agents and learning curves

I received the following anonymous comment earlier this week:

I am in the process of querying, with several novels already published. I am having an issue that I hope you can address. Because I write in multiple genres, I find myself eliminating agents because they don’t handle one or more of the genres in which I write.

How would you handle a potential client who writes both genres you represent, and those you don’t? Would you suggest they find someone who represents all their genres? Find an additional agent for that (or those) other genres? Handle their own submissions in those genres, and either handle their own contracts, or have you negotiate the contracts?

I know there are those that will advise a writer in that situation to stick to one genre, to find their voice and market in that genre; to establish themselves before they try to move into other markets. But if that isn’t an option (I’ve already published in three genres, and want to continue) what would you advise?

I admit that I am a little wary of providing a hard and fast answer because there are a lot of details I don’t know here: Which genres specifically? Are they in any way similar markets? (for example, YA and erotica would be very disparate) How well established/entrenched is the author in each respective genre?

That said, I will point out some interesting facts about my own list — about two years ago I had no YA whatsoever. I am now representing several clients in that category and will see three new series launch this Spring. It was a learning curve, yes, but one that was a lot of fun and opened up some new variety and horizons for me. I must say I am not only enjoying myself with these books and the creativity of the authors, but I have built and will continue to build in this area. This could be true for any motivated agent — as long as they have an interest in growing the same direction as the author. It also helped immensely that I tend to have relationships with my clients that allow us to brainstorm and discuss and plan how to proceed into new areas. Some years ago, I also pioneered the expansion of the agency into romance and women’s fiction. When I came on board, I don’t believe we’d sold any titles in those categories. So, you see, an agent can learn. Or at least, this agent can. YMMV.

This person also asks about having separate agents. From my own experience, I’d advise against that if at all possible. I have done collaborative deals with other agents and those have gone smoothly enough. But in terms of planning a career, you can get into some sticky situations with too many cooks. I’d also advocate having an agent who will handle all your works — if you submit yourself, there are risks of confusion with editors and other complications. It’s a grey area that just has too many pitfalls. I don’t think someone should be put out of the running because they have yet to launch in a particular area, especially if they are otherwise a good match for you. You’re asking the agent to take make an investment in your writing; be willing to take a chance on them, too.

8 responses to “agents and learning curves

  1. A related question: What would you recommend for someone who writes both fiction (sf/f) and nonfiction? Are there agents who handle both?

  2. That’s very informative; it’s a subject I’ve been mulling over myself. I see someone’s just asked about fiction/non-fiction agenting, which was the question I was going to ask. I currently publish New Age non-fiction without an agent (I’ve been seriously considering trying to find one, however) but I also write YA fiction that I know needs to be agented in order to be properly shopped around. I don’t know whether to look for an agent that will handle both (although I haven’t found one listed so far who is interested in agenting both New Age non-fiction and YA fiction!) or have two agents for the different genres. Any insight would be appreciated. And thanks for your time and energy; I always enjoy your observations.
    ~ A

  3. I know several (quite a few really) authors that use different pen names between genres.
    Unless a solid readership and smashing sales have been established in one particular genre why not establish pen names in each?

    • Having a pen name doesn’t change the agent issue, however. Erotica is under a pseudonym, SF/F under the real name, but there is still a single human being behind both names, and a singlg agent.

  4. Very interesting. Thanks for discussing this topic, Jennifer. I always assumed that one should find one agent to follow their career no matter what they wrote. I agree with Neutron. :*)

  5. I’ve been wondering about this issue myself lately, so thank you for a very timely chiming in.

  6. What genres?
    Yes, actually. YA, romance, SF/fantasy, adventure, and an occasional piece of erotice under a pseudonym. *grin*
    Thanks for addressing the issue. My preference, certainly, is a single agent for everything, and I am not yet at a point where I feel I’ve run out of options (including a new query to the fabulous resident agent here). And I like the idea of seducing (if you will) an agent into a new genre.
    THe only complication is when an agent says up front no SF, or no kids, or whatever.

  7. agents and learning curves
    Here’s a story I love to tell – although it was no fun when it happened. After my second gift/psychology/self-help/relationship title was published by national-scope, well-established houses, I very much wanted to find an agent, and asked my then-editor for referrals. At her suggestion, I contacted a NYC agent whose name I do not recall (memory has a way of blocking traumatic experiences!). After I sent her my published books plus a new idea plus copies of magazine columns I had written, we spoke by phone. “You’re kind of a one-note author, aren’t you?” was her comment to me. I was stunned, as my belief was that I had been building a cohesive body of professional work. “Well, if people like Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson are one-note authors, then I suppose you’re right,” I stammered. She asked me if I had anything else, which I did. I sent her a short ms. written in a different voice, tone, and genre. After reviewing said ms., she exclaimed, “Oh, I could never represent you with this. It’s far too different than anything you’ve done before!” I was younger then, more vulnerable, and I allowed her comments to shut me down for years.

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