Literary Agent Whitney Lee

Whitney Lee is head of The Fielding Agency based in Los Angeles. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions.

Tell us whatever you would like to share about your background, education, previous jobs.

I GRADUATED FROM NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY AND ATTENDED THE RADCLIFFE PUBLISHING COURSE (NOW THE COLUMBIA PUBLISHING COURSE) AFTER GRADUATION. AS SOON AS I LISTENED TO THE AGENTS’ PANEL AT RADCLIFFE, I KNEW AGENTING WAS THE RIGHT FIT FOR ME. IT BLENDS BUSINESS WITH CREATIVITY AND IS ONE OF THE FEW ROLES IN PUBLISHING WHERE YOU CONTROL YOUR OWN SUCCESS. PLUS, AN AGENT IS INVOLVED IN EVERY STAGE OF A BOOK’S PRODUCTION, WHICH I LOVE. AFTER RADCLIFFE, I MOVED TO NYC AND WORKED FOR NICK ELLISON, WHO REPRESENTS MANY BESTSELLING AUTHORS, INCLUDING OLIVIA GOLDSMITH, CHRIS MOORE AND NELSON DEMILLE. IT WAS AN EXCITING INTRODUCTION TO AGENTING. AFTER A BIT, I MOVED TO CARLISLE & COMPANY, A WONDERFUL BOUTIQUE AGENCY WITH A WIDE RANGE OF AUTHORS, FROM DAVA SOBEL TO JIM GLEICK TO DAVID KENNEDY TO KEN KALFUS. AT CARLISLE, I HAD THE UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP BUILD A FOREIGN RIGHTS DEPARTMENT. IT WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE. AFTER WORKING AT C&C FOR FOUR YEARS, I MOVED TO CALIFORNIA AND STARTED MY OWN AGENCY, WHICH SPECIALIZES IN SELLING FOREIGN RIGHTS. I WORK WITH MANY PROMINENT LITERARY AGENTS BASED ON THE WEST COAST AND SCATTERED THROUGHOUT THE STATES AS WELL AS A HANDFUL OF SMALL PUBLISHERS. IT’S BEEN WONDERFUL!

How big is the Fielding Agency? What types of authors does the Agency represent?

WE ARE A VERY SMALL AGENCY. I HAVE SOME HELP BUT I AM THE PRIMARY AGENT. SINCE I MAINLY REPRESENT FOREIGN RIGHTS, I DON’T TAKE ON A LOT OF DOMESTIC PROJECTS. I READ AND REPRESENT ALL TYPES OF BOOKS. MY ONLY REQUIREMENT IS THAT I AM HEAD-OVER-HEELS PASSIONATE ABOUT IT.

Since your agency is located in Los Angeles, what do you make of Judith Regan’s impending move? Is this the beginning of a mass exodus from Manhattan? A tectonic shift between coasts?

I LOVE THAT JUDITH IS COMING OUT TO LA. I HOPE IT PUTS LA ON THE PUBLISHING MAP. WHEN I LEFT A FEW YEARS AGO, NO ONE THOUGHT A BOOK AGENT COULD SURVIVE OUTSIDE NYC. IT’S NOT TRUE – THANKFULLY, I HAVE FOUND A TON OF WONDERFUL AGENTS THAT LIVE ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES AND ARE VERY SUCCESSFUL. I DON’T THINK PUBLISHING WILL EVER LEAVE NYC BUT I DO HOPE THAT JUDITH’S HIGH PROFILE MOVE/OFFICE WILL CAUSE PEOPLE TO REALIZE THAT THERE ARE A LOT OF EXCITING AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS ELSEWHERE.

Do you still read for pleasure?

YES, I TRY TO READ FOR PLEASURE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO FIND THE TIME. BUT, I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO SEE WHAT’S BEING PUBLISHED, WHAT’S SUCCESSFUL (AND NOT) AND TO FAMILIARIZE MYSELF WITH AS MANY AUTHORS AS POSSIBLE. PLUS, I LOVE TO READ. THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN CURLING UP WITH A GOOD BOOK.

Your agency has a nice, informative website, something of a rarity for literary agencies. Are you pleased with your web presence?

THANK YOU. I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A WEB PRESENCE, ESPECIALLY IN TODAY’S WORLD, AND I TRIED TO KEEP OUR SITE SIMPLE AND INFORMATIVE.

Are you a fan of writers’ conferences?

YES, I THINK THEY ARE A TERRIFIC WAY FOR AGENTS AND WRITERS TO HAVE ONE-ON-ONE TIME, WHICH IS IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY FOR UNPUBLISHED WRITERS. SADLY, I DON’T HAVE THE TIME NOW TO ATTEND WRITERS’ CONFERENCES (I ATTEND FOREIGN BOOK FAIRS INSTEAD) BUT AS OUR AGENCY EXPANDS, I HOPE THAT WE WILL HAVE MORE OF A DOMESTIC PRESENCE AND TAKE PART IN WRITERS’ CONFERENCES.

A group of influential lit-bloggers formed the Lit Blog Co-op. Part of their stated purpose was to drive sales of a title they thought had been neglected. From an agent’s point of view, how does lit blogging alter the landscape for you or your clients?

I THINK IT’S A GREAT IDEA. BLOGS ARE A TERRIFIC WAY TO GET THE WORD OUT. THEY ARE THE MODERN FORM OF GRASSROOTS MARKETING BUT MORE HONEST, REAL AND TRUSTWORTHY. IF A BLOGGER I TRUST RECOMMENDS A BOOK, I WOULD BE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BUY IT THEN IF I READ A PUBLISHER’S PITCH/PRESS RELEASE. IN BLOGS, WHAT YOU READ/SEE IS WHAT YOU GET AND I LOVE THAT- NO SUGAR COATING.

Marketing efforts by publishers often seem to do more harm than good. What’s your take on the marketing debate? Are your clients generally involved in the process?

WE TRY TO GET AS INVOLVED AS POSSIBLE IN MARKETING/PUBLICITY. TRADITIONAL MEDIA OUTLETS DON’T ALWAYS ACHIEVE THE BEST RESULTS SO WE TRY TO THINK OUTSIDE-THE-BOX AND COME UP WITH CLEVER IDEAS TO GET THE BOOK THE ATTENTION IT DESERVES. I THINK CREATIVE THINKING IS THE KEY WITH PUBLICITY. IT DEPENDS ON THE BOOK BUT I THINK THE SUCCESS OF SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS AND EVEN THE SOUTH BEACH DIET- WEB MARKETING AT ITS BEST!- SHOWS THAT THE INTERNET IS HIGHLY EFFECTIVE IN MARKETING CERTAIN TITLES.

New York, the “far west” means Riverside Drive. Being based in LA, can you feign a gloomy perspective long enough to deal with editors? What happens with editors based in Boston? Can you discuss the Sawx?

I THINK PEOPLE IN PUBLISHING ARE PRETTY TERRIFIC IN GENERAL. THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING IS NOT AN EDITOR’S “GLOOM AND DOOM” ATTITUDE BUT A HOUSE’S UNWILLINGNESS TO TAKE A CHANCE. LATELY, IT SEEMS THAT IT’S ALL ABOUT AN AUTHOR’S PLATFORM, THE BOTTOM LINE AND EXPECTED SALES – NOT ABOUT THE BOOK ITSELF. I HOPE THE “SURPRISE” HITS- WHICH THERE ARE A LOT OF LATELY – HELP CONVINCE PUBLISHERS TO TRUST THEIR EDITORS AND TAKE A CHANCE ON THE AUTHORS THEY BELIEVE IN.

Do you prefer queries by email or traditional land based post?

THE EASE OF E-MAIL HAS GREATLY INCREASED THE VOLUME OF QUERIES SO THE RESPONSE TIME IS LONGER BUT I LIKE QUERIES BOTH WAYS.

An estimated four million Americans are currently rewriting The DaVinci Code. How exciting is that?

THERE ARE A LOT OF PUZZLE BOOKS OUT THERE – SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS – BUT I LIKE THE CONCEPT AND I THINK IT’S TERRIFIC THAT DAN BROWN CAUSED PEOPLE TO DISCUSS ISSUES/IDEAS THAT ARE USUALLY NOT OPEN TO DISCUSSION.

Thank you for joining us. Feel free to add anything I’ve neglected to mention, or upcoming releases from your clients.

THANKS DAVID! PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED ANYTHING ELSE AND IF YOU ARE EVER IN LA, LET ME KNOW AND WE’LL HAVE LUNCH.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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2 Comments

  • David, when you ask, “What happens with editors based in Boston? Can you discuss the Sawx?” what are you talking about?

  • David, when you ask, “What happens with editors based in Boston? Can you discuss the Sawx?” what are you talking about?

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