The week at Ki


Monday – Met with an American producer. She says they’re looking further afield for projects, since there’s a shortage of fresh ideas in the States, and have acquired rights in series from Turkey, Chile and Austria.

Tuesday – Lunch with a publisher, to keep her focused on the author we share.

The run-up to the BAFTA awards has begun, and I took a client to a screening of a film that can only be charitably described as something that polarises opinion. Wish we’d spent the two hours talking about her book instead.

Wednesday – Took a client to another film, which was better but a bit dull.

Thursday – Met with a TV executive, who reckons the licence fee will be abolished within two years. Not the first time I’ve heard this theory, and predictions that this will make the BBC a second-rate broadcaster. It’s hard enough to compete with the American studios. She put an optimistic spin on it: that it would allow the BBC to broaden its work, as it could then supply programmes for anyone. It’s announced that an American company has taken a 49% stake in BBC America, so it begins to feel like the process has already begun.

Friday – Met for a catch-up with a large TV production company. It’s one of those weeks where people are interested in even some of the projects that have seemed tricky to place.

Daniel’s had exciting conversations with some writers, and we’ll be announcing more on this soon.

So, a good week here at Ki. Spare a thought for me, since I messed up the cadenza in band practice last night. I’ll be up in the morning to practice before our concert tomorrow, so spare me a thought. It’s a good thing I’m an agent rather than a professional trombonist, I guess.


The Fetish of Bookishness

Recently I was looking at the Twitter timeline of a local author. The tweeter described themselves as a ‘crime writer’ although I could find no evidence of either published works or, in fact, any attempt to get published. Such was this writer’s personal confidence and dominance of their local writer’s group that publication seemed a secondary aim. Forceful airing of views on writing craft, plot and the industry of publishing seemed to be enough. The writer had fetishized being part of a trade they could, at best, be deemed to exist on the periphery of. Curious at this self assured timeline I continued to find literary agents recommended to other potential authors by this unagented tweeter, rallies to other writers to ‘just write!!’, ‘edit edit edit’ and ‘research!!’. I was struck by this rock solid self-belief and wondered whether bookishness has become a fetish. One that perhaps eschews the entire publishing process?

With bookishness in mind I continued to examine the competition element in local writing groups and found that number of books read and owned appears to be a key factor in setting oneself apart from other unpublished writers. As someone who recently took a year out of publishing one of the most rewarding things I found was reading for pleasure and without pressure- what a joy! I would urge any writer wishing to be published to read less but increase quality and relevance. Yet writing groups appear to pressure their members to read at a volume I’d expect on an MA course list. A writer belonging to an amateur writing group setting themselves a public reading challenge seems intimidating in its one-upmanship. One could wonder whether it’s really a form of very vocal protest from someone who reads very little- in other words a fetish for writing and for books and all that entails. The process of submitting work becomes secondary because that involves, at some stage or another, rejection.

Form of writing; longhand or Macbook- (it’s always a Macbook), purchase of notepads and pens, hours worked, tweeting and favouriting latest Kindle deals., bellowing about every open submission deadline, vigorously agreeing, disagreeing and befriending agents on social media appear as a feature of this ungraceful trend. The book fetishist is aggressive and defensive in equal measure.

This is why I am skeptical about Bookaday a recent book blog appeal to ‘Read one book a day for each day of the summer vacation’. Bookaday’has been successfully running for six years and my doubts will not halt its popularity. For myself I’d rather hear about one affecting book in a lifetime than the seven someone read competitively this week. The idea of averaging out at one book a day for six weeks (sometimes three a day, sometimes none) is appallingly reductive to me. Read lots, if that’s what you enjoy, but do not feel a commitment to do so. Of what value is the skim reading of one book per day?

I thought of one of my very favourite books: JL Carr’s A Month In The Country. It is a decade since I last read Carr’s immersive story of the renewal and healing of soldier Tom Birkin in the peaceful summer of 1920. Yet it remains vivid to me. Imagine if I had read it in a day- slim though it is. Would I have noticed its beautiful rhythmic (slow) pace or the beauty of Carr’s writing? I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. Even so, I’ve never felt the need to read it again.

I therefore announce the Ki Agency book lovers appeal. Here are the tenets:


Strive over the next year not to listen to recommendations about the volume or regularity of your reading.

Don’t be pressured by a voluminous stack by your bed.

Don’t, in fact, allow a stack to develop at all.

Limit yourself to one book on the go at any time.

Try to find a book every six months that you will remember for years.


Write less but write better.

Read the market segment you are aiming for and read the best books in that segment.

Spend less time reading and more time thinking of your potential reader.

Pass on books you’ve read and declutter- keeping only the finest writing to adorn your home.

Don’t enter into any debates about Kindle vs hard copy.

Understand that the materials you use to write with are not important. It’s the writing that counts.


Toxic conditions

Besides the toxic emotions that can afflict both writers and agents (paranoia, jealousy, self-loathing, encroaching unwillingness to bathe regularly etc), bad stuff can infect our relationships with each other.

One of the Hollywood agents I work with says he does the Cringe Test when considering a new client.  He imagines what it’ll be like picking up the phone to the writer six months from now.  If he thinks it’ll make him cringe, he politely declines.  As he says, ‘Represent in haste, repent at leisure’.

What makes an agent feel the relationship with their client has gone septic?

– They pay you for your advice but won’t listen

– They listen to your editorial advice, then spend twice as long justifying their writing (especially the self-indulgent bits)

– They don’t keep in touch often, and in the meantime write something you could have told them in a second couldn’t be sold

– They tell you about problems so late you can barely do anything to put it right (‘My book’s published tomorrow, and all my neighbours will be able to recognise all the libellous things I’m saying about them’ or ‘I met my producer at a party last night and told him all the bad things I’ve been thinking about him’).

– They nag you, even when they know you’re doing what they asked you to

– They find ways to waste your time

– They need constant affirmation, to the point where you feel like you’ve had to give them a pint of your own blood to get them back on their feet

What makes a writer complain about their agent?

– Failure to return calls, answer emails, tell them what the hell they’re doing with your work, or contradictory information

– Impatience when explaining important parts of your contract

– Obvious laziness

– Tendency to boast about more successful clients than you, or boast about important people they know in the business but have never introduced you to

– Preference to discuss personal matters or the football scores, rather than make a selling strategy or have a proper talk about a script

– Failure to sound enthusiastic about your work, ever

– Having way too many clients

– Sounding desperate, or spending too long moaning about the business and why they can’t sell your work

– Crying on the phone

I’ve been sacked for:

– Being a rubbish agent

– Not explaining something crucial (although it was plainly expressed in the contract that the writer signed)

– ‘Change your luck, change your agent’

– The writer got dazzled by another agent who said ‘You’ve never met [Head of BBC1 / Stephen Spielberg / Harvey Weinstein / etc]?  What is your agent doing?!’

– ‘It’s not you, it’s me’

– One kind man said he couldn’t bear to watch me worrying about him any more

Not all relationships are meant to last forever.  Sometimes you run out of steam with each other.  Sometimes there’s a blissful honeymoon period that suddenly ends in shocked disgust.  I love that the agent/writer relationship often is a long one – and it takes a while to learn to work with each other effectively.  I grieve over some of the writers I no longer have a working partnership with.  But I guess we’re all human beings, even some agents.