What about once you do sign a client? Are you a hands-on or hands-off agent? By that I mean, suggesting works you believe the writer would do well with...or leaving it entirely up the writer to come up with ideas? Some agents want their writers to stick with one genre, and one subgenre within that...others stand back and say "go to!" Please advise?
This depends on the client. With a new writer, job one is to get them published as quickly as possible with a publisher who can do the most for that client. After the writer is published, then we try to advise them on how to market their book. Many writers never think beyond getting published and, therefore, it’s our job to help them transition into this next vitally important phase of their career—that of a published writer. Their whole career depends on how well anything that bears their name does in the marketplace, so we try to help them to understand that it’s here they need to concentrate most of their efforts.
As for sticking with one genre, we advise our clients to do that at least until they have built a sufficient audience in that genre and then not go so far afield that they alienate the audience they have built. Most writers who start out in genre anything eventually venture into an area that allows them broader growth. So-called woman’s fiction or mainstream is where many authors transition to, and they usually are able to take their readers with them on this journey. I give you Danielle Steele as an example here. However, some writers who try this are jerked back by their critics and fans. John Grisham attempted a jump to coming-of-age with A Painted House, which many of his fans disliked because of its obvious departure from what he had written before. While it is still selling, Grisham fans who like his books based in the world of law are more than likely waiting for his next lawyer novel. The writer has to strike a balance between what he wants to write and what his readers want from him, and the agent is there to support that endeavor.