Someone the other day asked how to approach a second agent to represent his novel after his existing agent turned it down. It sounds pretty convoluted, but it's really not. My answer, though, may surprise you.
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The answer to that question is pretty simple, despite the convoluted, incomplete, and mostly erroneous response to your question you received from one other person. Begin by checking the "out clause" that your contract with your existing agent contains. It tells you how to sever your contractual obligations should things come to that. Your contract also has a clause allowing your agent to turn down representation of any client's work that he or she deems to be unmarketable. Keep your agent's letter to that effect in your files, and start looking for an agent who disagrees with your present agent and is willing to take your second novel on.
Be aware, though, that landing one agent in a lifetime is tough enough. Getting a second one is twice as difficult, particularly since your current agent has turned the book down. That looks suspicious at best and bad at worst.
Instead, my advice to you, after settling down for the past twenty years with my sixth and hopefully last agent, is to forget about pitching the second novel. Start a new one. Or, better yet, go back to the second one and completely revamp it. Your agent should be willing and able to tell you what's wrong with it and how to fix it.
If you decide instead to look for another agent to pick up your second novel, don't be surprised if you end up wasting time, energy, and money in the search—and come up empty-handed in the end.
Literary agents make a living by selling marketable books to conventional publishers. No legitimate agent would willingly pass on an opportunity to make money unless the book really is unmarketable as it stands. And, what's more, all literary agents know that.
Do you see my point here?
Then, what are you waiting for? Get busy. Either writing something new, rewriting something already written, or trying to convince a second agent to climb onboard a train that seems to be barely limping along.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.