When you're trying to break into traditional publishing, landing an agent feels like finding the holy grail -- you've completed the quest, you've leveled up, you've done the thing. Then you start digging into everything that comes after, and you realize that signing with an agent is just another step in the process. And oh boy, you've still got a hike ahead of you.
So. You sign the contract. Your agent probably wants a revision, so you get that done. The two of you put together a submission package, your agent starts reaching out to editors, and for half a second you can BREATHE because the process is mostly beyond your control. (You should still be developing your platform, extending your reach, all that good stuff, but at least the submission process itself can chug along without you for a bit.) In that moment of calmness, you start thinking about that new idea that's been wiggling in the back of your head. That's when the anxiety sets in because...
What if my agent doesn't like my next book???
*runs screaming into the night*
I've seen that question on so many writing forums and Q&As and subreddits. It's a dreadful thought, and I can tell you from experience that it feels even more dreadful when it actually happens. So what does it mean when your agent just doesn't connect with your new work?
The scenario can play out in several ways, and it mostly depends on your agent. If you guys work well together but your new idea is in a genre or area that he doesn't represent, he might try to work something out with another agent (probably someone in his agency) who has more experience with that genre. If your new idea is still just that, a vague and nebulous spark, and you haven't put a lot of time or work into it yet, your agent might suggest that you put it aside for now and work on something she's more likely to be able to sell.
Or . . . You and your agent might decide to part ways.
I experienced the third option. In 2014, my then-agent was still trying to sell UNDERBED when I sent her the first draft of MAMMOTH. We worked through a series of MAMMOTH revisions, but in the end, she just couldn't connect strongly enough with the main character to represent the project, and I felt too strongly about MAMMOTH to give up on it.
Because of that, and because she'd been unable to do much with UNDERBED, she and I parted ways in 2015. That happened on my birthday, by the way. I don't recommend that. Really kind of ruins the day.
So yeah. These things happen. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back. However, that doesn't mean that you've failed, or that the project in question isn't viable. It just means that you and your agent weren't the literary soulmates you both hoped you'd be, and if an agent doesn't fall in love with a project, she's not the one you want selling that project anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right fit in this industry.
I sent out a couple of MAMMOTH queries that same day. Finding a new agent took longer than I expected (more on that in another post!), but now that I can turn around and look back at that rocky hiking trail from the other side . . .
I think it was all worth it.
Breaking up with an agent sucks, but it's not the end of your career. You mope for a bit, you vent to your friends, and then you stand up and dust yourself off. You keep going.