Jonny Geller has been a literary agent for more than 15 years, and is the joint CEO and Managing Director of the books division at Curtis Brown. He has represented numerous best-selling and prize-winning authors, journalists and writers, including John le Carré and David Mitchell. Last year he was named one of the most influential people in publishing by the Evening Standard and literary agent of the year at the Bookseller Industry awards.
Tell us in 140 characters what your work involves on a day-to-day basis.
Every day is different. Something could land on my desk now that would change the day. But one thing is constant – it’s about authors. Their work, their publications, their development and sometimes their wellbeing.
How is the changing shape of the publishing industry affecting the role of literary agents?
We have morphed into the role of a manager now more than an agent. We often control publicity and some marketing as well as editorial on many major authors. The services we offer – whether it is through spreading the word on social media, improved and interactive agency websites, blogging – are very different to the ones we were offering, say, five years ago. The job is still the same – discovering, launching and guiding the careers of authors – but we have opened a creative writing school, launched an online submissions site, helped some authors to self publish, produced movies and television.
Your own book was published in 2006. What did the experience teach you about being an author as opposed to an agent?
That all the rules of agenting fly out of the window when it is yourself. I didn’t question anything, trusted that my three publishers knew best and became diffident and uncharacteristically reserved. I realised you need somebody to shout for you because otherwise it is simply too embarrassing. You are giving something precious to people who you hope will care about it as much as you do but can’t possibly, and you give yourself up to the erroneous thinking that if it is good, it will find its audience. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Everything needs strategy, a driving force to make things happen and an iron will. I learned a lot and had fun and am glad I did it. I think it helped my agenting hugely.
Do you feel that the current changes in the industry are allowing authors to assert more control over the publishing process?
To some extent. I have believed for some years that the industry need to stop looking in on itself – publishers viewing customers as retailers and not readers; agents looking to publishers to solve all their problems – and for everyone in the industry to concentrate their energies back onto the author. Without their work we don’t have jobs. So, my belief is that if we empower the authors, bring them into the centre of the publishing experience, the books will be better marketed, jacketed and ultimately will sell better!
And finally, what is the best part of the job?
There is nothing like the buzz of reading something extraordinary and seeing it in manuscript form, knowing you are one of its first readers. The knowledge that how you react to it will, in some ways, influence the path of this material to thousands if not millions of readers after you.