By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach
firstwriter.com – Thursday August 29, 2019
I’m leaving Dork Associates, Mr. Dork. But it’s nothing personal.
Most agents are, in reality, pretty nice people. Your own current agent might be witty and charming—but you don’t have an agent for entertainment sake. You want someone to represent you who is both connected and knowledgeable.
People leave their agents every day, and yet, the process of changing agents can be an emotional and confusing one. In fact, before you change, you might want to pause and rethink the situation. Is this agent really not doing her job, or are your expectations unrealistic? ...Has the agent stopped shopping your work, is now willing to take whatever contracts are offered, and not going out of her way to boost your career to the next level? If so, you might be quite right in wanting to find more fertile field.
After trying to repair the relationship with your agent, or simply deciding that mending fences is impossible, prepare to leave in a way that takes into account the full range of business realities.
“Keep it friendly but professional,” suggests Kristy Montee, one-half of the sister team writing the NYTimes bestselling Louis Kincaid and Joe Frye mysteries by P. J. Parrish. “Thank him for his work on your behalf, then simply state that the time has come for you to move on.”
You don't need to explain your reasons any further, counsels Montee. This breakup between author and agent is a common fact of life in publishing. “You can do it on the phone, even though that might be awkward. But it might be best to fire the agent by writing a great letter.”* Again, she advises, say something positive, but approach it in the context that the relationship has run its course and that you appreciate all that was done. Wish him the best.
“And don't feel guilty. This is your career,” Montee notes.
What is the agent thinking while all this is happening? Long-time agent Peter Rubie, CEO of Fine Print Literary Management in Manhattan, NYC, admits that the breakup is always at least somewhat awkward. “No matter how civilized you may be in your handling of this, one party or the other will feel a frisson of resentment, even if that quickly dissipates.” Strong feelings about such a separation are inevitable, he says.
”However, an agent friend of mine told me many years ago: ‘Everybody leaves,’ and that comment has helped me keep a balanced perspective,” continues Rubie. “The best way for either party to handle this is to just be firm but pleasant, polite, and professional, and not get drawn into an excited or bitter exchange.”
Authors seem to be split as to whether to be completely out of a contract with the first agent before seeking a second agent, or to line up another agent prior to quitting the first. Agents, as well, have mixed feelings about taking on a client who hasn’t left the current agent, and one told me recently that she won’t consider speaking to anyone who still has representation. “I might be wasting my time,” said New York’s Grace Morgan. “That author might turn around and stick with her old agent, despite our discussions.”
Rubie’s take is for an author and agent to sound one another out is perfectly reasonable. “That is a far cry from promises of intent. I then usually tell authors in this position that they need to conclude the relationship with the current agent first.”
If Rubie is interested in having the author as a client, he’ll indicate a willingness to talk seriously once that existing arrangement is resolved. “I don't want to be in a position where I appear to be poaching someone else's client.”
Commissions Are the Question
An even more crucial consideration in moving on has to do with sales and money. Rockville, Maryland publishing attorney Daniel N. Steven has this to say: “In general, upon termination of your agency agreement, your agent loses authority to make a deal but would be entitled to a commission on any sale made before the date of termination. If the book is out on submission, and the editor calls the agent to buy after the date of termination, the editor must be referred to the author, and the agent would not receive a commission on the sale.”
That’s the ideal for the author, of course, but Steven adds that the contract may have a clause or clauses in the contract that confer the commission to the agent in such a case.
“As always, your agency agreement controls these issues,” comments Steven.
Florida contract attorney and author Phyllis Towzey suggests you “take a close look at your contract with your agent before issues like this come up--preferably before you even sign--and either have it reviewed by a lawyer--always the safest course of action--or at least make sure the terms are all clear to you.”
What the word “sold” may mean can be determined by a definition in the contract itself. Towzey notes that many contracts have an opening section defining terms, usually in alphabetical order. “The section would include something like, Sold: For purposes of this Agreement, ‘sold’ shall mean [that a publishing house has extended an offer ...] or [that an offer from a publishing house has been accepted by Author...] or [that Author has signed a contract with a publishing house ...].”
She also advises, “Get your agent to explain the situation in the hypothetical--answering the question ‘what happens if...’ Then confirm that understanding in writing, preferably by making a note on the contract itself, clearing up any ambiguities, and you both initialing it.”
If your contract does not define the term, then, she notes, the custom in the industry would control. “Unfortunately, people do get into legal disputes over what the ‘custom in the industry’ is on particular points.”
If the contract isn’t clear as to the meaning of the word “sold,” Towzey suggests that when you withdraw from your contract, you consult a literary attorney—expensive, “but still much cheaper than having your former agent later sue you when one of your books sells” or to, at the very least, FedEx the former agent a letter stating what you believe the contract term to mean and how you understand it affects your respective rights.
“Dear Former Agent,
“I have reviewed our Agreement and I understand that you will remain Agent of Record on any works sold on or before ____________, the effective date of the termination of our business relationship. It is my understanding that ‘sold’ means [insert what you think it means--for example, that an offer has been extended by a publishing house]. It is my understanding that you have submitted project A to X, Y and Z houses, that an offer has been extended for project B by house W, and that you have still have project C which I sent to you inhouse and have not submitted it anywhere.
“Based on the foregoing, it is my understanding that you will remain Agent of Record on project B, but that you have no right to receive any future remuneration with respect to projects A and C. It is my understanding that I may instruct my new agent to contact X, Y and Z houses regarding project A, without the formality of my withdrawing the submission and resubmitting through my new agent.
“If you disagree with the any of the foregoing, or have n fact submitted any other projects not mentioned herein or received any other offers on my behalf, kindly advise me of same within the next ten (10) days. If I do not hear from you to the contrary, I will assume that the foregoing information is correct and act accordingly.
Towzey who is a contract attorney, but not a publishing attorney specifically, adds this is simply general advice and not a definitive legal opinion intended for anyone reading this article.
The best advice in changing agents is to stick to what’s polite as well as ethical and legal. In being courteous, however, don’t let your rights be trampled on, and be sure not to give away more than you have to. Know what you’re entitled to and what you want, and be firm.
*Many authors feel strongly that if the relationship has been a long and fruitful one, you owe your agent a telephoned termination.
G. Miki Hayden is the author of the award-winning guide for mystery writers, Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, available now from JP&A Dyson.
"Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you'd like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer's Digest: https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/. Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Find me on Facebook."
G. Miki Hayden always has a new class starting at Writer's Digest. The feedback she gives is personal, thorough, and actionable.
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By James A. Haught
Editor Emeritus, The Charleston Gazette
firstwriter.com – Tuesday September 3, 2019
Moliere said: “Writing is like pr__t_t_tion. First you do it for the love of it. Then you do it for a few friends. And finally you do it for money.”
Unfortunately, many of today’s writers can’t attain the level of a self-supporting h__ker, because markets and communications have evolved into strange new territory.
Writers' Handbook 2021 - Out Now!
Some of this month's news for writers from around the web.
scotsman.com – Friday September 20, 2019
Scotland has so many book festivals readers are spoiled for choice. But for crime fiction fans, this weekend is particularly special, as Bloody Scotland arrives in Stirling for the eighth time to bring authors and book lovers together at around 40 events over three days.
On Friday night, the winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize for Crime Novel of the Year will be announced (see panel, right, for The Scotsman’s reviews of the shortlisted titles). There is also a new prize for debut authors. Bob McDevitt, director of Bloody Scotland, said: “The festival is always looking for new ways to discover and promote new writers… Publishing is a tough old world these days and anything that gives a bit of profile to a new writer is a good thing.”
thebookseller.com – Thursday September 19, 2019
American academic Sharon Fulton will launch Clean Prose, "London’s first co-working space designed specifically for writers", next month.
The newly revedeveloped three-floor property will open its doors to founding members on 1st October, before its official launch on 24th October in artistic collaboration with the cultural anthology Postscript to create a unique photoshoot and literary panel.
“Located in the heart of Shoreditch and Old Street at 2 Charlotte Road, the three-storey building offers a different atmosphere on each floor,” according to academic-turned-entrepreneur Fulton.
Fulton, who studied and taught at Columbia University in New York for her PhD and Post-Doc, said: “I finished teaching there in 2016 and tutoring and teaching all over New York, in libraries as well, I wanted to keep teaching literature. I am looking for something but found writing by myself quite isolating. I would write ‘out’ in the Southbank Centre or a library but it’s frustrating because you don’t meet other writers in this way. I love London but there was nothing like this in London. I had this idea of opening a co-working space for writers and wanted it to be more than co-working so I developed this idea of it having more than one storey.”
thewrap.com – Tuesday September 17, 2019
The Writers Guild of America will stay the course on its ongoing fight against top Hollywood agencies and packaging fees, as its membership has reelected President David A. Goodman to another term after a heavily contested campaign against challenger Phyllis Nagy.
It was a landslide victory for Goodman, receiving 77% of 5,677 votes counted with 4,395 votes to Nagy’s 1,292. He will continue to serve alongside Executive Director David Young, Vice President Marjorie David, and new Secretary-Treasurer Michele Mulroney, who has previously served as a board and negotiating committee member.
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A selection of the new listings added to firstwriter.com this month.
firstwriter.com – Tuesday September 10, 2019
Represents children's authors and artists.
firstwriter.com – Tuesday September 17, 2019
Publishes: Articles; Features; Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Short Stories; Westerns;
Publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the American West. Looks for themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encounter on the frontier. Send submissions by email. See website for full guidelines.
firstwriter.com – Monday September 16, 2019
Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Short Stories;
Preferred styles: Literary
Publishes short stories, poetry, nonfiction, and literary fiction on themes such as social justice, racism, discrimination, gender equality, LGBTQ concerns, immigration, poverty and homelessness. Submit via online submission system. $5 submission fee.
|Click here for more of this month's new listings >|
Some of this month's articles for writers from around the web.
femalefirst.co.uk – Tuesday September 17, 2019
I’ve been a fan of Coronation Street since before I can remember. It was the show I used to watch with my mum and grandma, all three of us huddled on the sofa. My grandma and I used to love Elsie Tanner, the wicked woman of Weatherfield, no better than she ought to be. She had a string of men in her past and I loved the naughtiness of Elsie, the cheek of her.
I went on to write TV Tie-In books about Coronation Street for ITV. I also contributed to the official ITV Corrie website, to their official magazine and to various one-off ITV publications about the soap. I have also written unofficial fan books. In addition, I set up and now edit the Coronation Street Blog, a fan site written by and for fans. It’s been online since 2007 and remains unique, a labour of love. And I’ve been writing online Corrie weekly updates since 1995. So being a fan of the show and writing about it is in my blood. It comes naturally to me. You could say I’m steeped in soap opera. I know their twists and turns, their cliff-hangers and signposts. Most of all, I know their women.
theguardian.com – Monday September 16, 2019
Zadie Smith “can’t stand the phones”. Nick Laird pointedly owns a phone that’s not smart. Brett Easton Ellis despises Instagram as “that fake place” while Jonathan Coe has said he finds being on Twitter “a bit like writing in a virtual cafe”. Mark Haddon announced a retreat from Twitter when The Porpoise was published because of “a growing sense that it was detrimentally affecting the way I both looked at and thought about the world around me”, but has posted every week since. Ayòbámi Adébáyò, author of Stay With Me, keeps two mobile phones, and when she writes, she hides the one with all the apps in the wardrobe. Authors can have an uneasy time with social media; “always twitching the sleeve with its wants and needs”, as Robert Macfarlane puts it (at which point, he says, he shuts it down for a few hours). So how do writers manage – or deploy – the distractions?
thriveglobal.com – Saturday September 14, 2019
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his work” ~ Virginia Woolf
Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention the impact the author’s voice has on the readers. However, writing a novel is not a piece of cake. It is better to call it quits then completing a book. It happens when you run out of ideas, or your own story bores you, or you become overwhelmed by the scope of finishing what you started, compels you to quit.
For a beginner, writing can seem daunting, but if you have a passion to write your own story and know the ways to make the process easier, you can make it to the end of your novel. So without further ado, let’s discuss ten tips which can keep you motivated till the end of your project.
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