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All In Love is Fair

This just in:

Is it OK for a writer to seek another agent for their second book, while the first book remains with the first agent, regardless of whether the first book sells or not? Of course, it’s taken for granted that the writer informs the agents about each other. In other words, is it OK for a writer to have different agents for different books? We’re talking fiction here.

In a word: NO.

Let me put it this way: NO.

You can’t have multiple agents. It doesn’t make sense unless you’re writing in different genres and your agent only specializes in one. For instance, I am working with a young adult novelist on his adult material. He has a YA agent for his fiction. But this is the exception.

One agent per customer, please. There is so much involved in representing a writer; you would be crazy to split up your properties and by extension how they were then handled in Hollywood, abroad, etc. It would be extremely confusing to the publishers as well. And, ideally, you hope to develop a relationship with your agent over time such that he or she fully understands you, your work, your needs, etc.

What happens more frequently is that a writer will become disenchanted (euphemism for disgusted) with his agent and want to make a change. He will talk to prospective agents before “breaking up” with his current agent. He wants to make sure there’s someone to catch him before he leaps. I totally get this. It’s a shame when a misunderstanding doesn’t get aired and leads to a break-up, but usually people do what they need to do for cause.

Maybe what you’re asking for is some new vision of the future where clients can have multiple agents like Tiger has multiple blonds.  For the moment, I think monogamy in client-agent relationships is best. That said, some relationships stop working and it may be time to move on. For whatever reason, you no longer believe that your agent is the best advocate for your work. Trust has broken down. Sometimes, an agent feels she has done everything for a client and nothing is working. Just as authors  need to change publishing houses to get a new start, clients and agents sometimes need to make a new start.

I’ve lost a handful of clients over the ten years I’ve been an agent. Some dumped me. I parted company with a few. It was always awful. Often painful. Even when it’s for the best, it sucks. When I was a young editor, a powerful agent told me that she never fired clients. She just stopped returning their calls. She waited for them to get so angry that they fired her; her reasoning that it would have been far worse for them to have been fired by her. Oh, merciful tyrant, you are too kind. WTF. Is there ever a good way to break up?

12 Responses

  1. Love the one you’re with, that’s what I’m thinkin, but, I’m in the newlywed phase with my agent and full of tender hope.

  2. powerful agent “she just stopped returning their calls.”
    Under the guise that she was letting her clients off easy?
    That’s called “chicken-shit chicken.” Have the decency to let the writers get on with their lives. That’s just one more cruel and unusual punishment of the publishing game.

    Have you all lost your hearts?

  3. I agree with nourishingfriends that breaking up with clients by ignoring their calls is a heartless, spineless thing to do. I’ve nursed several friends through this type of situation and it’s living hell–agonizing, drawn out, confusing and exhausting.

    Shame on that powerful agent for pretending she was doing her clients a favor, when she was really just too weak to do the right thing.

  4. Agent!!!! I want my face back!

    From Weeping Woman
    (Dora Maar)
    Pablo Picasso (1937)


    Even my hat mocks me
    on the inside of my grief –

    My twisted mouth
    and gnashing teeth,
    my fingers fat and clumsy
    as if they were still wearing
    those gloves –
    the bloodstained ones you keep.

    What has happened
    to the pupils
    of my eyes, Picasso?

    Why do I deserve
    such deformity?

    What am I now
    if not a cross between
    a clown and a broken
    piece of crockery?


    But I am famous.
    People recognise me
    despite my fractures.

    I’m no Mona Lisa
    (how I’d like to wipe
    the smugness from her face
    that still captivates.)

    Doesn’t she know that art, great art,
    needn’t be an oil-painting?

    I am a magnet
    not devoid of beauty.

    I am an icon
    of twentieth-century grief.

    A symbol
    of compositional possibilities

    My tears are tears of happiness –
    big rolling diamonds.


    Picasso, I want my face back
    the unbroken photography of it

    Once I lived to be stroked
    by the fingers of your brushes

    Now I see I was more an accomplice
    to my own unrooting

    Watching the pundits gaze
    open-mouthed at your masterpieces

    While I hovered like a battered muse
    my private grief made public.


    Dora, Theodora, be reasonable, if it weren’t for Picasso
    you’d hardly be remembered at all.
    He’s given you an unbelievable shelf-life.
    Yes, but who will remember the fruits of my own life?

    I am no moth flitting around his wick.
    He might be a genius but he’s also a prick –
    Medusa, Cleopatra, help me find my inner bitch,
    wasn’t I christened Henriette Theodora Markovitch?

    Picasso, I want my face back
    the unbroken geography of it.

  5. Hi. Should I come out into the open and admit it was me who sent that question? Well, hell: I just did. What I forgot to say, but which I think was answered at least in part by Betsy, is that why I thought two agents might be necessary was precisely because books 1 and 2 are written in mutually exclusive genres. Hence my dilemma. And hence my lingering confusion. Ah me. Ah my. What troubles.

  6. Jane, have you asked your current agent if he/she is interested in representing your other book?

  7. “When I was a young editor, a powerful agent told me that she never fired clients. She just stopped returning their calls. She waited for them to get so angry that they fired her; her reasoning that it would have been far worse for them to have been fired by her.”

    This is what happened with my first agent. Over the course of five months, I sent a few check-in emails, asking if we’d reached the end of the road with the book. She never responded. So unprofessional. So disrespectful. I finally got the hint and sent an official termination letter. How hard is it to send an email that says, “Sorry, this isn’t working out”? I would have much preferred that to wondering what the hell was going on. I’m a big girl.

    Jane, I agree with Paul. This sounds like something to talk with your agent about.

  8. The best any author can do, I think in this case, is try to clear the air if they feel mistreated. Ask the agent if they might want to represent this work of a different genre, and if not, they will likely give you blessings to find another agent who will be happy to take it on. In the case where “it’s just not working” Not all of us act as abominably as this “powerful agent” who’s behavior gives agents a bad name.

  9. I just want to say thank you to all for your comments and insights.


  10. I’m confused by something you said here and hoping you can qualify.

    “He will talk to prospective agents before breaking up with his current agent. He wants to make sure there’s someone to catch him before he leaps. I totally get this.”

    Are you saying there is an acceptable way to feel out another agent before completely ending ties with the current agent?

    I was always under the impression that this is a complete no no until you’ve completely broken ties. Although perhaps you are not endorsing it, only acknowledging that it happens. If there is a right way to do this, I would like to know how.


  11. I don’t have an agent, a publisher, or even a first reader. Seriously! My family would have to be paid to read and critique my manuscript. My friends feel the same way. I am not evil or even particularly bad.

    I am the only person that believes that my work has merit, at least, and scary teeth and gutsy content. But, I am its only reader! Wow!

    I have gone over this thing so many times, words don’t even look like words to me anymore.

    I thank you. As always.

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