Rob Weisbach on Expanding the Agent’s Role

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Rob Weisbach

Rob Weisbach was just 30 years old when he was named president and publisher of Rob Weisbach Books at William Morrow, landing such celebrity writers as television personality Jon Stewart and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. He later worked as editor-at-large at Simon & Schuster, and as CEO of Miramax Books—a job he left in April of 2008.

In August 2008, at age 43, he became a literary agent, selling the world rights for the plane crash memoir Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad to HarperCollins. At the time, he said it was a once-off favor to a friend. The book was picked up for a special promotion at the Starbucks coffee chain and subsequently hit the New York Times bestseller list when it was published this summer, when he also launched Rob Weisbach Creative Management.

“The idea for this company was prompted by the fact that there are two distinct things happening. First, there was a lot of great talent out there, people with a multi-dimensional skill set. Second, publishers are overwhelmed by the responsibility to their authors to reach a broad audience. I think many would admit that an all hands on deck approach is even more valuable now than ever.

The company promises to be equal parts traditional New York literary agency and a Hollywood management company—with the central idea being to oversee the full arc of a writer’s career, from forging book proposals to prepping for television appearances to brokering film deals.

“The model is sprung from my own interdisciplinary experience as an editor and publisher deeply involved with marketing, publicity and sales, and as an executive with Miramax and the Weinsteins working both with book projects and the film unit,” explains Weisbach.

The key, says Weisbach, is the team he’s been able to assemble in such a short time. This includes David Groff, a former senior editor at the Random House imprint Crown Books; Erin Cox, former Book Publishing Director at The New Yorker magazine (and now business development director for Publishing Perspectives) and Jake Bauman, former Director of Development at The Weinstein Company, where he scouted and helped to acquire and develop film projects.

“They all bring something to the table that goes above and beyond traditional agenting,” says Weisbach.

In Weisbach’s model, an author might write books, develop screenplays, and conceive of children’s books—and he’ll have the people on hand to help make this happen. Ultimately, this varied productivity benefits both the author and the agency. Typically, an agency can reap its 15% commission every two or three years as a single author produces a new book (or, if lucky, every year). But in his model, an author is generating income for him or herself, and consequently, the agency, year-round.

Higher revenues, in turn, means Weisbach and his team should theoretically be able to manage fewer clients. The extra attention should in turn make for more content and thus more productive clients, thus closing what has become a virtuous circle.

The company is virtual and does not have physical offices, although everyone is in near-constant communication. “It’s amazing what you can do in 2009 without ever seeing one another,” he adds.

As for authors, Weisbach says they will not only benefit from his and his team’s multitude of experience, but from his uncommon willingness to be honest and open and to take the time to educate his clients about the business.

“Not to fault some editors and publishers, but it’s not necessarily their instinct to force an education on their authors and share numbers with them,” says Weisbach. “But I think disclosure is a good thing…I think writers can understand the numbers. People can be protective of the feelings of artists and writers but there is a way to do that honestly and respectfully. The goal of writers is to be read. They should understand what is happening in the market and where their books and publications fit in.”

Also, by way of disclosure, Weisbach says that his commission is in line with that of other, more traditional agencies. “It’s the same as everyone else: 15%. Some people assume that I’ll be charging 20% for this kind of work, but I think if we do our jobs, 15% will be more than sufficient to make this business a success.”

VISIT: The Web site for Rob Weisbach Creative Management

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.