, Anonymous2. I, too, experienced the other problems you encountered.

    I expect she offered you the same $1 option, too.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Good question. I think I’d drop an agent if there was a conflict of interest. Meaning there is a point at which I learned the agent put another author’s work in front of mine.
    I don’t mind competing against the rest of the “world,” but I do mind feeling second-best in my agent’s stable. The agent is supposed to be my advocate, and that’s a little too close for comfort.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    You say you wouldn’t let a client go after years of no sales, but what do you do? Just hang in limbo? Wait until they ‘fire’ themselves? If they’ve no plans for another book until that one is sold? Or, if you’ve tried to sell several books to no avail?
    When does the love evaporate? Or when do you tell this writer it’s time to move? You may still love him, but at what point are you merely an enabler for the author to say he’s got an agent? You may feel sorry for him, but come on!

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    While my agent was sending out my first manuscript (and with no feedback as to where after 6 months)I told him about another book I was working on. He was excited and gave me a suggestion as to plot. I liked it and spent another 6 months on the book, every 2 months giving her a brief e-mail of my progress. When it was done, I let her know. “Oh, no, no, that book just sold big at the big fair in Europe with the same theme. That’s no good now.” After research, the big fair was six months previous. Did I waste my time or what? No, my contract with the agent was up, I revised the first book and the second (after finding out what that BIG book was about) and started my new agent search. But the previous agent is still interested in the new book. Lordy, lord, as grandma used to swear. What would you do?

  9. Avatar Sam says:

    I dropped my first agent after I learned that he wasn’t sending my manuscript anywhere he said he had (I happened to know an editor on his list, and when I called her, she told me he wasn’t even a real agent..!)
    He charged me for postage too.
    My second agent was nice. She let me go though because she only wanted to work part time and she was cutting back on her list. Since I was the last client she took on, it was only fair I was the first one she let go. No hard feelings.
    I’m busy looking for agent number three. (Lucky number three?)
    We’ll see. At any rate, I guess the best thing to do is keep writing. And don’t give up that day job, lol.

  10. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Untrustworthiness, inethical behavior, and just plain cynical meanness.

    Hopefully, I can do my homework well enough not to get into a working relationship with someone like that in the first place, however. As a qualified nanny, I had to learn how to choose my employers carefully, because my line of work was so personal in nature. I hope that wisdom will serve me well in this area too.

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I left my agent in a fit of pique. I’m not proud of my behavior, and I did myself harm. At the time I felt I was justified. When I was able to distance myself from what was really an editor’s bad behavior, I had already severed the ties. My agent was the messenger, and I chose to kill the messenger. The lesson I learned was that this is an emotional business and I needed to step back. And no, I can’t get the agent back. I said some unforgivable things.

  12. Avatar jfaust says:

    Anonymous (one of you anyway) seemed to think that I’d be doing an author a disservice to keep them on just because we didn’t sell a book. So I feel the need to explain, or perhaps defend, myself.

    Let me clarify that I don’t continue to represent anyone I don’t believe in and whose work I’m not passionate about. Just because you didn’t sell one book, or two, or three doesn’t mean you can’t sell. It just means we aren’t there yet. Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes it’s growth with your writing and sometimes it’s just plain luck.

    I’m certainly not going to keep an author in limbo and I’m not going to enable anyone who has an idea or book that I don’t believe in anymore. If I no longer feel I’m the agent for you I’m going to let you know that. However, if you still have a voice and stories that I’m passionate about I’m certainly going to stick by you for as long as it takes.

    And let me tell you this, I don’t represent anyone just because I feel sorry for him.


  13. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I think I was a client of Jessica’s for at least five years before she sold Wolf Tales. The ms. she started out with, Last of the O’Rourkes, only received one offer, and that was from an editor who was only interested if I changed my food critic hero with sexual identity problems into a cowboy and toned down my “kick-ass” heroine… Point being, I wasn’t willing to gut my book and Jessica agreed with me. I sold it to an epub on my own, but Jessica kept me on her clients’ list in spite of the fact I’d gone on to write for a number of epublishers. Knowing she continued to believe in my gave a tremendous boost to my confidence as a writer. Times change, though, and the type of books I was writing for small press were being noticed in NY. Jessica was there with my manuscript in hand when the timing was right. She didn’t drop me during that period when I had nothing to submit, and I am so thankful she hung in there long enough to have the right manuscript at the right time in front of the right editor. Sometimes I think this business is 90% luck–and a whole lot of perseverance!

  14. Avatar Wendy Warren says:

    Thanks, Kate and Jessica, for responding to the Anon poster who thought he/she read co-dependence rather than support in your original post. Anon’s comment was really unsettling to me. I wish for all my unpubbed friends–pubbed, too–an agent who will stand by her own convictions (and who will stand the test of time) rather than blow with the winds and whims of the market. And, I know from speaking to other pubbed authors that you and Kim and Jacky are all passionate about sending out the best work possible. I think your blog makes that clear, too.

    As for what makes an author let go of an agent, I’ve been fortunate to be represented by truly talented, caring individuals. But goals change. I’m a for-the-long-haul kind of person in general and think the best relationships are the ones that are worked at over time, but if I realize communication styles are not compatible or that we simply like to work differently and that this isn’t likely to change, then I think it’s reasonable to let go. I’m learning to ask lots of questions about work styles in addition to the usual business questions. And, I think the Anonynous posters who were offered bogus movie options make the point that references from other authors are crucial.

    It’s so easy for an author to feel like a beggar at the banquet when querying agents; we have to remember that this is one of the most important relationships in our careers. Before I met my husband, I dated a couple of very, very nice Mr. Right Enoughs, but we wouldn’t have brought out the best in each other over time.

    Goodbyes are hard; I don’t want to set myself or an agent up for one again. I set us up last time with the fear that too many questions up front would push the agent away; that’s just silly! Pubbed or unpubbed, we have to carry our self-worth and self-knowledge into these conversations.

  15. Avatar Gina Black says:

    I’ve never had an agent so I can’t speak from experience, but that’s never stopped me from putting my views forward!

    I think what I need in an agent is someone who has my best interests at heart. Obviously we have to be in agreement on what that is–or be able to come to agreement on it. Therein lies the crux.

  16. Avatar Tessa says:

    Things to leave an agent for would include dishonesty of any form, loss of enthusiasm, difficulty in communication. Personality is wonderful, but this is business. I’d love to make a friend in the process, but that must be secondary.

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I left my first agent after she was verbally abusive to me. I later found out she had no New York contacts; that her sole sales had been for someone who was a former NY editor and had her own contacts.

    I fired my second agent for constantly lying to me; telling me she’d sent out my book when she hadn’t. Because I had no proof where the book had or hadn’t been, no agent would touch that series, which sits unsold today. (She had me write a second book while I waited for the first to sell.) Again, after I left her, I found she was a book doctor/copy editor with no real editor ties.

    The old saw “a bad agent is worse than no agent” is certainly true.

    BTW, I’m now represented by BookEnds and I couldn’t be happier.

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I stayed with my previous agent far too long because said agent was a very nice person. Not effective as an agent, but nice.

    Several things about this agent bothered me, such as mistake-riddled correspondence, multiple-choice submissions, forgetting the title of my book, misplacing bank information, etc., etc…

    It wasn’t until I signed with a “real” agent that I realized what I was missing. A bad agent, even if nice, is truly worse than no agent at all.

  19. Avatar Karin Tabke says:

    I can think of many reasons for firing an agent. But the big one for me is if she loses interest in me and my work. What would be the point of maintaining the relationship?

    I know many writers go through many agents during their careers for as many different reasons as there are agents. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Just left my agent because of lack of communication. He lost interest just about a day after I signed the paperwork (turns out he signed me because he thought my ms fit the bill for what one particular editor was wanting, and when it didn’t…well).

    I would have stuck with him if he would have shown even the slightest interest in my work. Or returned emails. Or called. Lack of communication was the killer for me. He didn’t sell my book, but I wasn’t expecting that right out of the gate anyhow.

  21. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I fired my first agent for poor communication skills