Kind of hard to believe, but not even two years after decamping from my one-time apartment in Sunnyside Queens to an actual offer a mile-and-some away, we're packed up and ready to move tomorrow to a new office in Manhattan, a very different JABberwocky than we were when we moved the first time.
Scavenging parts of a year-in-review post that I worked on around the New Year and never got around to finishing and posting, let's look at how JABberwocky has changed...
At the start of 2013, we were like an iPhone app running on an iPad. We had grown, but we were fuzzy at the edges. At the end of the year, and heading into our 20th anniversary year in 2014, we are an actual iPad app with the staff and capabilities that are right and comfortable for our size, or at least enough so that I don't look at my business and think it's all fuzzy-ish and not quite going all the way to the edges of the screen.
A lot of that change and improvement is the result of having a much bigger staff. First move: me, Eddie Schneider, Jessie Cammack. Now, it's me and six other people, and this whole "larger staff" thing wants to keep feeding on itself. Hiring Brady McReynolds to head up foreign rights loosened a lot of time for other people in the office. I hadn't even realized until he started having more time how much of Eddie's time was being spent on foreign rights, and then when I saw what could happen when we didn't have to do that, I decided we needed to go further down that path, taking other collateral duties from Eddie as I could so he could focus very strongly on the "agent" part of the literary agency.
And it just kept kind of spiraling out from there. By the time I had Sam as my assistant, and Lisa was helping triple the size of our e-book program while also offering some help to Eddie, it became apparent that I was at risk of no longer being able to do "agent" part of the literary agency myself. Since Brady was really good at managing tasks, we ended up asking him to segue from foreign rights to more of a COO role helping me run the agency, but that meant elevating his assistant Krystyna to broader oversight of the foreign rights desk, and getting Christa on board to help Krystyna. And now we have Martin Cahill helping out a little as well on project and task work that needs to be done. It's been a lot of growth in a very short time, and it's hard for me to comprehend it isn't even two years since Brady joined the time.
By and large, this has been a good thing, we've taken on a lot of new clients in the past two years, and we've been selling books for a lot of them. It's highly unlikely a year or two ago that I'd have made the time to read an F&SF and find my way to Adam Rakunas. I'm reading another ms from an author I found in Asimov's. Took on Walter Jon Williams, Eric Moore.
Some things I haven't been as happy about.
We bit off a bit more than we could chew in late 2012 when we committed to a major expansion of the number of titles in our e-book program, and it's taken us 18 months to digest all those new titles. It's a lot more work publishing e-books than a lot of people seem to appreciate, and I'd include myself in that "a lot of people.". But we have pretty much digested all the added titles, which means Lisa can be a little more involved on the agent side, helping Eddie and looking for her own clients.
We keep finding more stuff we need to do with our IT.
For to me, information is the mother's milk of literary representation. We have full bibliographies and review quotes for all of our clients on our website, as an example. Most other literary agencies don't provide near the level of self-service for people who might want this information. But it takes a lot of time to compile all of this information, and then every time you gather more information it becomes some project to do something with the information. Figure out all the books in Germany that have expired licenses, you need to look at whether some of them should be renewed. Figure out there are five countries of twelve where you don't have a royalty report for a foreign edition, you need to go asking for them. Ignorance isn't bliss, but we'd have way fewer projects. And we've been scanning our contracts after re-serializing them, we've been working on using a database to better untangle the spaghetti when we get money from foreign countries coming in from three publishers to go out to six authors. And I think I'll do a separate post about the processing of royalty statements.
Even though our move coincides with a period of growth in the agency with many exciting things happening at the agency, I'm a lot less excited about the move than everyone else seems to be. For me, personally, I've spent 15.5 years working from home, 2 years with a 1.2 mile easy walk, and 2 years with a too easy .3 miles. I haven't had to deal with the commuting thing for a very long time, close to half my life and the biggest chunk of my working life. I'm not all that thrilled that my "reward" for building a successful business is that I now get to spend most likely the rest of my working life commuting into Manhattan. It seems a little "off" to say things like this, but can any of you reading this say that a commute is something you look forward to? The number of people who can do the Peter V. Brett "write novel on smart phone on F train" thing is pretty small. Perhaps once I get back into the routine of it, of the joys of starting each day with a nice three miles over the 59th St. Bridge, I'll feel better about it all.
Even though the office we are leaving is bigger than we need, I worry that the new office is a little smaller. If the business keeps growing, how long with it be until we have the ten or twelve people working out of the new office that we can maximally have there? The previous occupants of the space had over 20 people working in it, but there's no way we can do that.
But ultimately, whether I like it or not, it is what it is. And I can't entirely ignore that the rest of the world seems excited that we're making the move.
I am looking forward to the parade tomorrow, when Eeyore will be heading into Manhattan, with Tigger and Rabbit and Christopher Robin in tow. It will be fun times.
The original version of this post had laundry lists of great things that have happened for our clients, but I kind of hate things like that. If you mention one thing do you have to mention everything?
But to ignore that end of things entirely doesn't sit right with me, either. The big picture at JABberwocky is this, that a few years ago we were making a lot of money, but almost all of it from the success of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. Now, it's more than that. Peter Brett is our biggest author in Germany. The Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell are our top books in Japan and also among our top series in the UK. And Brandon Sanderson has joined Charlaine as a #1 bestseller in the United States, in both YA and adult, with Steelheart and Words of Radiance. With those two books, Charlaine's Dead Ever After, and Peter's Daylight War, we've had four books that have been top ten bestsellers in multiple territories. It's much harder making money from multiple authors than to have only one, but it's much more secure having a stool with more than one leg to sit on. And maybe the person who built a business that represents so many major bestselling authors should be a little bit happier that as of tomorrow his new perch is going to be in the corner of a Manhattan office building.
The game is afoot. Now, to fill out my bracket...
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.