People always point out that a relationship with an agent is something like a marriage, but without the sex (usually). Which means that sometimes there will be a divorce—at this point, the high profile one is J. K. Rowling dumping hers.
The gentlemen in question has made enough money from her to live the rest of his life like a king but it still hurts to be given the shove.
I don’t know why J. K. split from Christopher Little, but I do know some situations that might indicate it’s time for you to go looking for a new one:
- When they don’t return your call promptly. By promptly I mean within a week, unless there’s a hot deal in the works in which case you’d expect a call back within 24 hours.
- When they take a long time to read your new work.
- When they start telling you how to rewrite your work (that’s not to say that agents don’t have valuable input, but it’s a common disease among agents to want to become writers by proxy)
- When they stop making connections for you.
It’s not all a one-way street, though. Agents also have good cause sometimes to shed a writer. Typically they start thinking less affectionately about clients:
- If they become needy. Your agent is not your therapist or your accountant. They don’t want to know about your financial problems or your personal life—or at least not much.
- If they feel that the projects being offered to them are beneath them. This screenwriter usually is just one step away from trying to become a novelist.
- If they screw up too many meetings by being late, unprepared, insulting to the producer or network person (yes, that happens), or inflexible.
As with real divorces, it’s tough to find a truly amicable one but it is possible. The toughest situation is when the agent who believed in you at the start gets you jobs that take you into the big leagues and then you realize they’re not actually capable of making those bigger deals effectively. Then it’s loyalty vs. career advancement (or money). The late Stephen Cannell encountered this and came up with a generous solution: he switched agents but continued to give his first agent a percentage (I think it was 5%) of his income.
Jurgen Wolff is a screenwriter. Check back every week for a new post from Jurgen Wolff and also check out his site, www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com. You may also find his “Your Writing Coach” book useful.