How Much Do I Tell a New Agent about My Old Agent?


Dear Anon….

Agents and authors part ways. It happens. Agents know this and aren’t disinclined by that mere fact. What would narrow their eyes would be anything that smacks of evasiveness on your part while you explain the parting of ways. An agent-author relationship requires strong, open communication in order for you to plot your career path as a team and go out with manuscripts that sync with that vision. Help the potential new agent understand what wasn’t clicking. Claiming “creative differences” may sound safe but that could mean a lot of things—from something as simple as having different ideas about what to focus on to something more thorny like disagreements about revisions for specific manuscripts. Assume professional tactfulness by not accusing or besmirching the previous agent even as you get as specific as you can about the factors involved in your business decision. Consider what you would want to know about an author who wanted to co-write a project with you, and how you’d want that author to talk to you about her previous relationship with another author.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. But, shouldn’t the former agency provide a list of where works were sent? In some cases, it is the lack of communication on the agent’s part that results in the termination. How would an author be able to go forward with their work without this?

    • While they should provide such a list, if communication is a reason you severed ties with the agent, you may be banging your head against the wall trying to get it. A good agent will keep you posted as they make each submission; I advise writers to keep a running list of those as a standard business practice. If you can’t get that early in the relationship, when all seems to be going well, you’ve got a red flag. If you don’t have your own tracking list, do your best to provide what info you can regarding past submissions to the new agent. That new agent will likely know the others’ reputation well enough to understand the poor communication and you two can work out a strategy for the new submissions.

  2. Yes, I am wondering about what to do when an agent sets dates to get back to you and then doesn’t. I also get what feels like back burnered where phone meetings are delayed, and some manuscripts don’t get sent out as discussed. I don’t know if this is an issue of respect or extreme busyness where even sending a polite email is too much of a time disruption? I also wonder if agents are inclined to “favor” their clients that bring in more money, or if we should naturally expect prompt service no matter if we’re a bestseller or new author. It seems like response times have gotten longer. Is that typical of agencies? How do you remedy that since authors rely on submissions to bring potential income.

    • For better or worse, agents are people, too, and some may be influenced by the fact that certain clients make them more money. It’s also a fact that certain tasks and timing requires agents to be immediately responsive to some things above others, say with deal-making calls to editors. That, mixed with an intense workload, can throw an agent’s balance off. A good, professional person will strive for balance as much as possible and value all her clients. You can send check-in emails that ask about the status of the item being awaited, and if the waiting becomes troublesome to you, have a professional conversation about your concerns. That can go well or badly, as anecdotes about agents can attest, but at least you won’t be stewing in silence until you reach boiling point. Exploding isn’t likely to lead to great things.

  3. This is also a question I’ve been struggling with as I search for a new agent. I don’t have any problem disclosing my agent history, and believe I should. But I don’t know at what point to bring it up.

    My Curtis Brown agent left agenting in 2012. I also had another agent from a different top agency from 2001-2003, who was not good with follow-up with editors or communication with me.

    Do I mention these previous agents in the first query? Or after the agent I query has requested a full ms.? Or at the point that agent offers representation?

    • Don’t go into it for the query letter. At that point you’re just looking for interest in the project. Same goes for a request for partial manuscript. You don’t have to tell them if the first thing they request is a full manuscript, but you should bring up the subject as soon as the agent expresses distinct interest into the manuscript itself. At that point they’re getting serious and the time is right to start talking about career experiences and goals. Agents often tell me that a past relationship isn’t an automatic red flag for them, so don’t be terrified of the conversation. In fact, I’ve been told they think it’s a positive thing that an agent has previously seen merit in your project. Full communication on your part helps rule out the possibility that you were somehow the difficult one in the previous agent/author relationship.

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