View Full Version : Nonfiction as a means to (eventually) getting an agent for your fiction work?

05-28-2009, 01:11 AM
Two novels, no bites; and, already deadened with the rigamarole of agent-hunting -- only to discover agent is a) uninterested, b) not taking new clients, c) not accepting fiction for now, or d) etc -- I'm wondering: has anyone tried proposing a nonfiction work instead, and then, if you acquire an agent for it and get it published -- using that as a "platform" to get your novel published?

I'm thinking this is more and more the way to go. I've read nonfiction has a much higher chance of scoring an agent and getting published. Is this true?

I'm kicking around some ideas and have some "how to propose a nonfiction book" manuals on the way.

Has anyone here done this? "Moonlighted" in nonfiction long enough to open a doorway into the much more narrow (but much more rewarding!) world of fiction?

05-28-2009, 01:46 AM
I'm sure writers have started in one and moved to the other, the problem is, both sides have their own set of editors that specialize in certain genres and markets. My agent, for example, doesn't do non-fiction at all. A lot of non-fiction agents only handle non-fiction. So you'd want to make sure you found an agent who handles both. That limits them number of agents you can query.

Also, non-fiction isn't any easier. In fact, it's probably harder because most non-fiction authors need a platform to get attention. If you're heart isn't in non-fiction, your chances will actually be less because you won't understand the market you're aiming at. And then there's the assumption that your non-fiction work will get you an agent faster, which might not be the case.

If you want to write fiction, write fiction and keep submitting. If you're going to put in the effort, do it for what you love.

05-28-2009, 01:53 AM
Thanks for the response, and I definitely hear you.

I should've elaborated. I actually DO enjoy nonfiction, and I read quite a bit of it. I have a background in history, though no "platform." I envisage some sort of potted history material, ie narrative history -- along the lines of Tony Perrottet and Tom Holland (a writer who did the reverse of what I envision: he started in fiction and then moved to nonfiction).

As for agents...what I was thinking (and again, please let me know if this isn't the case) was that, even if you score an agent for your nonfic who doesn't handle fiction -- that agent could at least recommend you to an agent who does handle fiction. Like Hollywood, publishing seems to run on connections.

05-28-2009, 02:40 AM
I'm sort of going through this now, not intentionally though. I queried a few agents for a nonfiction book and got a top Manhattan agency interested. They offered me representation BUT the book fell through. (A bio, the subject stopped cooperating.) So, I sent them my novel. They have read it, made suggested changes twice, and are now considering the final draft (final for now). I'm hopeful but not counting any chickens.

So, it's possible, for sure. Your novel still has to be stand-alone good, I imagine if mine was/is crap they would have/will tell me, regardless of our prior relationship. They just don't have the time to rep sub-par work and, of course, there's no real point.

I actually wonder if your fiction would have to be even better using this approach -- even though you have a foot in the door, an agent might think, "Hmmm, this guy writes nonfiction, but I guess I have to read this to be polite." I dunno, but whatever you try I hope it works. :)

05-28-2009, 03:19 AM
I ditto everything Danthia said. I definitely believe that in most cases writing nonfiction is more difficult than writing fiction, but I'm not saying that I think writing fiction is easy. As Danthia mentioned, you must have a platform. I'll add to that that you must have credentials. Having a background in history helps, but it's far from enough. And remember, with nonfiction there's no room for error, no fantasy, nothing made up -- everything has to be factual and everything written about must be able to stand the test of examination. Research is always required, be it fiction or nonfiction, but it's enormous with nonfiction, because it's the basis of all your story. Now add to this mix the writing of an interesting, page-turner, entertaining story.

I may be completely off base, but it seems to me that you take the writing of nonfiction as a relatively easy task, compared to fiction. This just isn't the case. My humble advice is to tread lightly and research the genre before committing yourself.

05-28-2009, 04:21 PM
As for agents...what I was thinking (and again, please let me know if this isn't the case) was that, even if you score an agent for your nonfic who doesn't handle fiction -- that agent could at least recommend you to an agent who does handle fiction. Like Hollywood, publishing seems to run on connections.

Technically, yes. But that novel still has to be a great novel and wow the agent and do everything that it would have had to do anyway had you queried it on your own. All the referral does it get your foot in the door and perhaps let you skip the query phase. But if the book is that good anyway, you'd likely get a request no matter how it came to the agent. .

If you enjoy both and write both, there's nothing wrong with writing what you want and sending it out when it's ready to the best agents for that book. If you find one who does both, great, if you find you need two, great. But I wouldn't focus on one area in the hopes that it will lead to success in the other.

Andrew Zack
05-30-2009, 09:34 PM
Plenty of great nonfiction writers can't write fiction. Plenty of fiction writers can't write nonfiction. They are not the same style of writing and one requires far more research than the other, I'd say. Plus there is the platform issue in nonfiction. Go to my website at www.zackcompany.com and check out the What We Want page. I go to extensive lengths in discussing what makes for good nonfiction writers in different areas.


05-30-2009, 10:03 PM
For what it's worth, my agent (who handles both) told me to put my two novels in a drawer for at least a year until the fiction market settles out of whatever upheaval it's going through at the moment.

She is only repping my nonfiction book and has said plainly that right now, nonfiction is an easier sell than fiction.

At least for her and her agent friends.

05-31-2009, 08:03 PM
I often go through 17 agent blogs and the theme is similar - nonfiction is easier to sell than fiction.

06-01-2009, 06:56 PM
Yeah, I'm thinking more and more nonfiction might be the way to go now. I've actually done some reporting in the past and have been published in USA Today (Homer Simpson's favorite newspaper), so nonfiction isn't totally outside my realm. And for what it's worth, the projects I envision are ones I'm very interested in -- one of them patterened a bit after "The Book of Lost Books," the other a take on Lesley Blanch's "The Wilder Shores of Love."