Thursday, July 30, 2009
Can I be represented by two literary agents?
Question: How unusual is it to have two agents? I have one novel signed with a British agent now, and they are looking at my second book. IF they decide it's not for them, I'll look elsewhere, of course. Just wondered how uncommon that would be?
The standard response would be to tell you that, in the majority of cases, literary agents will only work with an author on an exclusive basis. From an agent’s perspective, there are many (justifiable) reasons for this, including the fact that there are option and non-compete clauses built into publishing agreements, and that if another agent were to represent other works by the same author, the legalities could become infinitely complex. There are subsidiary rights issues, too. The shaping of the author’s career also becomes a problem, since agents often like to help “build” an author in a certain direction—and if another agent were involved, this could become impossible. There is also the simple financial fact that it can take years of hard work to build an author’s career, and one agent would not want to devote so much effort only to see another agent reap the benefits. And finally, the exclusive agent-author relationship is standard industry etiquette, and thus a publisher, knowing that an author is represented by one agent, would be quite surprised to receive a work by that same author submitted simultaneously by a different agent—and would probably not even know how to respond.
That said, as with everything in book publishing, this can become more complex, and the issue is not always so black and white. For me to give you a thorough response, I would have to take into account many factors. The answer will ultimately vary in each case, depending on the agent, the author, the publisher, and the work(s) in question. For example, it would be very unusual (if not impossible) for a novelist to have two different literary agents representing two different novels of his simultaneously. However, what if a novelist decides he wants to write non-fiction for his next book? And his agent only represents fiction? Will that agent be OK with his looking for a separate agent to handle his non-fiction?
There is certainly more leeway in the scenario of an author switching from fiction to non-fiction, and some agents will be fine with that, and will even recommend agents and/or give the author their blessing. Other agents, though, will not. If an agent is part of a bigger agency, he will, if possible, want to keep the author in-house at the agency, and have another agent in his company represent the non-fiction (which is usually fine). However, if his colleague doesn’t want to represent the non-fiction (as is often the case), then the agent may not want his author searching elsewhere for an agent to represent the non-fiction. Agents can be territorial, and they may become worried that if their novelist finds another agent to represent his non-fiction, then their client may end up, in the long run, switching to that other agency for his fiction, too. They also will not want their novelist devoting years to writing non-fiction, which are years which could have been spent continuing to write fiction (and vice versa with non-fiction versus fiction).
As an author, if you find yourself in a position where you are switching genres and must decide whether you want to have this conversation with your agent and look for a second (simultaneous) agent, you should take into account many factors. For example, if you are a novelist, and your agent has represented you for many years, and has landed you several deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, is it really worth it to jeopardize the relationship in order to go out and find another agency to represent a one-time non-fiction concept? Conversely, if you are a novelist and have been with your agent for years and he has not landed you any deals, and you now want to make a true, lifelong career switch to non-fiction, then it may make more sense for you to find a non-fiction agent, whatever the price.
Just know that, whatever you decide, with most agents, the notion of your being represented simultaneously by another agency will usually strain the relationship. Whether it’s worth it is a decision only you can make.
Posted by Noah Lukeman at 9:54 AM
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I wouldn't do it...seek another agent when I already have one I love.ReplyDelete
Good advice. I've often considered this when querying agents who do not consider representing young adult novels. I wrote young adult, women's fiction, and romance, so I guess it's most important I find someone who represents all of these areas.ReplyDelete
I personally would prefer to work with one dedicated agent. However, if my agent rejected one of my works—I may reluctantly seek another.ReplyDelete
I’m currently reading ‘The First Five Pages’ and I’m most excited to learn that you have an accessible online presence.
Having read your work, and as an unpublished writer, I can’t imagine you having a problem with your agent-- Best of luck.
I do this. One agent reps my adult stuff, the other my YA.ReplyDelete
lucky you...and i don't even have even one agent.ReplyDelete
anyway, if i were you, i'd stick to Ms. Stephanie Faris' advice over there for so many reasons. One, is because I beleive working with two agents can be confusing and contradicting.
i wish i had the same dilemma as yours *sigh*...i want an agent:)
lucky you...and i don't have even one agent.ReplyDelete
anyway, if i were you, i'd stick to Ms. Stephanie Faris' advice over there for so many reasons. One, is because I believe working with two agents can be confusing and contradicting.
i wish i had the same dilemma as yours *sigh*...i want an agent:)
I have found myself in a position that I'm still reeling from it. You see, a certain guy approached me to ask if I had an agent. I said I hadn't tried, which was the truth of the matter. I simply went POD with my novel. But this guy, who works as a PR for a very very big multi company, said he would like to represent me, after reading my novel, which he said he couldn't put down and in his opinion is full of potential. He admits he has little knowledge of the literary world, but what he says he intends to do with my novel is absolutely mind blowing. After seeing his credentials, I was blown away. I've signed a contract, but I hope I'm not being too trusting. Any thoughts?ReplyDelete
I have an interested agent for a children's book, someone who I would very much like to work with, and who appreciates my work. However, I have a novel for adults in progress as well. Should I continue on with the children's agent and get this first book published to break into the market, then worry about representation for the novel for adults later (it'll take me awhile to work on it)? There are other agents at the same agency who do adult books, but they're not as good a fit for the kids' book!ReplyDelete
Anonymous 1: That sounds strange to me. What contacts does he have? Has he worked for the major publishing houses before? Chances are, if he admits to having no experience in the publishing world, it's not a good idea. You could have someone totally enthusiastic about your work, but all the enthusiasm in the world is quite useless without contacts.ReplyDelete
I'm thinking about this now, actually, and stumbled upon this article after searching for an answer. I have two children's books represented by an agent (no deals yet), and have a historical romance in the works. I'm not sure he'd even want to represent the romance or if anyone in his agency would yet. I may consider approaching other ones once it's finished.ReplyDelete