This week for the BookBrunch interview, I got together with Ella Kahn and Bryony Woods of the Diamond, Kahn & Woods Literary Agency to discuss this year’s Trailblazer Award success and the future of agenting. For the full article, head over to BookBrunch, or read the snippet below:
As the deadline approaches for this year’s Trailblazers Awards, run by the London Book Fair (LBF) in partnership with the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and BookBrunch, we catch up with two of last year’s winners, Ella Kahn and Bryony Woods, of Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency. They discussed how the award has affected business for the better, why they made the decision to set up their own agency, and what the future holds.
In the four years since Diamond Kahn & Woods got started, the agency has accrued 50 clients and placed over 40 books, managed between Woods, Kahn and their colleague Elinor Cooper, who joined in April last year.
However, the agency was conceived long before this, when Woods and Kahn met during their Publishing MA at UCL in 2009-2010. “As friends, we had always known we both wanted to go into agenting, and joked about setting up our own agency together one day in the distant future, when we were both eminent agents with big lists of clients and grey hair,” Woods explains.
However, after working in other agencies for a few years, they realised that, for them, the best way to break the glass ceiling of the next level of promotion was to go it alone and make names for themselves. “We could have stayed on and been very successful as agents in our own right within other, bigger companies,” says Kahn. “There are a lot of extremely talented young agents out there doing exactly that and I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for them, but I do feel that we get noticed more because we’re doing it in our own name.”
Kahn says Woods is the one who convinced her to strike out. They complement each other well and both agree that Kahn is the one with the common sense to carry through Woods’ ambitious plans.
The business has clearly been a success, with 2016’s LBF deals including selling a YA novel to HQ, which was just launching at the time, leading to a deal that has yet to be announced.
“We have always had a clear vision of being very personally lead,” says Kahn. “We’re boutique and dynamic. Not having that track record of being agents with a fully established list breaking off to set up an agency, which has happened quite a lot over the last few years, we made a virtue out of the fact that we were starting completely from scratch and were very young to be doing it. We could experiment and be much more energetic in a different way, and that seemed to appeal to people.”
“It means that we are able to have very personal relationships with our clients,” adds Woods. “We have a lot of time for them and can work very editorially with them because our list remains deliberately small. That’s something people have liked and in cases have chosen us over larger agencies because they want that kind of working relationship.”
Another benefit of being a small agency is that they have an agility that gives them a lot of reach. “It’s evolved quite organically and dynamically,” Woods reflects, “we’re able to keep things flexible enough to just take those opportunities when they come up.”
Blazing the agenting trail
In fact, for Kahn and Woods, the challenges of running an agency have been more about the act of running a business than finding the right projects and clientele. “Get a good accountant,” Woods advises, for those who are looking to go independent. Equally important is having some experience working in your field, particularly if it’s agenting. “If you have that experience and you have the right attitude though, I think the barriers are perceived rather than real. If you have the passion, you will succeed. Just go out and do the thing that you love and don’t let anyone tell you not to.”
Certainly, Kahn and Woods have found the industry a supportive environment. “We were anticipating a lot of people saying, ‘You’re very young, what makes you think you can set up a business?’ But actually the industry was very welcoming to us. A lot of people were surprised we set up an agency when and how we did, but I think that’s inspired people to follow in our footsteps and come and meet with us.”
Last year saw both Woods and Kahn win the inaugural Trailblazer Awards, given to professionals under 30 who are making a difference in the industry. It was, they say, a boon to the business.
“Neither of us is a particularly shy or retiring type, but you have to be quite confident to put yourself forwards,” says Kahn. “But we’ve certainly found that it’s worth doing so and really helps build your profile. I remember when we were at the award event and seeing the shortlist, there was such a strong calibre and range of people with a lot of different experiences, so to be recognised for what we’d done was really special and quite emotional. To win it together was perfect: this is a joint venture, it’s hard to separate out one of us from the other, so we appreciate that people recognised that.
“Especially when you’re so young, running your own business is a lot of responsibility to take on in more ways than one. It’s a nice boost to be reminded that people recognise the effort you’ve put in and that the stresses behind closed doors are worth something in the long-term, which is easy to forget when you’re down in the mines…” [READ MORE]