GumboWriters aka The Gatekeepers PostInterview with Literary Manager, Ken Atchity
GumboWriters had the opportunity to interview legendary literary manager, Ken Atchity. He has been responsible for managing the careers of many bestselling authors and securing million-dollar film deals for them as well. He also has a wonderful blog you should take a look at.
How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Ken?
Well, to begin with, I'm NOT an agent although half the world calls me one. I'm a literary manager and producer, which allows my company, Atchity Entertainment International, a much wider purview and operating plane: we develop literary properties, sell them to publishers (like agents do), then set them up as films or multimedia franchises. It's been a nearly 20-year evolution to where we are today, following my first career as professor of comparative literature at Occidental College (Yale Ph.D., Georgetown B.A.), Fulbright Professor to the University of Bologna, Instructor in Screen- and Novel-writing at UCLA Writers Program, and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
My second career is founded on my first. I wanted to move on from analyzing and critiquing stories to helping storytellers create them for publishers and the big screen. As an author myself, with 15 books to date and a half dozen or so screenplays, I thought I should 'put my money where my mouth was" and focus on creation instead of deconstruction. Turns out, the latter serves the former and has continued to do so. In fact, I formed a second company, The Writer's Lifeline, as a kind of farm team for my management and representation company—a company that mentors writers not yet ready for representation, and also ghostwrites for individuals and companies who want to get a story or information into the world but don't have time to be writers. Some of AEI's biggest successes have been incubated in the Writer's Lifeline, including Dracula: The Un-Dead, a novel AEI just sold for nearly $2 million and will produce as a film in '09.
What makes your agency different than any others?
Primarily that we think outside the box and focus on storytellers instead of screenwriters vs novelists. Our ideal clients are ones that want to be paid for their intellectual property on both coasts, publishing and entertainment, and in the global market.
What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
We've just launched the Brand Management division of AEI, for projects like Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt's Dracula: The Un-Dead, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not!, Royce Buckingham's Demon Keeper, that can be branded in all media—book, film, television, internet, music, merchandising & licensing. We'd like to see more high-concept and/or blockbuster novels to set up as films (like 3 Men Seeking Monsters, which we're producing at Universal, Demon Keeper at Fox 2000, Sex in the South at Lifetime, and High Voltage which we're producing with Baror International and just about to make the rounds with). When it comes to screenplays, we're looking only for high-concept action, broad comedies, successful comic books or graphic novels, high-profile fantasy (based on underlying properties) and ones based on high profile true stories. And we're also looking on the constant hunt for film financing because we've decided to take our clients' fates into our hands by financing independent movies as a more realistic supplement to the original business of setting up big studio films. Does that mean a screenplay with money attached gets our attention? Yes indeed.
Ken what are you tired of receiving?
(a) Books that have too narrow a market; (b) children's picture books (we can't make a business of them unless they're already successfully published); (c) nuclear war stories—arghhh!; (d) childhood abuse stories. I could go on…
How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
Sending me a two-line email about their project, and two lines about themselves. When the email gets longer I forward it to my staff to answer. Don't worry--if I'm interested in the 4 lines, I'll ask for more.
How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
Great question. My fantastic staff is there to answer their everyday questions, and to handle the flow of the business required to get them into the marketplace. The clients we tend to retain are those that work with the whole group—including my long-time partner Chi-Li Wong. Those that demand my attention for every little thing that pops into their mind tend to drift away. I focus on creative thinking and marketing (sales!), and hope my clients understand that's where their best benefits lie. My radar is my company, and when I hear good things or nothing I'm aware the client is working well with us; when I hear about them too often, there's usually trouble brewing. The busier we get the more we turn away from trouble. But I have to say we've gotten better at better at selecting people we work well with we're pretty happy these days.
What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Ken that they don't seem to?
That I'm much more than an "agent." Because of my prior experience I'm a writer, editor, producer, manager, psychologist, teacher—and, above all, a determined enthusiast who will go to the ends of the earth to sell a story once I decide I love it—and have done so long after a client has lost hope