Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When your agent doesn't rep what you've written

I recently signed with a terrific agent for my nonfiction work. I’m thrilled – I already have a book deal, she represents authors who are highly regarded in my field, and she’s a perfect fit for what I do.

But I also write fiction, and while my agent does represent some children's fiction, neither she nor anyone at her agency represents the category of my soon-to-be-finished first novel (adult crime fiction). My agent has said she’d be happy to look at anything I write, but that she understands completely if I’d rather look elsewhere for fiction representation.

Working with her has been a dream come true – she got me more money and better terms than I had hoped for on the nonfiction book, and I just really respect her and enjoy working with her. I need to decide (maybe?) whether I’d be better off sticking with her even though she usually doesn’t represent or read crime fic (if the novel is even up to her standards), or querying other agents once the manuscript is ready to go. I also want to do what's best for my agent, and I don’t want to saddle her with a novel she’s not excited about. Am I overthinking this? Should I just give her the manuscript and let her make the call? What should I have for lunch? Oh God, why are writers like this?

This is not running on your woodland creature rodent wheel. This is a real problem, and it's one I'm seeing more and more.

The ideal solution is of course to find an agent to rep your adult fiction, while your current agent reps your non-fiction.

This is going to be a whole lot harder than you think.

For example, if you approached me to rep your adult fiction I'd need to know and trust your current agent.  Communication between the two agents is going to be a big factor in this polyamourous representation.

Each agent would have to loop the other in on contract negotiations. Some contracts have non-compete clauses, next works clauses, and option clauses that can throw a spanner in the works pretty damn quickly.

I have one client who has two agents: Sean Ferrell. The estimable Brooks Sherman reps Sean for his picture books. I rep him for his adult fiction.  When this arrangement started, Brooks' desk was right next to mine, and we could discuss all aspects of the picture book deals right then and there.

I can't imagine how cumbersome that would be for an agent in another office, let alone one in a different company.

That's why I tend not to sign people for anything less than their full wardrobe of work.

 But, if your current NF agent is ok with the arrangement, you can query agents who rep crime fiction. You're going to need to tell them about this other agent in the query letter (you'll put the info in the last paragraph NOT the first.) 

This is another instance where meeting agents in person is a good idea. It's a whole lot easier to figure this out when I can talk to a writer face to face and ask questions.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ha, we should all have such a problem.

OP, regarding lunch, bulk up on Whoppers, fries and chase it with a milkshake. Than you can feel guilty too.
Back to my hamster wheel. What the hell should I have for breakfast?

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Opie! What a wonderful problem. Congratulations! :) Given you have such a good relationship with your current agent, I would talk this over with her. Give her first dibs on your novel, and if she says she can't rep it, ask if she would recommend an agent she trusts. If she's anything like Janet, she is well-connected, and might know an agent both you and she can work well with. And just because your agent doesn't rep adult crime fiction, that doesn't mean she hasn't read any and can't offer editorial advice. It may just mean she doesn't know the market well enough to pitch it to editors.

As for lunch, how about a salad? Or perhaps a jam sandwich, chased down with a slice of the cake Sarah (FirstBorn) made on Sunday. Oh My Goodness!! Sooo good!!! She made a cream cheese frosting for it that is simply outstanding.

2Ns: Mushy cereal--the breakfast of champions. ;)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Two agents working together? Goodness!

It does seem like that would get more complicated, the farther your desks are from one another. And that's providing you're comfortable working together. The more people you add to the mix, the more complicated everything must get.

2Ns: I've been doing English muffins with peanut butter myself. Elka approves!

Theresa said...

Great advice for OP for a problem many of us would like to have. Best of luck with the novel!

2Ns: Cheerios with a side of coffee.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This is a high quality problem to have. Congratulations on your NF book deal, OP.

Now I wonder if Janet sent Brooks his half of Sean Ferrell in that box. Messy. I need coffee.

Amy Johnson said...

Opie: Congratulations! Hope all goes well with your fiction project too.
2Ns: An apple, cut in quarters, spread with peanut butter. Mine was yummy this morning!

Craig F said...

I think that you are going to have to ask your current agent for recommendations. If that doesn't work you may have to taken on a pen name.

Many of the agents you would approach will balk because they will be too unsure of where your future lies. They would prefer fidelity in their writers.

It is not a wonderful problem, it is just a problem. I shelved some wonderful thrillers because my dream of starting with plain thrillers, moving to speculative thrillers and them stepping into sci-fi didn't fit the publishing model.

I wish you luck, this problem has stymied me and I would like to see someone get their entire dream out to the world.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

On topic, I would echo what Colin said... so I'll leave it at that.

Off topic: Cream cheese frosting? My absolute fav! And Colin, speaking of FirstBornSarah, watch your mail. A present is winging its way to you (for her).

Donnaeve said...

Who said cream cheese frosting!

On topic - nothing to add, except a nice problem to have, IMO.

Off topic - no breakfast yet. Only coffee. I'm having my second cup black. Trying to wean myself from sugar. I'm on the fence. I think I could get used to it.

Colin Smith said...

Awww, Melanie! You are so kind!! I'll be watching the mailbox. :)

Oh my... the taste of vanilla frosting, but the consistency of a fondant, or a ganache. Thick and solid, but creamy. The cake inside is darn good too. Chocolate cake made with a dash of coffee.

I know, this is cruel, talking about my daughter's baking talent when y'all can't sample for yourselves. I guess you'll have to all come over... :D

Lennon Faris said...

I like the idea to give your current (excellent) agent first look and if you will seek rep, ask her for recommendations. Not only will she prob. have some good ideas for you, she'll also probably know who she will work with well (and not). Best of luck!

OT - I am drooling over this cake talk. Luckily I have a bag of white powdered donuts.

BJ Muntain said...

Great question, OP! And what an interesting spot to be in. It's wonderful to have found an agent who can help you as much as yours has. But... fiction, right?

I know that having the same agent rep all your books is ideal - but 'ideal' is 'perfect', and very little is perfect in this old world.

Talk to your agent. Many agents take an interest in their clients' whole writing career, and will be happy to help you figure out what to do. As others have said, she may have an idea of some agents to try - maybe even recommendations. Agents she can work with.

And I second Janet's suggestion (not that the Queen needs a seconder, but I wanna) to speak to agents in person. If you're able, go to a conference, see if you can speak to agents in pitch sessions, or buy them the beverage(s) of their choice in the bar. If you go to a pitch session, pitch your fiction, but mention that you have an agent for your non-fiction. Ask the agent you pitch if she would be willing to work with your current agent. Answer the agent's questions. And don't forget to ask the agent as many questions as come to mind.

Good luck, OP!

Unknown said...

Oh man, we've been eating county fair food for 4 days! Y'all are killing me here! OP, congrats on NF book. I like the idea of working through agent to find a fiction agent.

BJ Muntain said...

OP: As for lunch, if your weather is like ours has been for the last few days, may I suggest a milkshake? A nice thick one. It's got milk, so it's healthy; it's thick, so it's filling; and it's usually got some sort of flavour added, which usually contains a bit of salt, which you need on a hot day to keep your electrolytes balanced. Wash it down with a glass of cool water, and you're set for the afternoon.

2Ns: Breakfast? That's a no-brainer. Coffee. Lots and lots and lots of coffee. (Hey, it's healthy. It's made from beans, isn't it?)

Hey, Colin: If - someday - I ever have a book signing in NC, would your daughter be willing to make some gluten-free baking to feed the masses? Because I love baking. That is, I love eating baking. I just can't bake. (Yes, I'm making some assumptions here. After all, I have huge dreams. And sometimes dreams come true... right?)

Morgan Hazelwood said...

OP - Congrats on having an agent that you love! What a hard choice.

Although, now I'm doubly worried about querying the wrong agent, who doesn't represent everything I want to try to write! PB, YA, Romance, SF... memoirs, mostly-true-memoirs of my life as a dolphin...

Colin/Melanie SB I'm right there with you, creme cheese frosting is literally the best!

BJ Muntain said...

Morgan: Very few agents represent a huge slew of genres. However, you might concentrate (at first, anyway) on agents at agencies with others who rep your other genres. As with Janet, Mr. Sherman, and Mr. Ferrell, it's a lot easier when the agents work in the same agency. (And Janet and Mr. Sherman obviously still get along, unless that package she sent him really does contain the remnants of his KISS figurines, which would then make Mr. Ferrell's life a bit more complicated...)

Colin Smith said...

BJ: I don't think Sarah has tested her talents on gluten-free yet, but I'm sure she'd be up to challenge. And I'm sure it would taste wonderful. :)

Morgan: I think the conventional wisdom is to concentrate on the genre you're querying, and worry about what else you might write once you have an interested agent. I asked a similar question of Janet before, and she indicated that she would be concerned if a writer submits a thriller, and then talks about their YA Fantasy, Western, and Women's Fiction--even if she would/could rep all of these. Perhaps a lack of focus? Agents may be more willing to branch out with you once you've demonstrated a good handle on one genre. That's the impression I get, anyway.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OT, okay you first meal eaters, bagel, egg, tomato, cream cheese, third cup of coffee and a Kit Kat. Now I'm at work on break, blueberry muffin and more coffee. I don't dare ask about lunch, oh wait, I brought lunch, soup and another Kit Kat, I'm addicted.

OP, no matter the deal with two agents, just seal and celebrate....with a Kit Kat...and a glass of something.

LynnRodz said...

OP, you have a book deal and you're almost ready to query another MS, this calls for a celebration! I would suggest a warm goat cheese salad with a glass of bubbly to celebrate. I love having that for lunch and champagne goes so well with it. Great job and congrats!

Kate Larkindale said...

Cream cheese frosting! Yummy. I might need to ask Sarah for her recipe. I made a carrot cake for a woman at work yesterday and my cream cheese frosting tasted good, but it was too soft and by the afternoon when we ate the cake, much off it had run off to puddle on the side of the plate. I think perhaps my butter to cream cheese ration was off...

Colin Smith said...

Kate: I don't know if it helps, and I'm not a baking expert, but I believe Sarah put her cake in the freezer for a little while after frosting.

jetreidliterary.blogspot.com--your go-to spot for query and baking tips! :D

Colin Smith said...

By the way...


If, like me, you're a fan of the series, make a point to offer congrats and thanks to the esteemed Mr. C. on his blog:


Karen McCoy Books said...

Comment left for Gary Corby, with a typo I can't fix. Ah, well. DEATH ON DELOS looks fabulous anyway. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin @ 3:10 hahahaha !

BJ Muntain said...

*Adding NC to my list for places to go for book signings, when I get a book to sign*

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Opie, do you have a career plan? You've written a non-fic and now you've written a novel. What's your third book? Do you plan on writing more non-fic, or do you want to move more into fiction?

Janet's advice had the faint harmonics of looking out for your career long-term, with her "non-compete clauses, next works clauses, and option clauses". These are the sorts of things you find in contracts from publishers who are expecting an author to be more than a one-hit wonder.

If your novel was a one-off "get it out of your system" kind of thing, this would affect how it would be marketed, if it's marketed at all. Not every book an author writes gets published. How many novels do you plan on writing? How do you envision your writing career over the next five years, ten years, fifty years?

While pantsing is a perfectly valid way of writing a book, I don't think it's a good option for one's writing career.

Donna, ever tried stevia if you're trying to get over sucrose? While you can buy it commercially in the sugar aisle at most grocery stores, I grow it in my garden. I powder the dried leaves and use that in place of sugar for sweetening small things like drinks.

Susan said...

I've spent the past few days (weeks, months) helping my parents clean out my grandmother's house. It's overwhelming and stressful, and since she lived right across the street from where I grew since I was three, I'm also feeling overly nostalgic and grieving the loss of my childhood a bit (a lot). Thankfully, she's still alive, though at 96, her health is in decline. I know many of you have recently moved out of your homes or downsized. It's a tremendous job, and I have newfound respect for the physical and emotional toll it takes.

That said, nothing from me today. I'm only here for the cake because I like to eat my emotions.

Good luck, OP!

John Davis Frain said...

I heard Jeff Somers tried pantsing, and look where it got him. May we all be so pantsless and fortunate.

If Morgan used to be a dolphin, I think we can throw conventional wisdom out the window for her career decisions. Also, I think you can write any genre you want and a cacophony of agents will come screaming to your door to represent you. I mean, c'mon, talk about diversity.

Happy 7-11. I'm 27 minutes late with this post. Rats.

Panda in Chief said...

Did someone mention FROSTING???????