KAs@Work: Kirby Kim of WME Entertainment

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KAs@Work is a new series that profiles Korean Americans and their jobs. Want to share what you do, or know of people with interesting jobs? Get in touch.

There are talent agents, sports agents, and even real estate agents. But did you know that authors have agents, too? Labeled “The Game Changers,” WME Entertainment‘s Kirby Kim and three other literary agents stand together on the cover of the July/August issue of Poets & Writers. We caught up with Kirby to learn more about this career that is often overlooked.

What do you do?

I represent authors. That means a few things, but my functions include filtering and conceptualizing projects, editing manuscripts and proposals, advocating for writers, negotiating deals, and often acting as an intermediary between author and publisher.

How did you get your start as a literary agent?

I was in law school and wondering why. Really didn’t want to be a lawyer so tried to figure out something I could use the degree towards and found a job description for a literary agent. It sounded like it would be challenging but stimulating and also like something that could evolve with my own changing tastes and interests. I moved to New York after being unable to find anything in LA, where I’m from and was living after school. Worked at a small book packaging operation for a few months until a friend of mine was leaving a job as an agent’s assistant to go to law school. Got a personal referral and luckily got the job. Then I just stuck with it.

What do you like most about your job?

I can follow a passion. I can fall in love with a manuscript or a project and I can be a part of that. That I can be motivated by my own admiration for something or someone and that can be the driving force for what I do.

How do you feel about the growing popularity of electronic books and e-readers?

I love my Kindle and I love the convenience. I also like that there’s a lower environmental cost to it all. But I do think it kills the brick-and-mortar store, and that there are possible consequences to the format and its growing popularity that may be damaging to book publishing in general. I’m all for progress but I can’t get around the notion that the net effect will be detrimental to the business of book publishing, although it may be better for writers in general.

Any advice for writers trying to get published?

Sure. Read as much as you write. Know where you fit in the marketplace for the kind of book you’re writing. It’ll help you and your agent figure out what the book is, why it’s necessary, and how best to market it. I know such advice isn’t that romantic, but I think if the aim is to find a home with a general trade publisher you need to think about such things.

Finally, if you could read only one more book before you die, what would it be and why?

Infinite Jest. Not because I’m a huge David Foster Wallace fan, or because I think the book itself is pure genius. I would just want something long, and with the footnotes – that book is frickin’ huge.

[Photo: Courtesy of Kirby Kim]


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