Thursday, October 18, 2007

Different Agents for Different Projects

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.



Anonymous said...

I love your advice for writers not to get ahead of themselves. You've got to be kidding? Everyone knows "obsessive writer" is about as redundant as you can get, assuming said writer is unpublished.

That being said, your post leads me to a burning question, specifically, about submitting to BookEnds.

Several years ago, Jacky requested/read/passed on a partial of my first novel. Recently, Kim requested a partial of the same novel (the novel has been extensively rewritten) and, realistically, I believe she'll pass too.

The question: I'm now close to finishing another project that is in an entirely different genre from the first novel, a genre that more closely matches Jacky's list than Kim's. How do I submit without offending anyone at the agency?

(PS Never submitted to Jessica because she didn't appear to be a match for my first novel.)

Anonymous said...

For the poster I'd say first beware of the "gentleman" who has a platform in the first place. Often people think they are more important than they are and when push comes to shove have no more clout than any unpublished writer in gaining representation. Do not do ONE OUNCE of work on these nonfiction books until you have a contract from a publisher.

And if this guy is so "connected" as to warrant interest in a book by him (ghostwritten by you), then he should be able to land an agent for this and not put that off on you. Also, and not to knock you in any way, but if he's legit, why would he want an unpublished author (with a yet unproven sales record)to handle something that he's got such a great platform for?

I was approached by someone (through a third party) to write their biography once. But gee, they weren't famous -- at least not famous enought that I knew off the bat who they were. Oh, and also, they claimed to "know" publishers and people in the industry. Um, yeah, then why were they asking a CHILDREN'S fiction writer to write a non-fiction biography?

Be careful. You could be opening a can of worms you don't want to open.

Anonymous said...

Re the ghostwriting job.

If someone really has a strong platform, publishers often assign their own ghostwriters to work with them. In fact, MOST of the nonfiction you read that is supposedly written by famous doctors, etc, is actually ghostwritten, though no writer credit may appear anywhere in the book.

When I sold my first nonfiction book I was told by the editor that it was unusual for them to be able to skip the professional rewrite stage, as they did with my book, because most professionals wrote so poorly!

So I agree that you shouldn't do any work for this supposed expert on spec. If your person with the "platform" can't write a decent nonfiction proposal that generates interest, there's no point in going forward. Especially since the publisher may assign a writer.

BTW, I have learned from friends that the same is true with illustrating children's books. The publisher may assign an illustrator, and more than one artist has wasted a lot of time doing illustrations for an author who ended up selling the book to a publisher who replaced the illustrator with their own choice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica. I had a potential ghostwriting client who wanted an unpublished author in part to avoid these problems. I am glad it fell through now after reading this, as I really don't understand the industry to start with, let alone getting embroiled in a conflict like this.

(I thought at first it would be easy, y'see)

Thanks again for your help.