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Is My Agent Holding Me Back?

Here’s another good reader question that came from our recent request:

I’d like your opinion on agent/writer relationships. I love my agent but she has very definite ideas about the career path I should be on. I write in a variety of sub-genres but my agent really only likes when I write my erotic paranormals. She wants me to focus on that. I’ll do whatever I can to break in, but my historical romances are doing well in contests and have gotten several requests from editors. My agent doesn’t want to submit my historical romances, though, because she says the market isn’t as good as it is for erotic paranormals. **screams in frustration** I see her point, but if editors are asking for the fulls on my historicals, why aren’t we following up on that?

And in a related post, another reader asked:

A lot of agents have said they want writers to concentrate on one thing/genre only, but if we have the time and inclination, isn’t it good for us to broaden our bases?

While it’s difficult to make judgments without full knowledge of your situations, I can certainly fill you in on some general rules of thumb.

Agents almost always prefer that their clients focus on a particular genre or subgenre while trying to build their careers. This is a struggle for a lot of our authors. I think that as creative people, writers like to always challenge themselves by writing different things. But once you decide to enter the publishing world, you need to start thinking less like an artist and more like a businessperson. It’s easier for an author to gain recognition with editors (and later with readers) by focusing on and perfecting one particular kind of book. It’s all about branding, people. I can capture an editor’s attention a lot faster by saying, “I’ve got this really great erotic paranormal writer,” than by saying, “I’ve got this great writer who’s writing a paranormal, a historical, and a mystery series.” Once your book is bought, that publisher is going to be looking for you to build a fan base. Until you become the next John Grisham or Nora Roberts, most readers are going to first find you based on the type of book you write. If they like the first one, they’re going to want to see something along the same lines for your next book, and so on.

As far as choosing the direction your writing should take, you have to think about what’s selling right now. Erotic paranormals are selling like gangbusters and historicals are seeing a decline (albeit a temporary decline, in my opinion). If I had an author who had an equal talent for both, I would certainly encourage her to focus on the paranormals and put the historicals on the back burner for the time being. Contest wins are great. But Jacky, Kim, and I have judged a lot of contests. While every now and then we’ve come across something we thought we’d like to represent, there were plenty of other situations where we enjoyed the winner’s voice but just didn’t think the story was marketable.

As far as the editor requests go, you have to think about your agent’s strategy. It’s not a good idea to have a variety of manuscripts by the same author out to multiple editors at the same time. It causes all sorts of havoc. First off, if you have one manuscript at one house, but not at another, you’ll have a hard time getting competing bids. Not only that, but you could piss off an editor by sending them one book while they would’ve preferred to see the project you’ve already sold to another house. It’s much better business to send out one proposal/manuscript that you’re excited about to multiple publishers at once, and then sit back and watch them fight over it. 🙂

So, from what you’ve told me, I think your agent’s right on target.


Category: Blog


  1. LOL…this post could have been written directly for me! I write “Uber-sexy erotic paranormals,” but I also have this wonderful little romantic comedy I want to sell, and my agent is making me sit on it. The thing is, I’ve learned to trust her business sense completely. I may question and bug her about it, but when it comes right down to it, she’s the one I’ve chosen to manage my career, and as an author who is most definitely NOT a businesswoman, I have to trust her knowledge of the industry. It’s in my agent’s best interest that I do well–if I don’t make money, she doesn’t make money–from me, at least! She’s certainly not going to hinder my career by making poor choices.

  2. I’m not lucky enough to have sold yet…came close a couple of times, but so far, no go.

    However, what is your advice about bringing back the first book (both books are romantic suspense) if I’m getting “good rejections” on the second, and it’s been a couple of years since book #1 was out there? Since there has been good response to the writing but not the story, do you think bringing back the first to try sounds like a plan?

    I’m working on the third, but I’d like to be certain my agent has exhausted all the possibilities.

  3. How specific do you have to be to a genre/sub genre? For example, I write only YA fantasies, but within that I write historical fantasy, ‘straight’ (as in another world) fantasy, and contemporary fantasy. Is that still too varied, in your opinion?

  4. Or could an author not do what Nora Roberts did: write one genre under one name and another genre under another pseudonym? (Nora Roberts/ J D Robb)

  5. Can somebody point me to a true definition of romantic suspense? Is it a formulaic genre like romance? Or is any suspense story with a romantic element fair game? I can’t seem to find a clear-cut answer.

  6. What’s the big deal? I’ve written lots of novels, but that doesn’t mean I have to have them all published NOW! I’m perfectly happy to focus on publishing in one genre for a while. All those other stories can wait their turn. They’re written. They’re not going anywhere. The fun is in writing them. That’s done. The agent’s job is to sell and it’s not a job I covet. 😉

    Kimber An

  7. I write romantic suspense, and I don’t see anything formulaic about it. It’s not like writing the A-team or anything, where you have the car turn over in the last five minutes and Mr. T say he pities the fool. Romantic suspense is a broad sub-genre. IMHO, right now it runs the gamut from Tara Janzen’s Crazy rs/adventure stories to EC Sheedy’s gothic WA state suspense’s. Suzanne Brockmann, Linda Howard are all RS writers.

    Even Ludlum was a romantic suspense writer. His Bourne series was strong suspense with romance elements (despite the movies). It’s an umbrella label. An editor I once asked (I thought I was leaning to romantic adventure) said, “why define yourself so narrowly? You want to appeal to the broadest market.”

  8. clueless:

    I think Jolinn answered your question very well. My first suggestion is that if you are choosing to write in any genre you need to let go of the belief that something is formulaic. In my opinion that’s a narrow way of looking at things. It also implies that what you’re going to be writing is easy and anyone can do it. As we all know, nothing about writing and getting published is easy. If you really want to learn about romantic suspense then you need to read it. Go to the romance section of the bookstore and pick up a variety of titles labeled romantic suspense. Read as much as you can.

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