When Your Agent Isn’t a Good Fit

Two authors share the literary agent advice they discovered when they figured out their agents weren't their perfect match and how to break peacefully.
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Two authors who discovered that their agent wasn’t their perfect match share their advice on how to break peacefully—and avoid a bad match in the first place.

Finding representation is one of the biggest hurdles in the publishing process. Once you’ve signed with an agent, it’s easy to believe that it will be smooth sailing from there. But this isn’t always the case. Besides the challenge of securing a deal with a publishing house, sometimes writers figure out that their agent is not the best fit for them. Here’s literary agent advice from two authors who found themselves in that situation.

Amy Roost

Amy Roost produced a podcast about a family secret that was subsequently picked up and retold by The New York Times. After the story went viral, Roost received several inquiries from agents interested in representing her.

One of the inquiries came from a powerhouse agent prepared to handle both book and film rights—an attractive offer to Roost. But after several conversations and drafts of a book proposal, it became clear that they did not agree on the direction of the book. So they decided to part ways.

Afterward, the author of The New York Times article recommended his agent, who loved Roost’s story. Although not as big of a name, Roost says this new agent seems more willing to work with her and preserve her vision for the book. “She has said to me so many times, ‘This is your book,’ and that’s what I needed to hear,” Roost explains. “All in all, I feel like I’m getting the book I want with her expertise.”

Here’s Roost’s advice on finding the right agent:

Know What Book You Want to Write Before Trying to Sell It

When you’re selling a book based on a proposal as opposed to a finished manuscript, Roost recommends having solid ideas about the book you want to write.

“Be clear on the story you want to tell, because otherwise it’s easy for you to get pushed into telling a story you don’t want to tell. You may not realize that until much later, and then you’re stuck telling the story that sold,” she says.

Hold Out for Someone Who Shares Your Vision

“Your agent has to share your vision, otherwise you’re going to be writing a book for somebody else instead of for yourself. If they’re pushing their agenda on you, that’s definitely a warning sign,” Roost says.

literary agent advice

[You might also enjoy: Why Finding a Literary Agent Is So Similar to Dating]

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps found an agent interested in representing her memoir about motherhood and ambiguous loss. But after submitting the book to many publishing houses without success, her agent approached her about parting ways.

Van Epps understood that it would be difficult to find new representation after being widely submitted to major publishing houses. Instead, she decided to approach smaller presses on her own and recently received an offer.

Here’s literary agent advice from Van Epps for writers in similar situations:

Be Your Own Advocate

Van Epps encourages writers to not give up. “An agent will never be as committed to your work as you are. I’ve heard of agents abandoning a project after just five or 10 submissions. If that’s the case, find another agent to take the book out again,” she says.

You Can Still Get Published Without Representation

“If your agent has already hit all the major publishers and imprints, try small presses. Or, write another book and try for a two-book deal. Keep publishing short pieces in respected publications to get your name out there. A viral piece can often lead to a book deal. You never know what might happen!” Van Epps says.

Both writers learned how to advocate for themselves and their projects. And, as Van Epps is demonstrating, there’s more than one path to publication.

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