"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Jeff Rivera 's Huffington Post Featuring Ken Atchity

Jeff Rivera

Posted: August 30, 2010 04:46 PM

Literary Manager Ken Atchity on How 'Literary Agency Must Change

Open the newspaper, turn on the television or listen to the radio and the book publishing and film industrys' news of constant lay-offs and woes have seeped past the industry trade papers into the major headlines. The changes have affected not only authors, bookstores, chain stores and book publishing companies but also the literary agencies and management companies that represent the authors themselves.

The next five years will be some of the most critical years for literary agents. Some will sink and others will swim. To explore this topic further, I reached out to veteran literary manager and producer, Ken Atchity of Atchity Entertainment Incorporated for his take on what is happening and what he has done about it. It was rather eye-opening and could create a new shift on how future writers' representatives do business.

You have a rather interesting background and you're rather humble about it. You are actually Dr. Kenneth Atchity and you have a Ph.d from Yale University. You've sold literally hundreds of books, TV shows and films but for those that aren't familiar with you or your company, tell us about it.

In a nutshell, I've spent my lifetime writing and working with writers and for writers, as an editor, publisher, producer, literary manager, and public speaker. I've weathered the ups and downs of the entertainment, publishing and internet industries but one thing has remained consistent: writers are the ones who provide "content," and "content" (otherwise known as 'information' and 'stories') is what the world has an insatiable appetite for. I am a content facilitator, now redefining myself as a career coach who helps writers (content providers) with the strategy and tactics required to get their work in front of the public in the most expeditious and most productive way possible given the changing times we live in. The Story Merchant (www.storymerchant.com) is the company under which I provide direct one-on-one coaching, www.thewriterslifelinecom is the company I supervise to provide editorial and ghostwriting services from a select team of writers and editors. I also founded www.aeionline.com, a literary management company that has evolved into motion picture production.

A lot of changes have been happening in the film and book publishing industry that have caused you to create some critical shifts in your company. Let's discuss some of those changes.

Boy, is that the truth! EVERYTHING has been changing, as I try to post on www.kenatchity.blogspot.com .
Although people are watching movies more than ever before--the industry went up by about 7% last year--the major studios have cut back their movie-making to 10-15% of what it was a few short years ago. Getting them to look at your novel or spec script requires miracles (not that we haven't done a few of those!) unless you're already a household name.

The independent film market is in a perennial renaissance. Movies are being made, and Oscars are being awarded. The problem here is that there's virtually NO development money for optioning properties or turning novels into screenplays. If you want to break in, and you're my client or partner, I'm going to tell you to become a proactive film maker. More on that later.

The television movie is all but dead these days, though I believe it will return. Reality and dramatic series are where it's at but both have specific appetites and both are difficult to break in. We're fortunate that we've shot two reality shows in the past six months, and are in preproduction with two movies, casting for another.

Publishing is focused on (a) fear and (b) brands. Fear because although the ebook is still a minor percentage of the market (around 5%), no one wants to be the last publisher in the real book business, holding the buggy whip while everyone else is driving an IPad or Kindle. Brands because only brands insure against fear. Last year we "branded" a book with a major historical name and sold it for nearly $2 million worldwide--a book that would otherwise probably not have sold at all.

And how has that affected your business as a whole?

Aside from a handful of clients who are making good money, it's taken me out of standard literary management (where you put in present effort for far-future dollars) into career coaching (present effort for present dollars) but doing the same thing for writers. Oddly I've learned that in this new coaching business, I actually get to spend relaxed-unpressured time with my clients instead of being forced to focus on just the ones who are earning money right now. That's what I've always loved the most.

Aside from working with writers, I've focused on raising money for films--and have been progressively successful at it thanks to our relationship with Informant Entertainment (Crazy Heart) and Renegade83 (Man Woman Wild).

You announced recently your Story Merchant program, what is that exactly?

My nickname is "the Story Merchant," and the program wherein I get to go out and speak to writers directly (as I have recently in Atlanta, Dallas, and New York) then work with them one on one as a career coach is offered under that brand. Meanwhile, less expensively, writers can receive my overview guidance by working with www.thewriterslifeline.com, which has accounted for more than a dozen bestsellers.

This is a fee-based program, not on a percentage. What kinds of fees are we talking about here?

The most popular one is 3 months of a weekly 30-minute session by phone with me (plus two follow up emails) for $1250, based on a $250 hourly fee. That's the rate we've offered until October 1.

Now, why should they choose your program over a traditional agent or manager who can coach them along for free?

Good luck finding a traditional agent or manager who will take the time to coach you along for free. If you do, I'm proud of you for your acumen. If you aren't able to do that, I'm available to help you. My service can include representing you as well once I judge your material is representable--and the good thing is, no commission.

Is this a whole new direction for the company, or just in addition to what you're doing already?

It's a whole new direction for me personally, but a natural outgrowth of what I've been doing for years--caused by the changing times and the constant need to get stories and information out to the public one way or the other.

Are you concerned with so many scams out there that it might damage your company's reputation?

That's a good question, but I'm not concerned in the least. Once upon a time, I took that question to heart and agonized about it. But considering our track record of getting writers published and produced, I'm not worried about it. No one is forced to work with me or my companies! In fact, I predict that many agents and managers (those who haven't already gone out of business) will find their way toward doing something like what I'm now doing. If you're good at helping writers, and love what you do, you have to find a way that makes it work for yourself as well as them.

Full disclosure: My company GumboWriters has referred clients to AEI in the past for representation. One of which, landed their own reality television series which will debut this year.

Follow Jeff Rivera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrjeffrivera

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