The Evolution of an Agent: Part II

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 09 2007

When I left my position as senior editor at Berkley Publishing, I felt pretty confident of my grasp of the publishing industry. Leslie Gelbman, the president of Penguin’s paperback division, and all of my editor friends there were terrific mentors.

Nevertheless, I was new to the agenting biz. Shifting my perspective took a little getting used to, but I found that the essential quality for agenting and editing is the same: knowing a great, marketable book when I see it. When I first started looking for clients, it was exhilarating to have the freedom of taking on any project my little heart desired. I opened myself up to all sorts of genres: mysteries, romance, horror, young adult, prescriptive nonfiction. But as the submissions started pouring in and I began making sales, I started to see where my strengths and interests really lay. Inevitably, my focus narrowed. I’m no longer seeking horror, but am still open to big suspense novels with paranormal elements. I’m not so interested in YA, but would be willing to help my client branch out in that direction if she/he chose. And in most cases, I’m more likely to pass on prescriptive nonfiction to Jacky or Jessica.

This kind of evolution is common in both agents and editors. Tastes change, the market changes, and sometimes we find we just have more luck concentrating in certain areas. I’m not the only publishing professional who’s still learning as she goes. A smart agent/editor/author/bookseller is always open to new ideas. The publishing industry is unpredictable. That’s what makes it so exciting! That’s why I love my job!

From time to time authors still come across my first bio for BookEnds. We get a lot of questions like “Are you still looking for horror?” My best advice is to always go straight to the agency Web site. Most agents will keep their interests updated on a regular basis.

I’m wondering how often writers evolve. Are most of you loyal to a very specific type of writing? Or are you still finding your niche?


20 responses to “The Evolution of an Agent: Part II”

  1. Avatar Loralee says:

    Okay, I’ll jump in here and admit I’m still interested in writing for more than one genre. I love writing my romances, but would love to add cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries to my accomplishments. Western historicals were my first projects many years ago, however I found my very distinct voice in contemporaries. I wonder if the changes are due to my growth as a writer, changes in the industry or changes in readers’ tastes? Any ideas on that?

  2. Avatar Kimber An says:

    I run from Middle Grade to Young Adult to Adult, but with a definite bent towards sci-fi wierdness throughout and romance from the YA level up. By sci-fi, I see I’ve conjured up Time Travel/Historicals, Near-Future monster-types, and mythological space opera.

  3. All of my work falls within a certain range of tone and style, and all of it is written in my voice, but I do write across genres. I started out writing fantasy, moved into sci-fi, then turned to science fantasy, and am now working on an urban fantasy with a lot of suspense. I also have notes for a plain ol’ commercial fiction novel at some point, but that’s probably a one-time thing.

    For me, all my genres are pretty related, and I hope the other similarities in my work will carry readers across from one to the other. This works for Orson Scott Card, who writes sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, and even now thriller (this is all aside from his religious fiction, which has a totally different market). Of course, Orson Scott Card is a huge name, and I realize it wouldn’t be a good idea to pattern oneself after such a shining success. However, I think the sci-fi/fantasy market can get kind of blurred together at times, and so it seems relatively safe to hop between those two genres and their various subgenres. Thoughts on that?


  4. Avatar RenaissanceGrrl says:

    I want to first and foremost be known as a cozy mystery author, but at the same time I can see myself writing a stand alone romance novel and there is this one particular idea that I have for a YA novel that keeps nagging at me. I’ve got to get it down on paper. But cozy mystery is really were my heart is.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I just like writing stories. I started with fantasy and after several years am just getting into editing it. I completed a paranormal suspense, which sadly just wasn’t your thing, and am working on a time travel/historical fiction story at the moment. I have outlines for a YA ghost/mystery, a YA faerie story, and a suspense/horrorish one as well. I really wish publishing didn’t require writers to fall into a niche, but I imagine I would end up writing more stories in the genre that I first am able to sell in.


  6. Avatar Gina Black says:

    I’ve written a historical romance, a contemporary that started out as a category book and ended up an uncomfortable mishmash of category and ST, and now I’m working on a YA. So, I guess I haven’t found my launch point yet. I do plan to write in more than one area. I think it will end up being YA and WF.

    I’ve checked the Bookends website, and I don’t see anywhere that it says you rep YA. Is that true?

  7. Avatar Liz Wolfe says:

    I find my writing often seeks its own path…LOL. But, so far, everything I’ve written has some element of mystery or suspense in it. The first book I ever wrote (the one under the bed) was a historical romance but had a mystery/suspense plot. I tried a contemporary romantic suspense, but I just don’t seem to have a knick with romance. The first published book was a thriller with just a small paranormal element. And now I’m thinking about a thriller that has a lot more paranormal in it.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I write (and am published) all over the board; from chidren’s books to YA to erotica. I write contemporary, mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy.
    And yes, I use pen names.

    One theme that runs through my books is comedy – if I had to stop and pick just one single genre to write, it would probably be romantic comedy – with elements of sci-fi and history and…Oh dang it, I can’t choose.
    Just your ordinary schizophrenic author.


  9. I think my career as freelance journalist taught me how to take my ideas and fit them into different publishers’ boxes. I had to learn to write in varying tones to fit the dialect of the magazine – be it highbrow artsy, or down-home country. I think it was then that I learned the difference between tone and voice. I could stay true to my voice, but alter my tone to fit the needs of different styles. This said, I did find that my voice worked better in certain types of magazines.

    As a novelist, my first book sold was a Silhouette Romance. When I decided to get back into novel writing, I wrote three western historicals. When I realized I might not sell because that market was too tight, I moved back into contemporary. All my books are romantic suspenses and while humor is present in all my books, some are actually romantic comedies and others just have touches of humor. I’ve also introduced paranormal elements into a couple of my plots. To date, I’ve sold three of the romantic comedies and one romantic suspense with a paranormal element.

    I think as we grow as writers, our ability to branch out into other genres becomes a little easier. I’m also a firm believer in the never-stop-learning concept. Learning excites me, motivates me. I believe the day I think I know it all, is the day I’ll start going stale.

  10. It’s funny, I’d always been certain that the romance genre was the only thing I would write.

    If it hadn’t been for a contest that challenged me to write YA, I would never have found YA fantasy, which is what I’m currently trying to get published in.

    I think a writer never stops evolving, whether they find a niche or not. Even within their genre, writing and the writer’s ability is never static.

    It’s the great part of it. 🙂

  11. Avatar Lexi says:

    For the longest time, I focused only on suspense. After years of getting better and learning about my strengths and weaknesses, I decided to switch genres and concentrate on my main weaknesses. I switched to short contemporary. I still love writing suspense and I think I always will, but I’ve grown so much just by switching my focus. I don’t ever want to stop learning.

  12. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    zLoralee — Probably all of those things come into play.

    Christopher — To be honest, I know very, very little about the scifi/fantasy markets. What I can tell you is that right now all genre lines are blurring across the board, so you’re probably right.

    Gina — We’re not actively looking for YA fiction. We have a few authors that have decided to venture into YA in addition to their adult stuff. In some cases we handle that work for them and in other cases we suggest that they find an outside agent who specializes in that sort of thing, and we continue to represent just their adult books. (It mostly depends on the audience.)

    Have a great weekend!

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m a rather new author, with a couple of books published and a few more in contract and on the way. I like to write a variety of things, but at the moment, understand that an effort is being made to “brand” me in a certain YA genre. I feel very blessed to have my publisher behind me and I want to repay their efforts by doing well in this genre, but eventually I think I would like to branch out to write other things that interest me. Is this generally acceptable? Or is it better to write a different type of book under a pen name to keep the “brands” consistent?

  14. Avatar Tessa Radley says:

    Interesting post, Kim.

    My biggest obstacle to selling was that I lacked focus. It took a kind editor to give me that bit of advice! I’d been leaping around like a flea trying to write in different genres…trying to target lines and imprints that were opening up.

    I couldn’t find my voice, I didn’t know where I fit. And, being told ‘write what you love to read’ simply proved more confusing. Because I read very widely.

    Once I started to focus, to write for one line, it all started to come together. Securing an agent speeded the process up.


  15. Avatar dsknight says:

    Kim, I’m still seeking where I fit best. I write a range of erotic romance (RS, paranormal and straight contemporary), but I also have a couple of non-erotic mainstream manuscripts. I’ve never known if writing in a range of genre is a good thing or bad, lol.

    Interesting posts the past couple of days. Thanks–


  16. Avatar Judy Schneider says:

    As you suggested, Kim, writers do evolve.

    When I first started writing professionally, I wrote everything from greeting card captions, to short stories, to picture books, to personal essays. Much like your explore-and-discover mode, I put myself out there in many forms, hoping for an answer to the question, “What do I write best?”

    I began selling a little of everything, but soon my personal essays were regularly accepted, first locally, then nationally. From there, I taught personal essay writing online and at a community college. That lead to writing a nonfiction book with a personal essay style that sold to Warner (and continues to be a nice, steady seller).

    Now, I’m hoping to use that same personal essay comfort to bring the reader closer to my protagonists world in my current WIP, a novel. As you mentioned, Kim, writers do evolve. They just need to remember to take their talents with them.

    Thanks for the insightful post!

  17. Avatar Rhi Neeley says:

    Well, I guess you could say I’m all over the board with genres. I write erotic romance (paranormal, contemporary), romance (paranormal, gothic) and mainstream. Under a different pen name I write horror (just won an EPPIE in this genre). I enjoy writing in all genres but could never attempt sci-fi or YA. Great comments here.
    Rhi Neeley
    aka Chris Neeley

  18. Avatar Sher says:

    Years ago my writing, like my life, was dark and overflowing with words like “ominous” and “anguish” and as many synonyms for the word death as I could possibly manage to wiggle in there.

    But, as old husbands have been replaced with newer, much nicer ones and as I’ve learned to laugh at myself, my writing style has taken quite a different path. Other than the marketing pieces I produce for clients, humor is the name of the game now. Everything is funny and funny is easy for me to write.

    I love it.

    I would admit that if I could wave a magic word wand, I’d want to be endowed with the ability to write fiction. I’m very envious of that talent.

    Every time I’ve dared to try, it reads like this, “Bill walked in the kitchen. He took out a glass. He poured milk in it.” And then usually Bill either gets killed by the milk in some epic way or he finds a thumb in his glass and kills his wife.

    Stephen King can rest easy.

  19. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    Anonymous —

    It really depends on the genres. If the two areas you write into could have strong crossover appeal, such as paranormal romance and urban fantasy, then you could certainly benefit from writing under the same name. However, if the two genres are pretty different, you may want to use a pseudonym, so as not to confuse readers and the booksellers.

    Make sure you check your option clause no matter what. A pseudonym could help you circumnavigate the option with your current publisher.