Saturday, January 26, 2013

Will an agent represent me just for one genre of fiction?

Hi Noah. Really enjoy the blog. I had a question about writing under a pseudonym. I've written several books of narrative nonfiction with a major house, two of which became NY Times bestsellers. I also have a crime novel coming out next year, all with the same agent. I've recently finished a supernatural novel that I want to publish under a pseudonym, to create a separate identity for that part of my work. My agent doesn't represent any supernatural authors and doesn't know that world. I'm also concerned that some editors believe I'm too prolific and that branching out into a new genre will be seen negatively. If I have my agent send out the supernatural title, I'm sure the industry will know that I'm the author, as the style isn't that far removed from my crime book, and my agent does very little fiction in general. i've let my agent know I'd like to seek other representation for my supernatural work, but my question is: will other agents be willing to represent just my horror?

This is a tricky issue, for several reasons. 

If your agent represented you just for nonfiction, and you wanted to branch out and find a new agent to handle just fiction, that would be much simpler and more feasible. I would see no issue with that. 

The complicating factor is that your current agent does represent you for fiction – crime fiction – and you want to find another agent to represent you just for supernatural fiction. That will be messy. There are several issues to consider. There are legal issues. You will have to check your contract very carefully with your publisher of crime fiction. There may be more of an issue with them than with the agent: typically when a house signs you for fiction, they will have an option on your next novel. In most cases they will not specify what genre of fiction. You may be obliged to submit to them. And depending on the agreement with your agent, your agent may be entitled to a commission on option book with the deal he's already set up. So that all has to be sorted out first, as well as any agreements you may have signed with your agent to represent you for fiction in general.

Assuming that you are legally free and clear, the other obstacle will be whether another agent wants to represent you just for horror. That will not be that easy to find. Typically if an agent takes you on, he will want to take you on for anything you write, fiction or nonfiction. Finding an agent just to represent you for fiction is harder. But finding agent to represent you just for one genre fiction is even harder. A lot of agents will resist, unless you are an already established mega-bestseller in that particular genre fiction. 

Even so, if the agent should land you a deal with a publisher, you're going to have the same sticky issues with your new publisher regarding option clauses, and clauses that specify you should not be working on another work of fiction at the same time. The pseudonym will help. But it will not completely clear you.

Your safest bet might be to self publish your horror under a pseudonym online, as an e-book – assuming that is something that you want to do. If it is very successful, you might not find the desire to even find a print deal. If it is not, you can always revisit the issue of a print deal. 

In any case, what you are proposing is difficult, and fraught with many potential issues, but not impossible. But if you have a good relationship with your current publisher of crime fiction – that is the natural place to start. They may also want to publish your horror. And if they do, I see no reason why your current agent couldn't negotiate that deal.


  1. Dear Mr. Lukeman,
    Your books are among my favorite writing references. As I prepare my query letter, your advice on the topic has been particularly useful. I've composed a personal query that I feel reflects the type of novel I have written. Yet, frequently I've come across emphatic advice to place the hook in the first paragraph, leading with such phrasing as "When Jane Doe is faced with (random compelling crisis)" or the like. My tastes lean toward literary fiction, and when I imagine phrasing my query leading with a hook, it doesn't suit my story. In your query letter book, you mentioned how conflicting the advice is on the subject. Is it due to genre preference perhaps? Do you consider this type of format more typically used with manuscripts of commercial fiction?

  2. What role does your agent take on if you published your first book (with the agent;s help), but are choosing to self publish your second book?


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