GIVEAWAY: I am (again) excited to give away a free copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents  to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. Good luck to all! (Update: Julia Monroe Martin won.)
I just got back from our awesome-yet-exhausting WD writers’ conference in NYC. During our agent panel, the four literary agents got a lot of intelligent questions from the crowd. One of the questions, which I hear frequently at events, was a complicated one: “Do you need multiple literary agents if you write in different genres or categories?” This is a tricky subject, but one that I want to address, since I myself have multiple agents.
Some writers get into writing with a clear focus in mind — i.e., penning young adult fantasy novels. Other writers want to compose books in different areas. Sometimes it’s not a far stretch to jump — from young adult  to middle grade , say. Other times it’s a whole new world — like making a jump from paranormal romance novels to writing nonfiction books about gardening.
(When you’re ready to submit, check out these lists of numerous agent interviews: fantasy agents , science fiction agents , general fiction agents , horror agents , nonfiction agents , middle grade fiction agents , and young adult fiction agents .)
THE 3 PROBABLE OPTIONS
Here are the three likely ways this will happen if you have a literary agent and want to branch out into new worlds.
1. You will have an agent that represents everything you write. In fact, if you want to write in different areas, it would be to your advantage to, if possible, specifically target agents who rep all of your areas when you first query.
2. Your agent will make an exception to rep all your works. I’ve seen this before. Writers have agents who represent only adult fiction, but will make an exception for you and handle your kids works just to keep it all in the family.
3. Your agent will wish you well finding a second rep. If your agent neither reps your new area(s) nor cares to handle it/them as a favor, the only option is for you to find a second rep. This makes things a little for complicated for the writer (having two agents now, not just one), but it’s a necessary step to move forward.
UNDERSTAND THE DOWNSIDES
The major downside to addressing this question is a big issue behind it. The more you spread yourself across different areas, you more you dilute your brand and have to start over again. If you’re only spending, say, half of your time writing books about parenting (as opposed to all your time), then that’s less effort to develop a platform and network . If you can only write one thriller every 3 years instead of every 2 years because you’re spread thin, that’s less of a brand and readership, most likely.
If you’ve developed an author brand as a suspense writer, that platform and hard-earned readership will not translate to picture books, for example. In that case, a pseudonym is common — but the downside is that you’re starting over again with building your writer brand identity.
BE UPFRONT WITH YOUR AGENT
An important aspect in all this is to simply explain upfront to your agent what you’re considering. When I sat down to sign the author-agent agreement with my rep, she asked me if I wanted to write anything besides adult nonfiction. I said yes — screenplays and perhaps kids books. She said she didn’t rep those areas and had no desire to start, so I had her blessing to go elsewhere. I ended up finding a manager to handle my screenplays, and none of what I’ve been doing concerning scriptwriting has affected my work with my original books agent.
If your agent has an issue with you writing across categories, this is her time to bring it up and be honest as to why. I’ve spoken with an agent recently who said she does not represent clients unless she can be their sole agent. Others may be concerned you’re not writing enough projects that they can sell and they can be most productive parting ways. Most, I believe, will be A-OK with your decision — as long as it does not negatively impact them (and it is not likely to).
Photo courtesy Flickr’s jeeheon