Fiction and non-fiction...can you do both? I say yes, my agent said "NO!"

Just when I thought I had left the world of non-fiction writing behind; just when I am up to my eyeballs editing "Murder After Midnight" and having a jolly old time of it, and just when I have pulled out the tattered screenplay for "A Good Plague," and decided to start chipping away at it again, reality had the nerve to intervene.

Got an email from Wiley Publishing yesterday about a new medical series they're considering, and would I be interested in authoring one or more of the titles? Well, um, heck, yeah! Twist my other arm.

Still, it's a bit of a cold shower on the euphoria I've been feeling since I plunged into the world of mysteries and thrillers. It's been my preferred genre as a reader all my life, so I figured if I as ever going to make the transition from non-fiction to fiction writer, that' where I should start.

Has any other author on this board ever had trouble with an agent telling them just to stick with what they're doing? My former agent wouldn't even look at my fiction; just told me to keep cranking out medical books. It was not a bad thing, mind you, but neither was it particularly soul-satisfying, especially with books like the Dummies and Idiots guides which are so tightly formulated. Anyway, we parted amicably so I could pursue a career as a novelist. I am currently without representation and feeling okay about that. I've got enough experience that I don't automatically cringe at the thought of dealing with a publisher one-on-one.

It seems like if you write fiction, publishers don't want you dabbling in non-fiction and vice-versa. I cannot tell you how many agents I interviewed at conferences on the topic, and to a man and woman they had the same advice: don't change ponies. But to my way of thinking, that advice precludes the idea that an author can grow and evolve, and segue from one field of interest and specialty to another. Staying in the exact same arena for 20 plus years is a perfect recipe for staleness and boredom. I could probably write a Dummies Guide blindfolded and with my hands tied behind my back, and it would be workmanlike and serviceable. But would it ever satisfy my demanding Inner Muse? Probably not.

Anyway, I am not complaining. Always happy to hear a check may show up in my mailbox at some point in the future.

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That's unfortunate. It's hard enough to make money writing, especially these days; why should an agent inhibit your ability to do it however you need to? If you're good at writing something and passionate about the subject, I'd like to think that even if your agent couldn't handle it, they could refer you to another agent who could. Two "personas," two agents. And you are totally right about growing.

Good luck finding a new agent!
I know authors who do both. I don't understand why it would be a problem.
Jim, that's a reasonable way to look at it. We all have to stay focused on paying those bills, and agents are no different from the rest of us in that respect. Thanks for a different perspective. I am still glad I followed my heart into fiction. I am really enjoying my work even though there's no guarantee any of it will ever see the light of day. The non-fiction work had grown a bit too predictable for me. Perhaps this respite of time without having to interview any doctors or dig through any dusty archives will renew my enthusiasm for non-fiction as well.
As a reader, I'm always thrilled to see a writer I like take a chance and do something new. One of my favorite fiction books, one that just stunned the hell out of me, was written by Ann Rule. True, it's a novelization of a case she's covered in one of her nonfiction books, but still, not everyone could take it and turn it into fiction-she changed it just enough so that it wasn't exactly like the original case. If you really want to try it, go for it, sometimes you just don't know if something's going to work for you until you do it.

Having said that, I was really disappointed with Grisham's attempt at nonfiction. I like his fiction, but something about the nonfic book seemed really scattershot. I was halfway through it and I really couldn't have cared less if the guy got out of jail or not. In fact, I didn't even care about the victim. It really was disappointing, it sounded like an intriguing case, and, ya know, Grisham.

Anyway, write what you want, if it's good, someone will buy it.
Since I am also a speaker, I need to write both -- and my agent agrees. Unfortunately, I have found out that my fiction sells much less than my nonfiction at my speaking gigs UNLESS I tie the novel into my talk by reading a humorous section on the topic I am addressing.
That's crazy! Sure, you can do both. And it would seem that a good agent could
sell any kind of genre. It's not that they have to be personally acquainted with
the editors they are approaching.

Do you use your medical knowhow in your fiction? Sometimes when I do my
talks, I discuss how I use my nonfiction research in my mysteries. It's of great
interest.

I think that you have to be constantly evolving. Even if you stay in the same area,
you have change things up because they are always new trends and new
authors joining the genre. Best of luck to you.

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