I received this question recently, and coincidentally I had a phone call not too long ago with someone in this very predicament. Not a bad position to be in. . . .
I am in the middle of writing a YA science fantasy, but have also been approached by a gentleman with platform to ghostwrite his nonfiction project. I see the nonfiction as bringing in the daily bread, and I know I will enjoy the process, but my passion is firmly in the fiction field. How should I go about my agent search? I’d prefer to have one agent if at all possible, but the pool of agents who handle nonfiction plus science fiction and fantasy plus YA is a short one. Should I let the “name” on the nonfiction project pursue an agent on his own, and sign agreements that way, or should I be the one on the hunt? If the latter, do I just concentrate on the nonfiction proposal, or is it okay to mention my diversity in the query letter? Note: I already know not to actually pitch multiple projects in one query; I’m thinking just a brief mention of my fiction interests.
There is a lot of advice I could give here and all of it depends on where things stand. I think you are a little ahead of yourself on all fronts here, so let’s approach things one at a time.
YA project first . . . since you are only in the middle of the project you’re not ready to query on this yet. Therefore it’s a moot point (or as Joey from Friends would say, “a moo point.”) You can only plan for your future so much, and planning for something that may or may not happen months down the road can stifle someone and eventually hurt her career. For example, who knows what decisions I would have made ten years ago had I known I was going to start BookEnds. No, sometimes the best laid plans are those that are unexpected.
I guess what I’m saying is that you need to look at the most pressing possibility first, and since you have nothing yet to submit on the YA I would simply hold off on worrying about that or even including it in your equation. In an ideal world you would find one agent to handle everything, but we all know that publishing is far from an ideal world.
As for the nonfiction project, I’m assuming you have worked with this expert and have some sort of proposal to send around. You will need to have something, even something short, to send to agents before someone is going to represent you. Before working on anything, though, I would also suggest that you put an agreement in writing. This should stipulate, among other things, how much you each expect to get paid (you could always say that this will be determined at the time of the offer), whether or not you are getting author credit or simply ghostwriting, and what happens if things don’t work out and/or the platformed author decides to find a new ghostwriter. You should of course be compensated for your time. Any time you are coauthoring or ghostwriting with or for someone, you need an agreement. I have one I use for my authors and would suggest you check out freelance Web sites (maybe someone can suggest some) for guidance on writing up your own.
Since you are the ghostwriter on this project and have no real credentials yourself it’s going to be tough to get an agent to represent you separately. I would suggest you work as a team to find an agent that can suit both of your needs as nonfiction authors. Primarily, though, you want an agent with expertise in the subject you’re selling, not someone who necessarily has expertise in YA Fantasy. Remember, your goal is to sell the book. If you need to find a second agent to sell your YA Fantasy, that’s certainly better than having one agent who can really sell neither. The smart author finds the very best agent for each individual project, especially since the nonfiction agent is really representing the book (and platformed author), you’re just a bonus in the package.
Presumably the nonfiction agent will represent both of your interests fairly and honestly. However, if you find that she expresses favoritism to the platformed author and doesn’t seem to be representing your interests at that point, when you have a deal in hand, you could always ask that someone else be brought in to represent your side fairly. In most cases, though (when I’ve done similar projects), it’s worked out pretty well.
To sum up, focus on one project at a time.