What Happens When Your Agent Quits?
CLIENTS, I AM NOT QUITTING
Question from the mail bag today!
What happens when your agent quits agenting? Or when they move to a new agency. Do you the author move with them or are you contractually obligated to that agency?
What a great question! So often we’re focused on the writing and the query and the getting and the selling of the actual book that we don’t pay any attention to what could come…after that. There are lots of reasons why your agent won’t be your agent forever, but let’s talk about what happens when an agent moves agencies or leaves the biz.
First and foremost, your agency agreement will tell you what happens if your agent leaves their agency, but it doesn’t come right out and say that. I mean, if you read it carefully, you’ll get it, but there isn’t usually a clause that says THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR AGENT GETS ANOTHER JOB.
When you sign with an agent, 9 times out of 10 you sign with the agency. Your agent is your point person at the agency, but the Agency at large is the Agent of Record for your actual book. If you have a book contract, you’ll notice that the Agency Clause (i.e. the clause that tells the publisher that it’s ok to send the checks to the agency) doesn’t necessarily say your agent’s name, but indeed says the Agency. In the eyes of the legal system, the agency sold your book and they are entitled to all the rights and privileges therein (like collecting their commission).
If your agent leaves the Agency, you are still represented by that Agency until you terminate your agency agreement. Your agency agreement outlines how it can be terminated (very often just by telling them hey, it’s over, but there can be other stipulations as well). And then, according to the terms of your agency agreement, you’re free to do what you want. If you and your departing agent agree, you can follow them to their new agency, and you sign a new agency agreement there. Or you can find whole other new agent (fingers crossed). Or, you can discuss with your original agency about working with someone else in house.
It could be that your agent is leaving the business all together, and there’s no one else willing or able to take you on in house. That sucks. That means you don’t have an agent anymore and you have to look for a new one. It just happens sometimes. Being a literary agent is a job, and sometimes people need to change jobs for any number of reasons. Hopefully your departing agent can give you some referrals. But you can’t force your Agency to keep you on, if there’s no one there you can or will do it.
But what happens with your book? When your agent sells your book, that Agency becomes the Agent(/Agency) of Record. That means if your agent leaves, or even if you fire your agent yourself, the Agency is entitled to collect commission any yet unpaid advances or royalties and they are contractually obligated to send you your money and any statements or correspondence that comes to them. They still function as your agency at a bare bones level (sends you checks and statements, answers questions about royalties and rights, could point you in the right direction for more help) but they aren’t in on any of your new work. If your agent leaves and you don’t stay with that agency, you will definitely, definitely, definitely still get all your checks and statements like you always do.
If you get a new agent, the new agent isn’t cut in on your previous earnings. You can tell your old agency to send your new agency royalty statements if you like, but that’s up to you. I often decode past royalty statements for clients who had different agents before me. It’s all part of the job.
If you never sold a book with your departing agent, and you’re not staying with the agency, then that’s that. You can move on with a clean slate. If your departing agent submitted your work anywhere and it didn’t sell you MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST get a list of every editor who they sent it to. EVERY SINGLE ONE. If you get a new agent and you’re trying to shop the same project, your new agent can’t send it to someone who already passed on it and sometimes they can’t send it to any one else at that imprint/house, either. It makes both you and your new agent look bad when this happens. GET YOUR SUBMISSION LISTS. YOU NEED THEM VERY VERY MUCH.
If you have a long career in publishing, it’s very likely that you’re going to lose an editor and/or an agent along the way. The agent-author relationship is by far the one with the most staying power in publishing, but it’s not forever. If this happens to you, I hope it’s painless and seamless, and both you and your departing agent are on to greener pastures. (Gee, that sounds like everyone died. Oops.)
(Clients, I SWEAR to GOD I am not quitting or moving agencies. I promise.)