Ella Kahn

Ella co-founded the Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency with Bryony Woods in 2012. DKW is a dynamic and reactive boutique literary agency providing a personal and professional management service to authors of outstanding fiction and non-fiction. Previously, Ella worked at Andrew Nurnberg Associates for three years. She has an MA in Publishing from University College London and a BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic from the University of Cambridge. She was Chair of the Society of Young Publishers in 2011 and has also volunteered as the SYP’s Treasurer and Events Officer. She became a Freeman of the Stationers’ Company in 2012.

Ella is actively building her client list at DKW and would love to hear from authors of commercial/literary fiction for both adults and young adults. She enjoys working editorially with authors who are bursting with energy and ideas. She has a particular interest in historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction; above all, she’s looking for high-concept, plot-driven books with exceptional voice, engaging characters and intriguing settings that will take her to new, richly imagined worlds, unusual times and far-flung places.

Ella is passionate about her work for the Society of Young Publishers, which aims to provide advice, enthusiasm, and networking opportunities for anyone trying to break into a career in the publishing industry or progress within it.  They run monthly speaker meetings and social events, including seminars on careers in publishing at the London Book Fair and a charity pub quiz; an annual conference addressing topical issues; and publish a quarterly magazine called InPrint with a wealth of articles on publishing topics. Their website is soon to be relaunched in a shiny new incarnation, with more information than ever before about SYP events not only in London, but also Edinburgh, Oxford and Leeds, a blog, a careers guide, job and internship adverts, and lots more.

1. As the publishing industry is evolving what challenges have you come across in terms of your strategy as a new literary agency?

I wouldn’t say we’ve come across challenges so much as opportunities! At a time when a lot of the big mega-agencies (and publishers!) seem to be merging, there seems to be a counter-trend of agents breaking off to set up on their own, and we certainly saw lots of advantages in doing this. Being small and new, we can provide a truly bespoke service to our clients, as we can be much more nimble, creative, flexible and dynamic in the way that we operate than is perhaps possible in a bigger, more corporate agency. Publishing is a very relationships-based industry, so creating a very personal company brand was important for us – Bryony and I are the agency, and we want this to come across to both publishers and authors.

2. Do you hunt for new writers using social media and/or blogging?

Yes, in a way – another advantage of the way the publishing industry has evolved is the opportunity provided by social networking. Twitter is an extremely important tool for us – it allows us to reach a much wider audience to share what we’re doing and what we’re looking for, and I don’t think we would have created such a buzz on our launch day without it. It really helps our discoverability – I’ve noticed a lot of the authors submitting to us (and we received a good 200 submissions in week one between us) are also following us on twitter. So it’s more that we try and make it as easy as possible for authors to find us through social media than that we actively search for writers using social media. We will look at potential clients’ social media/web presence though, so it’s important to appear professional!

3. What are the advantages of working with a literary agency given that there are now structures in place for self-publishing?

Many! But to put it succinctly – having an agent allows an author to focus on their job – which should be to write. The big self-publishing successes get a lot of headlines, but are really still very rare – and you have to put a lot of energy into marketing your books to make them a success. Nothing gives you more likelihood of success than having the financial and creative backing of a major publishing house, with their expertise in design, marketing, production, publicity and sales – not to mention the still-crucial and rigorous editing process, and their far-superior distribution. And an agent is still the best way to get your work in front of a mainstream publisher – they will fight for you every step of the way to the bookshops and beyond, making sure your contracts are as tight as possible, that your work is exploited in as many different ways and territories as possible, advising you on the best way to develop your career, making sure you get paid on time – so you can sit back and indulge your talent for words!

4. If you could travel five years back in time what advice would you give yourself?

It’s just over 5 years ago that I joined the Society of Young Publishers as an undergraduate, and that’s definitely the best thing I could have done at the time – I got my first internship in publishing through the SYP and I learnt so much through their events and the people I met – it really opened my eyes about the opportunities available in the publishing industry – that a career such as being a literary agent even existed! – and it opened doors to help me make that possibility a reality. So my advice to myself (or anyone else in a similar situation!) would be to keep renewing my SYP membership and take advantage of everything they have to offer!

5. How much time do you spend reading per day?

Probably at least two hours, on average, but often more – it’s a massive perk of the job! I’ve had some really exciting submissions in the first few weeks since DKW launched, and my clients are working on some fabulous projects, so keeping on top of it all requires at least a full day reading and editing a week at the moment. Any travelling or commuting time between meetings automatically becomes reading time – I don’t go anywhere without my e-reader loaded up with manuscripts. And I like to try and make time to keep up some ‘leisure’ reading too, as it’s important to know what’s out there on the market and to keep my reading brain fresh by simply reading for pleasure – after all, the joy of being absorbed in a good book is why I do what I do in the first place.

6. Lastly what advice would you give to any new aspiring writer?

Be professional and do your research. It’s easier than ever before for authors to find a multitude of informative websites, blogs and books about how publishing works, how to get published, and how to find an agent – so there’s really no excuse for shoddy and unprofessional approaches. Remember an agent – and indeed an editor – is someone you will have to have a very close personal relationship with, so be targeted in who you approach to find the right fit. Make sure your online persona is friendly and approachable, so that we can get a sense of your personality, but keep it professional.

Keep writing. And if you don’t get anywhere with a project, put it to one side and try something new. To succeed, you have to have both beautiful prose and a great story – a trickier combination than you might think, but impossible if you don’t persevere, or if you get stuck on one project. You have to experiment before you find the writing voice and the idea that will work for you, but once you’ve found these, there’s no reason why you can’t succeed if you also have professionalism and perseverance!

A huge thank you to Ella for taking the time to talk to us about writing, working for a literary agency and the Society of Young Publishers.  The information she has offered here should hopefully be an inspiration to all aspiring writers. You can find Ella on Twitter @elladkahn and @dkwlitagency.

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