If you’ve previously had a literary agent—or if you have one now—and you’re looking for a new one using a query letter approach, then there are some special considerations you should keep in mind. While each writer’s situation is different, we can offer some useful guidance about how to write your query letter when trying to get a new or replacement literary agent.
What To Keep In Mind Before You Start Writing Your Query
First things first: Check your existing literary agency contract if you have one. Some agent contracts state that you can’t look for a new agent while you’re still being represented by your current one, so technically you would have to break things off with your current agent before querying others.
If you decide to query other agents before making a formal break with your current agent, you run the risk of being found out. Avoid getting a bad reputation among agents by querying very selectively, as opposed to sending queries to many different agencies all at once.
Also, if an agent has sold a book for you, that agent will most likely be entitled to commissions on the work in perpetuity. Your new agent may not be able to do anything to help you with previously sold books. Starting with a clean slate—and a new book—is generally the best route.
How To Write A Query Letter When You Have A Literary Agent But Are Looking For A New One
Sometimes, your relationship with a literary agent just doesn’t work out; maybe the literary agent failed to meet your expectations by sending your book to only a few editors—or didn’t send it out at all. Maybe you feel ignored. You may not be ready to fire your current agent, but you want to put some feelers out there about getting a new one.
If your agent hasn’t actually sent your book out for consideration yet, you might not want to mention your agency affiliation at all in your query. You also might want to fire your current agent ASAP, since the enthusiasm isn’t there and it might be better to start from scratch with someone new.
Or, if your current agent has sent your book to a few editors but not many, you might choose to be a little vague in your query letter: “I am currently represented by a reputable literary agency; however, I am seeking a partner who will be able to dedicate more energy and enthusiasm to managing my career. I would be happy to review the details should my writing interest you.”
If your current agent has already sent your book to numerous editors, there may not be much else that can be done to get your book published. Once an editor at a given imprint has seen your book, it’s rare that a different agent will send it to that same imprint again. In other words, getting a different agent because your book didn’t sell with your first agent isn’t always a viable route—unless you’ve significantly revised the manuscript.
How To Write A Query Letter When You Once Had An Agent But Don’t Anymore
Unless you have a “good” and simple reason for having broken things off with your old agency—maybe you stopped writing because a family member was ill, or maybe your agency decided to close its doors—then you might not want to mention your prior agent at all in your query letter. Once the agent you’re querying has expressed interest in your manuscript, then it’s time to talk in-depth about your history.
If you published books with major publishers in the past, then you don’t necessarily need to point out your literary agent history. The agents who are reading your query letter will recognize that you probably had literary agent representation at one point. And if they want to know more, they’ll ask.
Whether you and your previous agent parted on good OR bad terms, here are some important tips:
Keep it positive. If you had a bad experience with your prior agent, don’t lie about that. But don’t say anything that could make you look culpable in the failure of the prior relationship.
Don’t give specific agent names—this makes it easier for your potential agent to contact your old one. If a new agent gets serious about representing you, then you can share your detailed history.
We do NOT recommend putting off the talk about your history until after the potential new agent has read your manuscript front to back. If the agent invests time into the book by reading it, but then can’t represent it for some reason because of your history, the agent might be irritated with you. And you’ll have wasted everyone’s time. Mention salient details after your query but before things go too far.
QUESTION: Have you (or a writer you know) ever made the switch from one literary agency to another? How?