I Write Multiple Genres – How Do I Choose An Agent?
Dear Rachelle: I am about to search for an agent. My first book is a memoir, and an agent said he would like to see it. My second book will be a novel, set in South Africa. I believe it will sell very well in South Africa, less so in the USA. Do I select an agent now who has significant experience promoting books overseas (or in Africa), or contract with a good agent who wants to represent my memoir but who has little or no international experience? Is it acceptable etiquette to shop the two books different agents? Thanks.
There are a couple of different issues here. First is the foreign nature of your novel, and the second is that you have two books in entirely different genres.
#1. Books with foreign settings and/or more foreign appeal than U.S.
Many agents sell foreign rights to the books they rep, but the book must have strong potential in the US. You’re not going to get a US agent and publisher based on “It will sell great in South Africa.” If that’s the case, you probably need a South African publisher and agent. If you want an American publisher and agent, you’ll need to write your book — and present it — in such a way that it will have wide American appeal. The South African potential is a bonus but not a major selling point. Many US books make significant money through foreign rights, but it’s the appeal in many countries, not just one foreign market, that will attract an agent.
You should also keep in mind that a book from a debut author that has a non-US setting will find it more difficult to find a publisher. (See yesterday’s blog about obstacles to publication, and my comment about foreign settings, here.)
Whatever you do, don’t query agents saying, “I believe it will sell very well in South Africa, less so in the USA.” Kiss of death! Make it a book that would appeal to American readers (who have a very wide range of interests). And then you can mention it has strong secondary potential in international markets.
#2. Pitching multiple genres.
You also have two books in two different genres. If you write in multiple genres, you’re writing to multiple audiences; in your case, you’re trying to reach memoir readers and fiction readers. There’s probably some overlap, but from a marketing approach, they’re diverse. Rather than building and growing your audience with each book, you’re starting from square one and trying to attract a whole new audience with each book. It takes too much time and too much money. All the work you did building the audience for the first book only serves that book; then with the next book you start all over with zero audience built up. From a publishing standpoint in terms of investment and return, it doesn’t make sense.
In addition, most writers simply do not have the time in their lives to do enough marketing and social networking in one genre, let alone more than one. It’s lovely to have interest and talent in many kinds of writing; and most writers are this way. However, being able to sell in many genres is difficult. On the plus side, if you’re going to write in two genres, memoir and fiction go well together, provided you keep your fiction in one general genre.
These two projects need to stand on their own, and you should focus on one at a time, choosing your best and most marketable project first. Using whichever one that is, try to get an agent, then you can mention to that agent that you have this other project in your back pocket. They will have their own opinion about it. Most likely, they’ll want to help you strategize your writing career properly so that you have the best chance for success. A good agent will be aware of potential landmines for you— not wanting you to get into a situation where you’re trying running yourself ragged trying to keep up with the demands of writing and marketing books for two publishers and serve two audiences.
I don’t recommend trying to get two agents simultaneously. When you’re discussing representation with an agent, you can talk to them about the situation and get their opinion.
Readers, do you have projects in multiple genres or with appeal to different audiences? How will you approach selling them to publishers?
I think what you composed made a bunch of sense. But, consider this, what if you added a little information? I am not suggesting your information isn’t good, however what if you added a post title that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean I Write Multiple Genres – How Do I Choose An Agent? | Rachelle Gardner is kinda plain. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s front page and note how they create post titles to grab viewers to open the links. You might add a related video or a related pic or two to get people excited about what you’ve written. Just my opinion, it could make your website a little bit more interesting.
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Thanks to your excellent advice and the input from your amazing following, I think I have come up with a solution for my gendre dilemna. Since “Normal Is So Overrated” is likely to be the only full length nonfiction book I’m likely to write, I think I’m going to move ahead with either the offer I have on it from a local publisher or do self-publishing. That way I am open to focus on establishing my platform for the fiction works – which is where I have been focusing most of my efforts anyway.
I love writing twisty paranormal mysteries that highlight the eternal nature of the human spirit, the importance of community, and respect for history and tradition. When the day comes that I have established a good reader base and a loyal following, I can list the non-fiction work in the “also by…” column.
Thank you so very much for helping me sort this out in my mind.
I write strict genre (mystery) and cross-over genre (mystery/suspense with sci-fi overtones and elements), so this is something I’ve puzzled over, too. For the most part, I think they’ll appeal to similar audiences, but there will (obviously) be cross-over from the sci-fi market. I would hope that the varying projects would all be deemed to be suitable for the Mystery shelf at Barnes & Noble, and not the Sci-Fi. However, no matter what I think, I’m sure my publisher (when I get one) will have a good idea as to which shelf it should be on.
I know I’m late to the party with this, but I have a related question. (this blog post is so timely though!) I write in different topics. So far, I’ve written a chick-lit novel (more friendship story then romance); a mystery with a touch of realistic sci-fi; and I’m currently writing fiction involving animals (for adults). I haven’t tried publishing as I’m just trying to get the stories out first. At what point does it go from “experimenting to find one’s voice” to multi-genre writer?
This year I had my first novel published, a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk tale very much in the SF genre. Then I wanted to write something different and tried my hand at urban fantasy. The novel’s finished but somehow it just didn’t work 🙁 I’ve since started another cyberpunk novel and it’s going much better than expected. I think this has taught me to write what I’m comfortable with and what I’m good at, rather than trying to pursue other genres just for interest’s sake.
This is definitely something I’ve given much thought to. I’ve got a nonfiction book coming out next year, and have spent most of my post-grad life building up a platform around my name in the area of that nonfiction (nature). If you google my name, all the hits are connected to that.
I’m also writing fiction, with the intention of getting it published, too. Regardless of whether I publish any more nonfiction, my name is very much tied to that nonfiction nature market/community. To avoid muddying the water I decided to take a pseudonym for my fiction writing and keep my two audiences separate. I’m just starting to build up this latter platform/audience.
I have an agent for the nonfiction. When I approached him about my fiction work, he indicated that while he doesn’t represent the genre himself, he would like to have another agent in the agency look at it (and if she passes, I’d be free to query other agents with it), while he is still interested in any future nonfiction work of mine.
I am so glad you wrote this! I have been working on a non-fiction book for a little while and as I had only a couple of chapters left I went on-line to learn the next step. I found out more about book proposals and query letters (finding out I should have done this before writing the book) and started to work on them. As I started to work on it, I learned that I will have a hard time selling myself to agents/publishers since I have a small platform. With the type of non-fiction book I created I really needed to create a platform. I have been working on that and my Facebook went from 300 to 750 and I need to increase my twitter. My klout went from 26 to 50+. However, I thought that if I wrote a fiction book (and hopefully for it to be made into a movie) then I would create the platform. So I have been working on a novel. In hoping it would create an interest from the reader to my non-fiction books. I thought they would blend. However, learning here that this plan will not work the way I thought. I am enjoying working on the fiction book–so much easier then the non-fiction and all that studying. Anyway sounds like I need to re-think things.
I’m non-fiction for the bills, fiction for the thrills. Everyone needs a little fiction to keep life fun!
I am a new self published author who is now seeking a literary agent for my unique Christian/ Fiction/ Fantasy series. I have been published with Outskirtspress since Aug of 2011 and have sold about 200 copies in the past 4 months by word of mouth alone.
I was wondering if being Self Published will help or hurt my chances to find an agent for representation? Should I mention to prospective agents that my book is finished and already available online on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and many others. Also should I refer in my query letter reviews that have been done on the book as well.
Can anyone give me some advice on the best way to pitch an agent when I already have an established fan base and my book is already online for purchase?
If you are pitching the same book that you have already self-published, of course you would need to mention that. Realistically, that will likely mean an instant rejection. Unless a book is selling very well, it is unlikely that a publisher will be interested in republishing a book. But if you are pitching a new book and you’ve sold a significant number of the self-published book, the sales figures from the self-published book could make the new book look more attractive.
I have actually come up against this and I don’t have an agent.
I know it’s important to get your BRAND out there, and alot of people do other genres under another name so there’s no confusion about what they’ll pick up under a name.
I haven’t gotten to that step yet, but I did have an editor ask me what I planned to work on first to get my name out there, and I don’t have an agent to help answer the best way to go about that, so it was interesting to see what you said.
Rachelle, I know, I’m waiting on the Web guru. =)
I once asked an agent a similar question, should I pursue non-fiction (the bulk of my ideas), some memoir concepts, or a fiction series?
His response was to query all three and whichever one sold first was the direction that I should go.
Totally agree that trying to market in one genre is hard enough without trying to do two.
It’s hard to limit yourself as an author though. I don’t just have great ideas for one genre, and I’ve written YA high fantasy and YA dystopian, both subgenres of speculative fiction, but very different nonetheless.
I’ve determined to pick my favorite, build my career and then release something different when I already have a fan base.
I have a question about your blog. Please email me!
How can you not write what is on your heart?
Admittedly, there is a challenge when one writes in different genres.
Then again, is “what is on your heart,” just an excuse for not thinking shrewdly, not having a real battle plan or goal?
Rachelle, so glad I found your site. It is most helpful food for thought.
That could depend on just what is on your heart. It fascinates me that when I look on Amazon.com I can find a romance novel written about nearly every woman ever mentioned in the Bible, including Jezebel. If that is any indication, any story can be retold in such a way that it will fit in any genre.
I think it’s best to pitch the strongest book to an agent who accepts that particular genre. If the agent, like in the above case likes it and offers representation, you can always talk to the agent about other projects. Maybe he or she will still take it on or pass it on to a fellow agent.
If not, nothing wrong with pitching a different agent. Let’s say if the agent only does non-fiction, he/she probably won’t have any contacts to the fiction departments when the other book is fantasy.
I personally write in multiple genres: humour, paranormal romance, literary fiction and contemporary fiction, as well as non fiction. I’ll only pitch my literary fiction for the time being since I’ve self-published the paranormal romance and the humorous short stories and the other books are WIP.
Rachelle and writers of international settings,
I am executive editor of WorldTalk International Christian Publisher, the exciting new imprint of Written World Communications (http://worldtalk-wwc.com/). We at WWC and WorldTalk are here not just as a business, but as a global Christian ministry. See the WorldTalk Web site for details and MS submission guidelines. Come, explore God’s world with us. =)
You might want to edit the WT blurb on the WWC website, which says, “More than just missionary stories, we’re offering you a world-full of settings and the opportunity to travel the glove!”
That’s probably a little cheaper.
Thank you, Timothy, for your reply. I know the rule that my name and genre form my brand. But I write in different genres–and probably always will.
While I’m grateful that many readers know my name and my writing, I personally needed a brand idea to refocus my writing and, more importantly, to clarify my life. My website says it this way: Patricia Raybon — Writing To Move Mountains.
My talks across my genres are now branded the same way–as Moving Mountains Workshops. This approach may not work for every writer. But it’s working for me. Others might consider it, too–but only if it works, of course. Meantime, thanks for your response!
What if an author is writing in tightly connected genres? Suppose an author has written a spy thriller and then moves on to a conspiracy thriller. Do you see that as a potential problem. Or what if the author has written a thriller, but then moves on to suspense, which is often treated interchangably, but often treated as very different?
This is probably the closest to my own dilemma. I write historical romance, and adore it. Thanks to my nearly exclusive reading in this subgenre, I also have a Regency-esque voice. A year ago, though, I dreamed the idea for my other novel, which is definitely contemporary, and paranormal, romance. I think it has a lot of potential in the market, but I don’t think I could get a series out of it without really struggling. On the other hand, I can’t type fast enough to get all my historical ideas on the page.
So, different subgenres, but all still romance. I’m just not sure if they’re too different and will cause me a problem like those described in the other comments.
I don’t remember who, perhaps it was you, once said that until you have a contract, you’re free to write in whatever genre you want. All of these people talking about all the different genres they’re writing in makes me feel like I’m really focused, even though I also move around somewhat. But I think that can be a good thing. None of us know how well we will be at something or how well something will go over until we try it. Once we find a style of writing that we enjoy and our readers enjoy, we can settle in for the long haul, but until then it doesn’t hurt to experiment.
I solved this dilemma by branding all of my writing under one tag: Writing That Moves Mountains. That describes my two memoirs, including “I Told the Mountain to Move”–my personal story about prayer.
At the same time, settling on a brand also helps me describe the core intent of all of my writing–both nonfiction books, articles and essays as well as the novel I’m writing.
Finally, the brand tag reminds me daily of my purpose as a writer. It took lots of prayer and reflection to discover my brand. But the hard work paid off in multiple ways–by clarifying my multi-focused writing (and now my marketing) but also giving focus to my life. I’d encourage other writers to try this “branding” approach. You’ll quickly see the benefits! (Thanks for the great question.)
That seems more like a tag, a motto, or a goal than what it does a brand. In writing, your name and your genre form the brand.
I am the poster child for genre confusion. 🙁
My first novel is Bible era fiction, New Testament. Actually the end of the NT era. My second novel is a contemporary baseball thriller. Okay, I don’t really know what a thriller is, so just call it a baseball novel. My next novel, planned but not written, is a spy novel set in China. It follows the trip diary of my family and me when we spent two weeks in China in 1983, and is set in that year. I have three novel series “queued up”, waiting their chance to escape the gray cells and find pixels: a continuation of the NT era series into the early church era; a series of cozy mysteries based on my genealogical research; and a series of Wall Street type stories based on my experience with stock trading. The cozy mysteries is further confused in that they really don’t fit the genre definition. The protag studies his genealogy, finds all kinds of unsolved mysteries among ancestors, and goes about solving them. Some are one or two generations back, some as many as eight. And they won’t all be murders. So I really have no clue what genre they fit in.
Now, as if that wasn’t confusion enough, I wrote a non-fiction book, historical/political on USA history. I’ve started work on a second (actually a second and a third), and this could easily be a long series.
But that still wasn’t enough confusion. So I took up poetry and have finished a thematic poetry book that I’d love to publish as a men’s gift book (which in itself is genre confusion), if I could ever get it illustrated. And I have enough poems for a second, and maybe a third.
Meanwhile, the engineering articles I write generate about $2,000 a year income, which is a nice addition to the family budget. I don’t see giving that up any time soon. Editors have actually started seeking me out somewhat to contribute.
I see no solution to this (except maybe for someone to put me out of my misery), but to e-self-publish works as I complete them, and hope an audience for each builds slowly over the years, enhanced by whatever marketing efforts I can give each in its turn.
P.S. That doesn’t even include the memoir-type short story I’ve written and e-self-published or the sequel I’m working on.
What do you do when you don’t write different genre’s but do write stuff that could be for different age groups? I write contemporary fantasy but my novels could be better suited for different age groups. I am mostly in the YA category but a few stories have the potential to be preferred by a slightly older crowd. Although not much older mind you. I don’t write anything with an overly serious overtone.
Love your posts, Rachelle. As a past published author of 16 romance and romantic suspense novels, I have moved into contemporary mystery and historical fiction. At this stage of the game, I need to try different fields, let my writing grow, and expand my horizons. I realize that switching genres is probably risky, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
I like to write contemporary and historical romance. My agent can handle both and I know it’s difficult, but I love both so I’ll probably keep writing both and hope to get published in both. If not, at least I’ll be pubbed in one. lol
Thanks for the advice!
While my fiction work generally falls into the same broad genre, my children inspire children’s books. I have written a couple of each, but I have found that it is hard to find an agent that wants to represent both.
I have decided to focus on my fiction work first. If I get an agent interested, I will let them know that I also have children’s books. I figure, if they won’t represent the children’s books, they can help me find that representation.
Very informative post, Rachelle. Thanks. I have to agree with the two “put into a box” comments as well as the “write your passion” comment. Unfortunately, my passions are eclectic. But I appreciate the issues you raise about focus and breaking in and creating a specialization (once I was an economist, after all). All valid points. So, (metaphor time?) as a multi-genre wannabe, rather like an Eskimo crossing the fiord jumping from ice floe to ice floe, maybe it is time to pick the biggest one and ride it to shore. Thanks for the rudder for my wind tossed ship.
Thanks for the post, Rachelle! What about writing for YA and MG? I write fantasy, but I have several project ideas for YA and several for MG…If I get one or the other published first, does that mean I’m stuck in that age group?
Catching up on old blog posts . . . One advantage you have, Rain, in writing for both MG and YA, is that your audience for one will in a few years be your audience for the other. I’ve seen several authors successfully market both (among them, Nancy Rue). I just hope you’re a prolific writer, because both seem to like books releasing around 6 months apart (i.e. you’d need to write 4 books a year to stay in both genres).
The role of an agent as a career builder is becoming even more desirable in this age of easy self publishing.
As a writer I can’t see the forest for the trees.
> …do you have projects in multiple genres…?
Technically, yes, but it’s not a big deal. My debut novel is mythic fantasy, as is the sequel novel that’s in editing currently. My world flip-flops between science and magic, though, and so a prequel I’ve written is actually science fiction. Now, technically, mythic fantasy and science fiction are two different genres, and some people do in fact split them out, but I agree with John Silbersack, who said, “I think of science fiction, or SF, as embracing fantasy as well. Thought it might actually be more accurate to claim that fantasy embraces SF.”
Whether you agree with the juxtaposition of SF and fantasy or not, my books are set in the same world with some of the same characters, so I’m in for a lot less concern about building multiple audiences.
I’ve seen very little science fiction that didn’t seem like it was based more in fantasy than in scientific theory. Often, what writers describe as magic could be described as science we haven’t figured out yet. That kind of magic is fun. Very few books actually deal with real magic these days. By real magic, I mean the magic that is supposed to come from praying to the dead and involking the name of spirits in order to cause them to do one’s bidding.
I am currently writing something that is quite different from my most recent completed novel. My completed manuscript had a couple of obstacles within the story (foreign setting, for one), and although it still has a chance in the market, I was afraid to continue writing in a genre that might not get the chance from a debut author. So, I’ve switched genres – sort of (my voice is still the same), not because I’ve given up on my first manuscript, but more because new writers must be smart about what they can break into the industry with. So, hopefully, I’m making a smart decsision. Time and perseverance will tell, right?
So, to answer your question, Rachelle, I don’t necessarily plan to sell both manuscripts at the same time. I plan to pick the best story that will help me break in and sell that one. Then, rely on an agent’s expert advice after that for any manuscript I have under my bed.
Hey there Heather, sounds like you’re doing what I’m doing. Let’s not give up on those first novels, though…there might be a chance for them yet! But forging ahead into new genres might be the way to go, to get our feet in the door.
Rachelle, thanks for this post. This dilemma concerns me. My main genre is the family saga, but I’m also working on a political satire and I did a murder-mystery for Nanowrimo. I tend to agree with Holli. Being restricted to one genre feels like being placed in a box. From an agent and marketing perspective I understand the challenges of marketing multiple genre authors. As a writer I believe we need to write about what we are passionate about, what moves us, regardless of the genre.
Write a wonderful story from your heart. If it’s that good, it will get published some day. Don’t chase the market, it might change.
HI, I wrote Cape Maybe and Peace by Piece – two women’s novels, Cape Maybe from the POV of an adolescent with YA cross-over potential. Imagine my surprise when several agents/editors said they consider Cape Maybe YA that can cross-over to Women’s.
My solution/goal is to pitch Peace to agents who rep women’s lit and consider Cape Maybe more a marketing tool to build audience through e-pub
I often wonder about this myself and I’ve actually heard people dissuade writers from indulging in two different genres because of the ‘logistical nightmare’that can be involved. I understand from the perspective of a publisher, trying to work at marketing/selling. But as a writer, it feels like being put into a box.
This is where pseudonyms come in handy.
Angel Blood: Family Secrets (and the rest of the series) is in two genres. I heavily researched the actual King Arthur and Merlin through the works of antiquity (e.g. Geoffry of Mammouth) to write as close to an actual account of the time just before Arthur’s birth. On the other hand, it is sci-fi/fantasy in its incorporation of Nephalim as the foundation for all the magical folklore that confused humans created. Readers get both an accurate look at the times, but are taken on a fun ride.
As far as pitching it to publishers goes, nah. I tried that route. No one was interested. To quote Bill Murray in Caddy Shack, “I have to laugh, because this time I’ve outsmarted myself.”
I write historical romance and love doing so. But something life-changing occurred, and as I struggled through the experience, I blogged to others as a way of keeping them informed (as well as keeping my sanity) since I was stuck all alone in a post-Communist country. Everyone wrote back saying my blogs were chapters to a memoir and the strength and faith I expressed empowered them (I hadn’t realized I was showing strength). That said, I would like to publish a memoir, promo the heck out of it, and keep on writing romance. After reading your blog, I guess looking for an agent who handles both is the thing to do?
Awesome post! Thank you so much!
I also wonder about both of these questions.
On the international front, I am an international author. I wonder about a book set in the West Indies. I figure it will do well with second generation West Indians- a huge population in New York City, but not so huge in Milwaukee.
Also on the multi-genre front, I wonder about crossing lines in fiction: adult, YA, childrens and contemporary vs speculative. I can think of quite a few authors who’ve crossed the age lines. But I can’t really think of any who do both contemp and spec. 🙁
I have written two novels, one a historical and one a YA. As I research and submit to agents, I’m looking for agents who represent both genres. But I also know that one of my books may have to sit on the back burner while I build my career in a particular genre. Basically, I’m looking for an agent who feels comfortable representing both, but in the end I’ll take her advice as to what’s a better career move.
My approach: I wrote nonfiction for a season. Then, on the advice of my oh-so-wise agent (ahem!), I posted a “Season Closed” sign and moved on to writing fiction. (Well, to be honest, I still write an occasional article here and there, but I no longer focus on my NF book. It’s on the back burner with the heat turned OFF.)
My agent’s advice: Focus on building a career as a novelist. And, since I am not the best juggler of multiple items, I listened. Believe me, building that novel platform takes more than enough time!
I write non-fiction to pay for my novel writing habit.