February 29th, 2008


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.
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    Susan McKeown - What Did I Ever Do To You?

letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 115
# of partials requested: 0
# of full manuscripts requested: 1
genre of requests: YA (1)

1 previously requested partial got a request for the rest of the manuscript; genre: fantasy


Good things that the winning query did:

* included phone number and snailmail address at the end
(helpful as this was an electronic query)
* followed submission guidelines exactly (no attachments, plain text)
* wrote concise pitch that established character, conflict, and setting (1 page)
* sent really compelling sample pages (first five!)....
* ....in a genre I am known to represent
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    Milla Drumke - Super 8
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