It has come to my attention recently that some aspiring authors believe that the only place an agent can be truly effective is in New York City. I'm here to tell you that isn't true.
(Disclaimer: My agent is in NYC. She's amazing. I adore her. But she would still be amazing and adored if she lived somewhere else.)
I've asked several non-NYC agents to answer a few questions. Hopefully their answers will shed some light on the truth about Agenting From Other Cities (and even continents).
1. YOU'RE A LITERARY AGENT. WHY DON'T YOU LIVE IN NYC?
I lived in NYC for 17 years. Honestly, that was long enough for me. The cost of living was very high, the commute time just to get to work was crippling. I needed to be able to think about something other than making enough money to just pay my rent. The internet made it possible to work in publishing outside NYC and immediate surrounding areas.
I grew up in Miami Beach and in Jerusalem, and I always thought I’d end up working in NYC after university for a few years, but life happened. I met and married a Canadian, lived in Montreal for a while, and then moved to Israel. I love it here and I’ve been here for 13 years now and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I thought that I’d given up my dreams of working in publishing, until I found The Deborah Harris Agency.
I started working in publishing in 1995 and made a conscious decision then to stay in my beautiful Pacific Northwest. I was born and raised here and I love mountains, trees, and the Pacific ocean, plus our lifestyle suits me. Hello, REI! Don’t get me wrong, I love NYC and get a thrill every time I visit and hang out and it’s just such a cool place. In another life, I would have moved there in a minute. But this is the life I have, with my West Coast hubby and our two dogs who relish their life here ruining our backyard grass. ;)
2. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF LIVING AND WORKING WHERE YOU DO?
I live in Raleigh, NC, where home prices have allowed me to buy my own place and keep an office on the premises. I can dedicate more of my day to work because I’m not commuting hours to an office—just walking down the hall. My environment also gives me a sense of peace and makes me a better person—I think that also makes me a better agent because I am less frustrated with my surroundings.
I love how international my potential client base is (half my clients are Israeli and the other half are Canadian, American, and other.) I get to go to the Bologna and London and Frankfurt Book Fairs every year, (and when I meet editors there they are usually the heads of publishing houses – total benefit!) and since I work in foreign rights as well, I really feel like that gives me a bird’s eye view of what is happening in the global publishing market, helps me realize that not all markets are the same by a longshot - especially as I struggle with the challenges of my own market. I also think that because Israel is in the Middle East and is a country of so many immigrants - being outside the USA has really opened my eyes to the global community of authors and I love that I’m a part of that.
Seattle is a very literary city, with a ton of arts and crafts going on. We may be the home of Amazon, but our indy bookstores are THRIVING and the local writing community is amazing and supportive. I don’t have to go far to meet up with publishing professionals. We’re not NYC by any means, but we are who we are and we’re proud of that. Also, fresh air, fresh salmon, and I can see Mt. Rainier from my living room. She’s a beauty!
3. WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OF NOT LIVING IN OR NEARER TO NYC?
I can’t “just do lunch” with a NYC editor at the drop of a hat. I’m not able to drop by a publishing house for a face to face meeting. But I still “do lunch” with editors at conferences and have meetings with publishers on video conference.
I have to condense all of my editor meetings into a 2-3 week timeframe of craziness. I usually go to NYC every November and run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to pack everyone in. I don’t get to just have “editor lunches” throughout the year, and I really miss not being able to go to book launches and literary events that happen in NYC. Also, hello? New York City. Food. Culture. Entertainment. Did I mention food?
It’s a long trek east when I do go. I don’t get to the events that I want to and I think the food delivery options are greatly enhanced in NYC. Here, we can’t even get Jimmy Johns to deliver to us because we’re just outside the delivery areas of TWO STORES. So, yes, NYC has infinitely better socializing amongst food and drink opportunities. Also, Broadway. *sigh*
4. SOME WRITERS BELIEVE THAT IT'S NOT A GOOD IDEA TO QUERY AGENTS WHO DO NOT LIVE IN NYC. CAN YOU DEBUNK THIS?
Agents, whether they are living in NYC or not, are not walking into publishing offices on a daily basis and speaking face to face with editors and publishers about what they want. That’s not how they solicit interest in their clients. They still send emails, make phone calls. And that’s how an agent outside the immediate NYC area does business. Everyone sends projects via email so it really doesn’t matter where the material is generated from. Maybe an agent who lives outside NYC doesn’t need as many clients to make a decent living…perhaps that allows them more time to develop newer talent. We, at The Knight Agency, make great efforts to reach out to editors and ask them what they are looking for; we keep spreadsheets of editors we may not have met in person, but could be great connections for future projects. In this day of social media, it’s very easy to reach out and make a connection with someone you haven’t met face to face.
We live in such a hyper-connected world today with mobile offices etc. that it’s super easy to reach and query anyone you want, wherever you want. Despite my yearly trips to NYC, most of the books I’ve sold have been to editors I’ve never met. Good writing is good writing and as long as your agent comes from a reputable agency, the fact that I’m not in NYC has never gotten in the way of my selling a project. I think I give my authors added benefits – a global perspective, hands-on foreign rights experience, and I get to hand-sell their books at the world’s three largest bookfairs.
I think they are focusing on the wrong criteria. Writers should be focusing on finding the agent that has a vision for their work, not just because said agent lives in a certain part of the world than another. Email and phone keep all agents, no matter their time zone, in touch on a regular basis and I have access to the editors just like anyone located in NYC. That said, if an agent in NYC is the dream, because you admire an agent that lives in NYC, go for it! The most important criteria for an agent to be successful in this industry is the ability to magnify and ally with writers of all walks of life and to be able to communicate their work and their POV to editors and publishers successfully. Agents don’t have to be physically in NYC to do this. It’s more about who the person is than about where they are as they pitch writers’ manuscripts.
5. BRAG TIME: WHAT ARE YOU MOST RECENT SALES (IN THE PAST YEAR OR TWO) THAT MAKE YOU SAY, "SEE? I'M ROCKING THIS NOT-IN-NYC THING!"?
Ginger Garrett’s debut Middle Grade novel, THE LAST MONSTER, to Delacourte. (Published just this April)
Aimie Runyan’s Historical Fiction debut, PROMISED TO THE CROWN, to Kensington, in a two book deal. (2016)
Karen Booth’s THE TEN-DAY BABY TAKEOVER, Romance, to Harlequin Desire, in a four book deal. (2017)
My most recent sale was a Middle Grade series called WINTERHOUSE by Ben Guterson, which I sold in a 6-figure deal, in a 3-book deal, at pre-empt, to Christy Ottaviano at Christy Ottaviano Books. The author is American and lives in Washington State.
I’m also really proud of my author Nic Stone. I sold her YA book DEAR MARTIN on the basis of a 13-page partial, at pre-empt, in a 2-book deal, to Phoebe Yeh at Crown. It’s a book about race relations in America and it’s going to knock your socks off.
YES! Multiple picture book manuscripts for the same authors at different big 5 publishers, second and third picture book manuscripts to the same big 5 publisher (sometimes that’s really tough). My clients are ROCKING it!