Me and My Job: ELLA KAHN
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I am a literary agent and director at Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency, which I co-founded in 2012 with my colleague Bryony Woods. Our company is still very small—just the two of us, occasionally with the support of a part-time assistant—but we work with a big network of co-agents internationally and for film and TV adaptations.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
After my undergraduate degree I did a Publishing MA at UCL, and having done a couple of summer internships with publishers and agencies at university, I started working part-time as an assistant at Andrew Nurnberg Associates Literary Agency while completing my MA. This turned into a full-time job after graduating, but after a few years Bryony and I decided to follow our hearts and launch our own agency. For the first couple of years of DKW’s life we both did other part-time / freelance work to support ourselves while the business grew, but we now focus on DKW full time.
3. What does your average working day entail?
A little bit of everything! A lot of emails: checking in with clients and their publishers to see how current projects are going, liaising with our co-agents on international submissions, chasing editors who are considering new projects on submission and much more. I might have a call or meeting with a client for a creative brainstorm on their work-in-progress, or read through a contract I’m negotiating. Then there are the things that come with running a small business, like bookkeeping, invoices and keeping our website and social media up to date.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety. I love the combination of creative work with the need for a sharp strategic mindset. Being able to champion extremely talented writers and help them achieve their dreams by steering them through the publishing process from the conception of an idea through to seeing their book on the shelves and winning prizes is a real honour.
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
Setting up our own agency and staying in business for nearly a decade! I’m hugely passionate about all my clients, and the best achievement is seeing their hard work pay off with well-deserved success: building their careers from debuts to established and highly-regarded voices in their genres.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
Managing expectations. There can be a fair share of disappointments and rejections on the road to success, and part of our job as agents is to support clients through the tough times as well as the good. It’s important to me that all of my clients feel like my top priority—because they are!—so I keep my list focused and small in order to maintain the balance of my workload with giving each client dedicated attention.
7. What have you experienced in your job and agenting that you didn’t expect?
I’m not sure what I expected agenting to be like when I started out. I always try to go into any experience with an open mind and a can-do attitude. But I probably didn’t anticipate how emotionally invested you can get in the work—nor how frustratingly slow the publishing process can be at times.
8. How much training or professional development have you had, and how has it helped you?
My Publishing MA was very valuable in giving me an overview of the industry and all the different sectors and roles within it, as well as the opportunity to hear from professionals about their jobs and make connections. I met my business partner on the course, so that has definitely helped my career! But most of what I do from day to day I learned on the job—from my bosses in my early career, and through striking out on my own with DKW.
9. How do you switch off from your work?
Daily dog walks and cooking—after a long day looking at screens or editing manuscripts, it’s good to wind down by doing something practical and creative that feeds the body and the soul.
10. How have Covid and lockdowns impacted your agenting work, your work-life balance and your general wellbeing?
As our business is so small, we already had pretty flexible working patterns, and I’m used to working from home, so in practical terms that didn’t feel like such an adjustment. But it definitely feels like there was an increased expectation across the industry that everyone should be available all the time, and when your options for going out and socialising are limited, work expands to fill the time available! So it has been tough at times, but I’m very proud of how our DKW family came together to support each other, and it hasn’t slowed down our growth as a business.
11. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in agenting or rights?
It’s not just about knowing your own taste in books—though that’s definitely important! It’s a very multi-skilled job: you have to be an excellent communicator, a talented salesperson, a sharp negotiator, diplomatic, determined and, above all, passionate.