Pub Rants

Agency Anomaly

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STATUS: Plugging along. Only two weeks ago I was all pleased because I had caught up on everything. Ah, those were the days…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROCK THIS TOWN by Stray Cats

Sitting on the panel this past weekend also reminded me of a fact that I often forget—the fact that my agency is a little bit of an anomaly in this business.

The three other agents sitting on the panel all handled mostly nonfiction with an occasionally novel to fill out their roster.

I’m the exact opposite. About 98% of what I do is fiction with an occasional story-based nonfiction project such as Kim Reid’s memoir NO PLACE SAFE or Jennifer O’Connell’s book of collected essays EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME. This is actually unusual. The majority of agents sell nonfiction because it’s easier to sell (more quantifiable), takes less time to put together (because most nonfiction is sold in the proposal stage), and it usually tends to make more money (more six figure deals are for nf projects).

So why do I just mainly do fiction? Because that’s what I love and that’s where my passion is. And for me, for some reason, fiction is just easy to sell (and I do sell quite a few projects, even for debut authors, for high five or six figures, and I sell almost every project I take on). My nonfiction stats (early in my career when I handled both) couldn’t compare. I liked things that were too quirky for mainstream publishing. Go figure.

Now my agency thrives because I handle all types of fiction—including genre stuff such as romance or sf&f. A lot of agents are only interested in literary or commercial mainstream and let me tell you, literary fiction is one hard sell. When you understand how hard it is to place a literary novel, it becomes clearer as to why most agents concentrate on nonfiction to pay the bills.

11 Responses

  1. Khazar-khum said:

    I’m confused about why something gets labelled ‘literary’ or ‘genre’.

    Somewhere I read that to be considered literary the writer has to have the correct ‘credentials’–MFA from the ‘right’ school, for instance. Many of these are no better written than most genre books. Yet they seem to command all the hype & attention. Why?

  2. thenovicewriter said:

    In bookstores, genre fiction is everything that’s not categorized under a label such as “Fiction” or “Literature” (those are the two I have seen); meaning, in bookstores you’ll see sections called “Horror”, “Science Fiction and Fantasy” (they tend to be coupled together), “Mystery/Suspense”, etc. These are genres – they are distinct from mainstream because they follow certain tell-tale patterns of that genre.

    Literary fiction is not just distinct from genre fiction, but also mainstream fiction (well, literary fiction might be considered a corollary of mainstream); literary fiction is considered high-quality writing coupled with a storyline that doesn’t fit a “box” – meaning, literary fiction could have a mystery, but it has too many other things along with that to let it be classified as a mystery alone. And even more than that, it is considered of the highest caliber, where supposedly its writing style and storytelling offer some deep human insight.

    And the debate whether literary fiction is better than genre fiction is an old debate and, in general, a useless one. People will always read what they most enjoy; as for literary fiction getting all the hype, maybe that’s because of Oprah. In any case, genre fiction is very successful, mainly because it produces very loyal readers. In the end, though, all writers work hard at what they do and I have read genre fiction that’s deep, mesmerizing, and written so well, I am jealous. At the same time, I’ve read mainstream fiction that has inspired me, made me love life, etc. It’s always subjective.

    Here’s a link to more information and googling “genre fiction” and “literary fiction” together should provide some answers too.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I’m glad you rep it, Kristin, because I love to read it. Someone has to look out for my favorite authors.



  4. Reid said:

    My novel is set in a trailer park in small-town Texas. Is there a category for “Barely Literate Fiction?”

  5. Patrick McNamara said:

    The imitation of poor literacy in a novel is often considered literature. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn comes to mind. It was written in the voice of the character.

  6. reality said:

    I am a little confused. I had you labeled as an agent for romance etc
    Not Literary.
    Your agency website also does not mention literary and none of your clients (other than Kim Reid, of recent) fit that.
    However Agent Query does mention you in literary.
    Am I missing something?

    If you do represent Literary than please let me know. I would love to at least query you when the time comes. And perhaps even win your approval. Touchwood.

  7. Christine said:

    In the bookshop today, with my librarian aunt, and she picked up EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW and bought it for me.

    Funny, that, as I had only heard about the book today on your blog.

    LOL.Looks to be an interesting read.

  8. steve said:

    Nelson Literary Agency was founded in 2002 and is based in the chic/hip urban setting of lower Downtown Denver—otherwise known as Lodo…

    That is so embarrassing. Maybe pretentious. Make it go away!

  9. clive said:

    Your depressing, but no doubt true note, “most agents only rep nonfiction”, gives me one more reason to be glad I started my own publishing company. I don’t mind NF but fhiction is the only true Ghod. Still, I imagine being an ahgent is pretty fun. Yes?