Dear Rachelle: I am about to search for an agent. My first book is a memoir, and an agent said he would like to see it. My second book will be a novel, set in South Africa. I believe it will sell very well in South Africa, less so in the USA. Do I select an agent now who has significant experience promoting books overseas (or in Africa), or contract with a good agent who wants to represent my memoir but who has little or no international experience? Is it acceptable etiquette to shop the two books different agents? Thanks.
There are a couple of different issues here. First is the foreign nature of your novel, and the second is that you have two books in entirely different genres.
Many agents sell foreign rights to the books they rep, but the book must have strong potential in the US. You’re not going to get a US agent and publisher based on “It will sell great in South Africa.” If that’s the case, you probably need a South African publisher and agent. If you want an American publisher and agent, you’ll need to write your book — and present it — in such a way that it will have wide American appeal. The South African potential is a bonus but not a major selling point. Many US books make significant money through foreign rights, but it’s the appeal in many countries, not just one foreign market, that will attract an agent.
You should also keep in mind that a book from a debut author that has a non-US setting will find it more difficult to find a publisher. (See yesterday’s blog about obstacles to publication, and my comment about foreign settings, here.)
Whatever you do, don’t query agents saying, “I believe it will sell very well in South Africa, less so in the USA.” Kiss of death! Make it a book that would appeal to American readers (who have a very wide range of interests). And then you can mention it has strong secondary potential in international markets.
You also have two books in two different genres. If you write in multiple genres, you’re writing to multiple audiences; in your case, you’re trying to reach memoir readers and fiction readers. There’s probably some overlap, but from a marketing approach, they’re diverse. Rather than building and growing your audience with each book, you’re starting from square one and trying to attract a whole new audience with each book. It takes too much time and too much money. All the work you did building the audience for the first book only serves that book; then with the next book you start all over with zero audience built up. From a publishing standpoint in terms of investment and return, it doesn’t make sense.
In addition, most writers simply do not have the time in their lives to do enough marketing and social networking in one genre, let alone more than one. It’s lovely to have interest and talent in many kinds of writing; and most writers are this way. However, being able to sell in many genres is difficult. On the plus side, if you’re going to write in two genres, memoir and fiction go well together, provided you keep your fiction in one general genre.
These two projects need to stand on their own, and you should focus on one at a time, choosing your best and most marketable project first. Using whichever one that is, try to get an agent, then you can mention to that agent that you have this other project in your back pocket. They will have their own opinion about it. Most likely, they’ll want to help you strategize your writing career properly so that you have the best chance for success. A good agent will be aware of potential landmines for you— not wanting you to get into a situation where you’re trying running yourself ragged trying to keep up with the demands of writing and marketing books for two publishers and serve two audiences.
I don’t recommend trying to get two agents simultaneously. When you’re discussing representation with an agent, you can talk to them about the situation and get their opinion.
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