Will My Agent Rep a Different Genre?

Blog reader J. Larkin wrote:

I am currently seeking representation for a picture book (as an author, not an author/illustrator). I know the demand for picture book texts is not high at the moment, so I’m not expecting much of a response. But if I DO land a representation deal, will I be expected to stick with that agent when my YA novel is ready? Is it considered uncouth to query other people with a different style of project when someone else has helped you into the publishing world?

This is a great question because it allows me to point toward a bigger picture. As we agents try to remind writers often, the agent-client relationship is… a relationship. So once you have an agent for that kids’ book, then the question of what to do with your YA novel is between you and your agent. Any answer I give you today would be irrelevant. This is something you’d talk over with your agent.

You’ll want to discuss ALL of your writing right when the agent offers representation. It’s not like you’d keep that YA novel a secret. So presumably from the beginning, you and your agent would already have an idea of what to do with the YA novel. Either your agent will represent it, or she’ll recommend someone else to rep it (perhaps at the same agency), or she’ll set you free to do what you like.

Odds are on the side of the same agent wanting to rep your YA, however, for a couple of reasons. First, many agents who do kids’ books also do YA. And second, few agents like to divide up a client’s work and only rep part of it.

Of course, in that initial phone conversation with the agent, when you tell her about your YA novel, there’s a chance she might only be interested in repping you if you’re going to continue writing children’s picture books. After all, it’s unlikely she wants to take on a client for a single book. So you’ll have to work that out.

This advice goes for anyone writing in more than one genre. If you get an offer of representation from an agent, that’s the time to tell them what else you’re writing, and work out how those other genres will be handled. (There’s a chance the agent will tell you she needs to stay focused and you should too.)

Hope that answers your question!

Q4U: Can you relate to J’s situation of writing in more than one genre? Tell us about it.



Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  16. J Larkin on September 26, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    Sorry it took me a while to comment, but I’ve been enjoying everyone else’s remarks, too.

    Thank you for your response; it certainly put the subject under a different light for me. And I’m glad I’m not alone in wondering about genre-hopping!

    I continue to enjoy this blog and all of the wonderful information you provide 🙂 Thank you!

  17. Jo Murphey on September 16, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    I’ve actually gone through the agent search a couple of times because of genre differences and nonfiction/fiction. I have two on tap.

    The reason, the agent didn’t represent what I had to sell. Each works diligently in their field of expertise and they both know about each other. I believe in being upfront in all business matters at all times.

    It’s like a horse, sorry Rachel for the comparison no slight intended. I would want my race horse running in the trifects, but I wouldn’t want the same horse plowing my field. If you read the AAR, there are tons of agents who will represent this, but not that. In this business, expertise is what you are hiring an agent for.

    Yes, I have been advised to stick with one or the other. But neither agent objects to selling what I have to offer. I work with them independently. While the ideal is to have one solid unshakeable relationship sometimes this isn’t always the ideal situation.

  18. […] Will My Agent Rep a Different Genre […]

  19. Jessica Minyard on September 15, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    I can sympathize!

    I’m currently querying my children’s picture book, but I’ve written/am writing a fantasy series, YA fantasy series, and stand-alone YA novels. 🙂

  20. CG Blake on September 14, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    This post couldn’t be more timely. My genre is family sagas, but my work-in-progress is a political satire inspired by my disenchantment with the 2010 election, particularly the emergence of ‘media celebrity’ candidates like Christine O’Donnell. The story is similar in style to Joe Klein’s “Primary Colors.” I’m struggling with whether to self-pub under a pseudonym as it’s not my genre. If authors are passionate about an idea that may not fit into their genre, should they self-censor and miss an opportunity? Good writnig flows from passion so I am comfortable writing outside my genre. Thoughts?

  21. Tekia on September 14, 2011 at 9:18 PM

    My writing tastes varies depending on what I’m inspired to write at the time. I go after one project at a time, but I’m constantly coming up with ideas for future projects that range from fiction to science fiction to fantasy. This variation is in adult novel area but if I wrote in YA, the variation would carry over. So as I’m searching for representation I look for an agent that represents a wide range of areas in these same areas.

  22. J. Tillman on September 14, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    Ms Gardner, your entire post was about the agent’s opinions, the agent’s options, and the agent’s future. What about the author and her future? You forgot to mention that. Although you made some interesting points, you forgot to say that the author should get a qualified agent with a track record for each type of book she writes. If that means more than one agent, then that’s the way it is. It’s not all about you, the literary agent.

  23. Valerie Mechling on September 14, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Thanks for a great post. It definitely has me thinking about the boxes that the publishing industry sometimes creates for authors. We can only hope that more agents will be open-minded about the creative scope of their clientele!

  24. Martha Ramirez on September 14, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    Awesome advice!Thank you!

  25. Caroline Starr Rose on September 14, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    My agent took me on with a mid-grade novel, and while she had never worked with picture books before, because she liked my work she was willing to give it a go.

  26. Sarah Thomas on September 14, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Man! Ya’ll make me tired just thinking about writing in all those genres! I’m pretty content with women’s fiction and all it has to offer, though I could imagine writing non-fiction down the road. An EXCELLENT example of someone who has done that well while maintaining continuity is Mary DeMuth with her “live uncaged” brand. Check her out at http://www.marydemuth.com

  27. Amber Keyser on September 14, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    When I began querying agents, I approached people who I thought would represent the full extent of my work – nonfiction and fiction for children. The agent I eventually went with signed me based on my nonfiction but the first book he sold for me was a YA novel. Rachelle’s point about the agent-client relationship is spot-on. I hope that my agent and I have many, many years together working on many kinds of projects.

  28. Julia on September 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    Absolutely perfect timing with this post — am about to seek an agent for MG fiction and also just finished first draft adult fiction… and have been wondering how to proceed. This really clears things up for me! So very helpful! Thank you!

  29. Catherine Johnson on September 14, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    Thanks so much for talking about genre hopping. I think some of us need to experiment before we find the one. Sometimes the experiments last a long time. Now that I am trying out Middle Grade (back where I started over ten years ago) I love it. I think it should be easier to decide these days, because picture books and chapter books are a much harder sell than MG. I’m going to sub the one I want to see myself doing long term day in day out. Thanks!

  30. Beth MacKinney on September 14, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    I can relate because I do PB and middle grade sci-fi, but I had assumed that it was more likely the agent would want to represent both than not.

    : ) Thanks for the post, Rachelle.

  31. Gina Burgess on September 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Oh, absolutely! I have a book already published by Westbow Press that is a risky presentation because it has stories and studies of biblical principles, how to apply those principles to our lives. I’m good at writing non-fiction, excellent at research (I’m not bragging because God gave me the talent.)

    On the other hand, I love writing science fiction from a Christian POV. I’ve also done a lot of research in demonology while writing another book about how Christians should fight demonic influences. None of that goes together into one genre.

    The main problem is when you’ve built a tribe in one genre, usually that tribe won’t cross over into a different one because their passions don’t match the new genre. I don’t know many people who have a sincere interest other genres outside their own interest, so why should agents be any different?

  32. joan Cimyotte on September 14, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    After I bag an agent, I would certainly want this person to consider other genres I have written in first.

  33. David Todd on September 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Yes, I can relate. My first novel (completed) is New Testament era fiction. My second novel (about 3 weeks from completon) is a contemporary baseball novel. The next one in the queue is a spy novel based in China in the 1980s. After that I have some cozy mysteries planned, but they don’t really fit in the genre definition. Then maybe some Wall Street thrillers. Then maybe some political novels.

    Meanwhile, to try to get something published, I pulled an op-ed concept I developed into an e-book, an historical/political view of USA historical documents. Though sales are slow, I can see multiple volumes of that. I’ve put my completed poetry book on the shelf until I can find an illustrator and go the self-publishing route for it.

    Help. I’m a basket case. Did I mention I also write Bible/small group studies?

  34. Lisa Hall-Wilson on September 14, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    I’ve heard this from other writers and agents. I’ve also heard from other writers (ie/ Brandilyn Collins) that for the sake of branding, they’ve decided to write in only one genre. Makes sense from a marketing standpoint.
    But what if your real desire is to write in two different markets? Like general market and CBA? I know there are agents that do both, but they seem few.

  35. R B Harkess on September 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    Rachelle’s advice is certainly right, but saddens me slightly as it seems to reinforce (agent will tell you she needs to stay focused and you should too) the current model of each author should only write to a single genre and how dare we try to complicate things by writing sommething else 🙂
    The model is broken, its for the convenience of people who want to stuff writers into convenient boxes. The thought of only writing YA, or SF, or a single genre for the rest of my writing career would scare me off writing through fear of boredom if I had any intention of conforming 😉

  36. Sandra Cormier on September 14, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    I see the responder above me is the other Stephen King. Good luck with the queries, Mr. King.

    • TNeal on September 14, 2011 at 11:57 AM

      But you made me look up “The Body” and remember, “Oh, yeah, that was an interesting read.” So thanks for the faux pas.

  37. Sandra Cormier on September 14, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    I dabbled. A lot. I think my true genre is starting to emerge. My first three books were published with small presses, starting with straight romance, a romantic suspense, and a women’s fiction with a little intrigue and a lot of heat.

    In the meantime, however, I was nurturing a literary women’s fiction with flashbacks to the Seventies. It’s a hard sell and I may have to put it aside.

    My current WIP is a mystery with (I think) a character focused, literary bent. I think this is where I’ll hang my quill. Hopefully, I’ll manage to pull these styles together into one vehicle and attract an agent who will enjoy the ride with me.

    Hello, Mr. King! Your short story The Body was one of the reasons I started writing. Cheers.

  38. Stephen King on September 14, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    Absolutely, I can relate. Fantasy and science fiction have had a relationship over the years that remind me of doing the lindy hop: Come together, push apart, repeat. Some agents rep both but many don’t. I write both, and I enjoy doing so. I also have a non-fiction book that will take some platform-building before it’s ready to be released onto the world. So–one, two, three, genre-hopper I be.

    All that said, I understand what you’re saying about focus. Writing is a craft, and the only way to become truly proficient at it is to practice. Writing is also a business, and the way to be successful there is to build a brand out of consistency. That’s the going wisdom, anyway, isn’t it? Personally, I’m not sure that the differences in writing one fiction genre over another are worth worrying about in terms of development of the craft, and I also don’t think readers these days are so obtuse as to see, say, my latest magazine article on diabetes and–I don’t know, forget?–that I also am pushing out a science fiction on 10/1.

  39. Sherri on September 14, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    I love writing fiction and am working on a series right now. I have also started three different non-fiction books, about hospice, social work and ministry. And, I have a devotional book in the works. Is this just too scattered for one agent?

  40. Peter DeHaan on September 14, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    I have ideas for three areas (mostly non-fiction, 4 or 5 memoir style books, and a couple of fiction ideas simmering on the back burner).

    At a writers conference I sought advice on which of the three areas I should focus. The immediate response was to query all three — and the one that was picked up first should be my focus. Then I could consider the other two.

  41. Wendy on September 14, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    I’m in love with women’s fiction…reading & writing. I’ve written in other genres but have no interest in pursuing publication for those at this point.

    Excited to share what I’ve been plotting. This stuff fires me up in the best way.
    ~ Wendy

  42. Jessica Nelson on September 14, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    I do contemporary and historical, but they’re both romance so I’m not too worried about this. Good advice!

  43. carol brill on September 14, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    Great question and timely response for me too. I write contempory women’s(one of my novels has YA crossover potention). In my novel Peace by Piece, the narrator writes a children’s book and I decided to actually write it as part of her character development. It gave me great character insight…also taught me writing for children is harder than you might think

  44. otin on September 14, 2011 at 7:02 AM

    I actually have two completed novels. One is definitely for a mature audience and the other one would probably do better with teens. The teen one was a fluke. I just had it in me and wanted to write the story.

  45. Rosemary Gemmell on September 14, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    Absolutely identify with that! Started with first historical romance published this May (with Canadian small press) and first tween novel coming out next March (with another Canadian small press). Also writing contemporary women’s fiction and children’s books! But so far I’m doing it on my own.

  46. Mary Ruth Pursselley on September 14, 2011 at 3:54 AM

    Thank you yet again for another piece of great, well-timed advice, Rachelle! All of my writing fall into the ‘Christian Speculative’ genre, but gets diced up into the separate genres of fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, etc. after that. I’ve often wondered what I should do/say about that fact, especially now that I’m actually starting the process of talking to editors and publishers. But now I know what to do, thanks to you!

  47. Addison Moore on September 14, 2011 at 3:17 AM

    I plan on expanding my literary domain into at least 10 to 20 different genres and then creating about 6 or 7 of my own. That is OK, right?

    In all seriousness I’d like to stick to three and even that small number seems like a lot.

  48. Andrea Nell on September 14, 2011 at 2:58 AM

    Currently I’m focusing on writing contemporary romance but I have several drafts sitting on the back burner that are historical and adventure. Recently I was offered the opportunity to co-write an amazing true story that is farther outside of my genera. I’m not really even sure where to start with that. I’m not agented yet so I’m hoping to get guidance next week at ACFW.

  49. Dee Krull on September 14, 2011 at 2:35 AM

    I can definatly relate, I have two professional books, HOW TO SET UP A SUCCESSFUL PRIVATE PRACTICE & SCRIPTS FOR SUCCESS that haven’t been published but are complete. They are related to my profession as a hypnotherapist.

    I also have a non-fiction book that is outlined and the first three chapters are written called BEWILDERED,One Family’s Struggle With Alzheimer’s Disease.(my husband, his mother and aunt died as a result of this disease and I was their caregiver. I am not ready to finish that one but eventually I will.

    Recently I published my Scifi Fantasy book which is one of a series of four. I am actively looking for an agent for the second one in the series, which I have started writing. I hadn’t really thought about how that would be handled so I am pleased to know that the relationship with an agent could cross genera.

    Thank you Rachelle, I needed that.

  50. McKenzie McCann on September 14, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    Thanks for the advice. I think most of us writers have done some dappling in the past, or if not yet, probably will. It’s good to know an agent might be open to working with a novel outside their comfort zone.

  51. Stephanie McGee on September 14, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    For me, it’s more of YA with several different flavors. At least for the ideas that have lined up in the queue to write. I’m currently working on a YA reimagining of some fairytales in a traditional fantasy setting but my muse is kicking around a semi-dystopian YA idea and I’ve got an older-YA adventure novel brewing.

    But fantasy is where my roots as a writer and reader are. I will always come back to it because those are the ideas that grab me by the throat and don’t let go. I’ve strayed into romance and steampunk, but even the latter became more fantasy with just a taste of the science-fiction.

  52. Chantal on September 14, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    This is awesome advice and perfect timing! I’m in the process of querying for my historical novel, but have a YA in the works.

  53. Lynn P. on September 14, 2011 at 12:32 AM

    Wow. I’m going somewhat in the opposite direction – YA books first, and then, eventually, storybooks. (The YA is a series of books, so it will take some time before I get to the storybooks.) It’s as if my question was answered half a year before I planned on researching these answers. Great. Thanks.