What Happens When You Lose Your Literary Agent? By: Chuck Sambuchino

The quest for an agent. It’s the thing many writers fret most about, aside from the whole write-an-entire-novel thing. It’s all designed to make you crazy right? The query letter, the waiting, the research, the pitch parties, the meet ups at conferences. So when you finally land that elusive agent—you hang on to her for dear life. Right?

So we rarely hear about someone losing their agent. It’s just not something one talks about in polite conversation, or at least not in public, on blogs about finding an agent. I mean, you spent so much of your blood, sweat, and tears trying to find one, and now you lost her? What’s wrong with you?

At least that’s what I thought when my first agent told me she was leaving the industry. Holy crap, I’m going to have to do this again? What is wrong with me?

There’s nothing wrong with you. And there is nothing wrong with me. Sometimes, like any relationship, it just doesn’t work out. I’m here to say, you can lose an agent and still survive with your writing career intact.

You can even lose more than one.

(Is it best to query all your target agents at once? — or just a few to start?)

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or a bad writer. In my case, my first two agents left their firms—one for greener pastures, and the other to another agency. In both cases, I chose to leave the agency, rather than stay with another agent who didn’t seem like the best fit for me.

I’ve known writers who have made the choice to separate from their agents for a variety of reasons. Others have been dropped by the agent. Still others have become “homeless” as agents leave the field, or an agency closes. As long as you remain professional—this is a business decision, after all—you will survive. I promise.

The query process for your second or third agent is exactly the same as the first time around: your professional (personalized) query, sent to the agent according to submission guidelines. You got it right the first time around, you’ll do it again! Submit a few at a time, and assess after each round. This time, it’s perfectly fine to say that you’ve amicably separated from your previous agent (as long as that’s true) and that you’re looking for someone to rep your next project. Do be prepared for someone to ask you from whom you’re separating.

I can’t stress enough that this is business. No whining about a business decision—enjoy some chocolate (or wine) and move on as quickly as you feel comfortable. Maybe you’re all done with professional representation and you’re going to self-publish. That’s a perfectly fine decision—but make sure you’re going that route for the right reasons. Self-publishing should not be a last resort, but a business decision that makes sense for you.

(Entering your work in free online contests is a smart way to find an agent.)

Don’t be ashamed that you had to make a change of representation. Once you start talking about it, you start to realize that there are a lot of people who’ve been in a similar situation. Stay confident and persevere!

I signed with my third agent—Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency—in August of 2013. She’s a rock star, as far as I’m concerned. Her personality is a good fit for me, she likes my writing, and she’s a great sounding board for plot ideas. I know, now, that in order to find Kathleen, I had to go through the experience of losing my first two agents. Call it fate; call it serendipity. But to be in the right place at the right time to sign with Kathleen, it had to happen the way it happened. I wouldn’t change a thing!

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