Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 29

by Laura Anne Gilman

Because a number of readers have asked me to discuss it, this week and next are given over to breakups.

Sometimes, it seems as though you just can’t get through.  You’re talking at each other, not with, or maybe they’re tuning you out entirely.  They don’t return calls, or evade giving straight answers.  You think maybe they’re just not interested any more – or they’re no longer meeting your needs.

The end of a relationship?  Yes, but not like you think.

It’s much, much worse.

Yes, comparing the agent/writer relationship to a romantic relationship is clichéd.  But it also has enough parallels that ignoring that comparison would just be making extra work.  And it’s too hot today in NYC (95 degrees as I type) to work harder than I have to.

Let me start off by saying that I am of the firm belief that most writers – and by most I mean 90% – are better off with a competent agent than without.  (100% are better off without an incompetent agent.)  Note that I use “competent” rather than “good” or “bad” because – just like in romantic relationships –  what one person needs from their partner/agent is not what the next person will need, and what would drive me batshit may be exactly your wishlist, and vice versa.

Whatever your requirements, the relationship starts intense , and with luck grows into a strong, long-term partnership of mutual trust and respect.  But sometimes, what started well can devolve.  Or you realize that you hooked up for the wrong reasons.   Or you start to wonder – am I really best-served by this relationship?

And often, you feel like crap – like disloyal, over-demanding crap – for thinking that.  Because your agent took you on, worked for you, believed in you when nobody else did.  But – and I can’t emphasize this enough – you need to listen to your gut. Even if it’s not as bad as you think, there’s something bothering you.

The first thing to remember is that your agent is not – alas – a mind-reader.  So if you’re uncomfortable, or feeling unheard, or wondering what the hell is going on, anyway… talk to them.  Pick up the phone, or send an email, or corner them at a conference and say “we need to talk.”

A competent agent will say “absolutely.  What’s up?”

And then you have to say what’s on your mind.  Never mind who works for who – you’re both in harness together to pull your career, and that’s how you need to approach this.  Most times – and I speak from experience here – a frank discussion solves the problem, or at least leads to further useful discussions and an on-going, mutually satisfying relationship.

But sometimes…. It doesn’t.  Sometimes your gut feeling is right: the spark is gone, the interest is lacking, your paths have diverged or – rarely – there’s something hinky going on.  Sometimes, your agent says “I’m sorry, I just don’t see a future here.”

And at that point, you have to do one of the hardest things imaginable.  You have to end it, and start again.  Armed with a better sense of yourself, your career, and where you want to go, you can approach agents who better suit your needs.

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “just business,” then.  Because it’s gonna hurt.  Even if you’re the one making the decision.  And it’s not always a clean break, either: if your agent sold work for you, they’re still agent-of-record.  You’re going to have to deal with them, for as long as that work remains with the publisher.  Sometimes that’s not a problem.  Sometimes… it can get sticky.

The only comfort I can give is that staying would have been worse.

Coming up in Week 30:  when it’s time to leave your imprint – the long goodbye

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future, was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 29 — 4 Comments

  1. Amen.

    I switched agents this year; I still feel guilty about it, because I really, really loved my former agent a lot, personally. FA* had been supportive, smart and enthusiastic for years; then things changed for life-related reasons, and it just wasn’t working. I probably stayed with FA for several years longer than I ought to have done, just because, well, maybe things would turn around (and who wants to go out on the dating market again?).

    I found a spandy new agent who is working well, and I’m delighted. I still feel bad about the breakup with FA; maybe I always will. But my work is going better because I know the backstop of someone I can rely on is there.

    *FA=former agent.

  2. I too had to change agents. In this case it was a mutual decision after two years of dodging each other’s phone calls. Then we TALKED. We agreed to sever the business relationship in order to preserve a 15 year friendship.

    That’s the key. And if the agent won’t have the TALK with you, then the problem is bigger than you want to know about and it is time to pack up and move out even if there are losses involved.

  3. Alas, my former agent stopped responding to calls and letters and emails. Couldn’t have the TALK because FA didn’t talk back, but that was the point at which I knew I had to suck it up and look elsewhere. Still sad, though.

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