Pride of place on a shelf in Simon Trewin’s office sits a rejection letter. A postcard from over 10 years ago sent by a prominent London editor, it cheerily yet devastatingly runs down the perceived faults of his client’s manuscript—a “thanks, but no thanks” in no uncertain terms. “That book turned out to be one of the bestselling crime novels that year,” Trewin says with a wry smile.
A lesson here may be that screenwriter William Goldman’s famous dictum about Hollywood—“no one knows anything”—can be applied to publishing. Yet for Trewin, it is more about perseverance and belief in his authors. “One of the reasons I chose to be an agent is that you can be as enthusiastic as you like about your authors. The first manuscript that came my way as a full-time agent was Andrew Miller’s début Ingenious Pain. I remember reading it and getting really excited about what he was doing. I suddenly thought: ‘This is not a difficult job; it’s just about getting behind what you believe in and not faking it.’”
A big canvas
Trewin was part of one of the agent business’ biggest ructions in recent years when he and a bloc of colleagues broke with PFD to found United Agents in 2007. In June this year, he parted with UA to make another big move: to head up William Morris Endeavor’s UK literary department, a role vacated by Eugenie Furniss when she left to found Furniss Lawton.
Why leave a company he helped create? “As an agent you should move only for positive reasons. I think now agents need to be standing at the crossroads of the biggest points of intersection where there are opportunities for clients. And my logic for joining WME is that I wanted my clients to play on the biggest possible canvas they could. Simple as that.”
WME certainly has those points of intersection. The company is, of course, a Hollywood and music powerhouse with thousands of A-list clients such as Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Pattison, Keira Knightley, Jack White and Lady Gaga, while its US literary arm’s big beasts include Kathy Reichs, Curtis Sittenfeld and James Frey.
WME’s US base is a strength, but one thing Trewin is trying to underscore is that the agency “is not just a postbox for American talent”. Curtis Brown’s Elizabeth Sheinkman came to WME with Trewin, joining Cathryn Summerhayes and Claudia Webb, who have been at the company since 2006 and 2008 respectively. “We now have a stable of over 100 British authors,” Trewin points out. “We are, I think, a British agency that just happens to have American owners.”
He is unsurprised that his former company UA recently bought A P Watt, and that the Christopher Little Literary Agency has begun working with Curtis Brown. “There will be a lot more consolidation in the agenting world, it’s inevitable. Authors are canny, they ask very searching questions now, and they demand a lot more from their representation. A sole trading agency which doesn’t have media, foreign rights or digital departments will find it harder to make a convincing argument to new authors.”
New authors Trewin is excited about include former Metropolitan Police murder squad detective Luke Delany (he inked a three-book deal with HarperCollins); literary thriller writer Phil Viner (two-book deal sold in a pre-empt to Ebury); and Isabel Greenberg, whose graphic novel début was sold to Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape.
Trewin says his role is now far beyond the traditional agent. “About 50% of my job is dreaming up projects with the number of people the company represents—that if we can connect this person with that one, we could do something in the middle. It’s corny to say, but it feels like in the past 19 years I have been learning my craft, and skills I’ve acquired I can put to use in my new job.”