Reader Jenn has asked a great question about finding a literary agent. It’s one I get asked a lot and one I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about yet. Read on:
How would you advise authors to select an agent if they know they’d like to write for two different audiences? Since my current WIP and many other concepts on my “to write” docket are MG and YA focused, I can really see the benefit of finding a literary agent who focuses on those markets. But does that focus mean that those agents won’t represent anything their clients write for an adult demographic? Do those writers then have two agents, one for each market?
This is a rather advanced question, but writers seem to love it, so here’s an answer that will, I hope, satisfy your curiosity. I haven’t been in this situation yet, but this is what I’ve observed at Andrea Brown and at other agencies.
Multiple Audiences and the Literary Agent Search: Considerations
Only Query Agents Who Represent Multiple Audiences
One idea is nipping this situation in the bud during the querying stage of your literary agent search. In other words, query those agents who you know represent all the genres you want to write, for all the audiences that excite you (picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult, non-fiction, whatever). This is why AgentQuery.com. is a great tool for finding a literary agent. In the Advanced Search, you can tick off all your areas of interest, and the database will return only those agents who represent everything you want.
There are plenty of agents and agencies who are generalists, meaning they represent all genres and cater to all audiences. Sure, you may be shutting yourself out of some options (those who represent children’s books only, like my colleagues and me, say), but if you want to avoid potential headache down the road, you can be extra careful in terms of sending query letters to agents.
But not all writers know where their careers will take them at the beginning. A writer could be convinced that they only want to write picture books. So they think they’re being totally reasonable and they go with a picture book agent. Then they wake up in the middle of the night with an adult book idea, and they have a conundrum on their hands. What happens then?
Ask Your Current Agent To Branch Out
There are two options. The first one is that the agent will try and sell the adult project, too. Will this work? Maybe. If the agent has adult experience or if they have colleagues with adult experience, they could nurture some connections and get your manuscript to the right people. Will every client have this kind of service from their agent? Maybe. It depends on how much your agent knows about the new market, and how well they can judge the merits of your work. Some clients will be able to get their agent out on a limb. Others will not. Several of my colleagues have clients whose adult work they’ve sold, but that has been on a case by case basis, and it doesn’t happen often. For me, I know it would take an absolutely amazing project to coax me into the adult sphere. I’ll have the connections and will be able to mine colleagues for information, but it’s not my natural habitat. Ask me in a few years, when I’ve done it myself.
The leap from picture book to, say, young adult, as long as it’s under the umbrella of children’s books in general, is easier than the leap that an agent takes when going from children’s books to adult. When going between children’s markets, agents tend to be more flexible for their clients. But, again, on a case by case basis. There are those who say, “I don’t care, I’ll represent anything you write,” and those who say, “I don’t know, I really do like to stick with my specialties.”
Getting a Second Agent
Which brings me to the second option: finding a literary agent to represent what your current one will not. Let’s keep using the children’s project vs. adult project example. This second option can work out swimmingly, but it can also get messy. What if no adult agent wants your project? What if you sign with an adult agent, but they start getting interested in your children’s work, too, and want to represent your whole portfolio? How will the two agents share you?
We agents love our clients, or we wouldn’t be working with them. When we’re forced to split with another agent, the following conflicts can evolve: what if my client likes the other agent better? When will the client write something I can sell? What if my client keeps writing only adult books? What happens if the idea started out as a children’s book under our editorial guidance, but grew into an adult book, and now the adult agent gets to sell it? Things have the potential to become territorial quickly. (For more on this topic, see my post on having more than one literary agent.)
There are lots of times when the second option has worked out well. One agent has no interest in adult, the other has no interest in children’s, they tip their hats at each other and go about their business. The first option works, too. You and your agent will venture into a new arena and, ideally, learn something and sell some books.
Finding a Literary Agent: Consider Your Options Carefully
As I said before, you don’t know where your career will lead you. If you’re dead convinced that you want to work in many different areas, I wager you’ll still be surprised at some point, but you’re free to pursue a literary agent search that will be able to serve all of your needs. If you happen upon a drastically different project down the line, cross that bridge when you come to it. Check in with your agent, gauge your relationship, and consider your options. Now you know what they are.
Since this is one of those “one day” concerns, I’d just say to query a carefully chosen list of agents with your absolute strongest project. Let them know of your other interests, if they exist, and go from there. If you approach the search with careful consideration. finding a literary agent will be a smoother process.