Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nonfiction vs. Fiction Agents

While reading through some comments on the blog I came across advice from one reader to another. The advice was that if Reader A had a special hobby or expertise (and platform, of course) it might help her to write nonfiction first, find an agent, make connections in publishing through her nonfiction, and then try to sell her fiction. The suggestion was that it might make it easier to market her fiction.

First let me thank the reader for offering advice. I always like to see writers helping each other. That being said, I want to clarify something. The fiction and nonfiction markets are two completely different beasts and getting published in one, and making contacts, won't do much of anything to get you in the door with the other. Sure, if you are a New York Times bestselling author of fiction you can probably get a book or something that relates to your work published in nonfiction, but let me tell you from experience: nonfiction doesn't often translate to fiction.

Besides your needing the ability to write both, not all agents represent both genres, and if your book fits into only one certain niche it will be even more difficult. For example, we do represent fiction and nonfiction, but not all sub-genres of either. If you write a cookbook and erotica, for example, we could represent your erotica, but not your cookbook. We don't do cookbooks.

My advice is this: If you want to write both fiction and nonfiction, go ahead and do so, but don't plan that by writing one you'll have easy entry into the other.



Chisem said...

You really told it like it is, Jessica. I've had four non-fiction books published, which is an indicator that I know now to use a subject and a verb and an adjective. You critiqued my query and chided me for not going into more detail about that aspect of my career.
But for more than ten years I've labored to get a fiction even picked up by an agent. Most just "didn't fall in love" with the novels I've submitted.
I was told writing fiction was different from non-fiction, yet most folks who read my true crime books compared them favorably to a work of fiction.
There is a difference, and I'm still struggling to learn the difference. Any light anyone can shed on this will be gratefully accepted.
Meanwhile I fight onward knowing that one day I'll get a piece of fiction published.
Thanks for an excellent post.

Anonymous said...

A follow-up hard is it for an agency that specializes in non-fiction to move into representing fiction? I've had interest from an agency with an impressive roster of nf projects, but who are just breaking into fiction and have sold only a few novels. Are they likely to have/be able to make the appropriate contacts?

Anonymous said...

The benefit, I think, is that you have an agent in place. Even if that agent doesn't represent fiction, he or she is likely to give you a referral. That's a lot better than the slush pile. No?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica for the info. I've been wondering about this for a bit.

I'm finishing up a middle-grade mystery that I'll be querying agents about at the end of the summer. A co-writer and I just had a proposal accepted for a nonfiction children's book, about police work. I've been planning to mention that in my query for the mystery; in your opinion, would that be a good idea?


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I would mention it. It can't hurt you.


That would depend. I'm going to follow up on this with a more comprehensive post later, but as you know it's all about contacts.