If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen the controversy that erupted several weeks ago when reports emerged that New Leaf Literary & Media had abruptly terminated representation–via email–for more than two dozen clients of an agent who had departed the agency that same day.
Conflicting reports added to the confusion: about the agent’s departure (the agency described it as “amicable”, but the agent subsequently indicated it wasn’t voluntary) and about the status of the dropped authors (the agency described some of the dropped authors as “inactive”, when in fact several had projects in progress). Publishers Weekly covered the controversy in an article (whose accuracy has been disputed), as did Publisher’s Lunch. Concerned about the agency’s apparent lack of a coherent succession plan, the Authors Guild met with New Leaf leadership to “discuss the agency’s plan to manage the transition for authors impacted by the shakeup.”
On a more positive note, multiple agents invited submissions from the dropped authors.
Although a number of the affected authors have identified themselves on social media, they haven’t spoken as a group–until now. Below is a statement provided to me by 17 current and former clients of New Leaf Literary. It clarifies the sequence of events, challenges the accuracy of some of the reporting, and issues a call for industry-wide change.
Statement from Current and Former Clients of New Leaf Literary & Media
Three weeks ago, on the evening of May 12, 2023, we received an email informing us that our former agent, Jordan Hamessley, had “amicably parted ways” with New Leaf Literary & Media, leaving many of us without representation.
We recognize that agencies have the right to terminate their professional relationships as they deem necessary. However, we find the manner in which this termination occurred, the inconsistent messaging, the subsequent lack of clarity, and the misleading statements reported in the media to be unacceptable.
Our experience has ignited crucial conversations within the writing community, and we are seizing this moment to share our stories and propose essential industry-wide changes to prevent such incidents from recurring.
Who We Are
We are a diverse group of critically acclaimed and award winning picture book, early reader, middle grade, young adult, and adult authors and illustrators whose writing spans multiple genres. Over half of us have been with New Leaf for at least five years. Almost a third of us identify as neurodiverse/neurodivergent. Nearly a quarter of us identify as trans/nonbinary, and close to half of us identify as queer.
On May 12, 2023, Jordan Hamessley sent a mass email to her client list at 3:28 PM ET detailing her upcoming planned sabbatical and summer schedule. Just a few hours later, we received an email from New Leaf saying that Jordan was no longer with the agency. Given the three different versions of the email we received, it appears that the agency categorized us into three groups:
- 1. Terminated clients.
- 2. Clients who were not terminated but were informed that no agent could currently represent them, although options were under discussion.
- 3. Clients who were offered representation with another New Leaf agent.
In response to this sudden news, we formed a group to support one another during this transition. A few of us shared updates on Twitter, not to “slam” New Leaf, as reported in Publishers Weekly, but to demonstrate solidarity within the writing community, seek support, information, and advice from others who faced similar situations, and most importantly, challenge the shame and stigma associated with being dropped by an agency.
Since this news broke, numerous writers have taken to Twitter, sharing their own experiences of the publishing industry, which often treats us like replaceable commodities.
Addressing Inconsistencies in Media Coverage
While we are inspired by the brave writers who have spoken out, we are disheartened by the media coverage, which has repeatedly misrepresented our experience.
According to the May 15, 2023 Publishers Weekly article, New Leaf dropped 11 clients categorized as “inactive.” However, in reality, a total of 27 clients were dropped, as reported in a Publishers Lunch article that’s currently behind a paywall. A survey of 25 affected clients revealed that many of those dropped had active projects:
- 9 currently have at least one project under contract.
- 11 currently have at least one project on submission to editors.
- 3 have books scheduled for release in 2023.
- 6 were actively collaborating with Hamessley on proposals
(source: survey of 25 out of 45 clients. Clients could check multiple options).
When dropped clients disputed the narrative of being inactive, New Leaf responded by placing the blame on Hamessley for not maintaining updated records. However, email communications between dropped clients and New Leaf indicate that the agency was aware of active projects and were even involved in contract negotiation with some of us when the initial termination email was sent. What’s more, Hamessley has stated that her files were up-to-date.
Additionally, the PW article mischaracterized the options given to clients who were not dropped. It claimed that 19 clients were offered representation, with only one refusing. However, this framing is misleading, as several clients are still deliberating their future with New Leaf.
Furthermore, the PW article stated that the 15 clients who were not offered representation but were also not terminated would continue to receive agency representation for current contract negotiations and submissions. While this was communicated to some clients later on, it was not explicitly mentioned in the initial Friday night email. Clients were informed of this only after sharing their situation on Twitter or reaching out to New Leaf directly.
Calling for Industry-Wide Change
Agents parting ways with agencies is not uncommon; however, it is inexcusable for an agency of New Leaf’s caliber to lack clear internal and external protocols for such situations.
We perceive this as an opportunity for industry-wide change. We call upon all agencies to develop transparent protocols that are shared with prospective clients before signing and updating those protocols regularly, as needed.
These protocols should include a guaranteed transition phase to ensure that agencies have ample time to review clients’ project statuses, preventing those with active projects from being left in limbo, as some of us currently are.
Agencies should approach client notification with sensitivity, carefully considering timing and the method employed. All clients, regardless of project sales, should have the opportunity to seek clarification and closure through email or calls.
Agencies must have a plan in place for informing editors of such changes. Clear lines of communication between the agency and editors should be established, eliminating the burden on authors to coordinate these conversations.
Finally, mid-career authors suddenly thrust back into querying require more support and guidance, especially when they have pending projects that necessitate immediate representation.
Ultimately,the relationship between an agency and its clients is a professional one, and as professionals, we expect to be treated with respect. The manner in which this termination occurred was unprofessional and has had a significant impact on our careers. We issue this statement in the hope of bringing about real change within the industry, enabling us, as writers and illustrators, to focus on our jobs: placing our books in the hands of readers who need them.
Signed, Seventeen Former and Current New Leaf Clients