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Ella Kahn, Literary Agent: A Day In The Life

Ella Kahn co-launched literary agency DKW in 2012, where she represents upmarket contemporary and historical fiction, science fiction, and some non-fiction. She was included in The Bookseller’s list of Rising Stars in 2013, and was a winner of the London Book Fair Trailblazer Awards 2016 and the Young Stationers’ Prize 2016.

Ella says: I’m a morning person, but not a super early riser! Because I work from home most of the week I take full advantage of that to sleep in a little. I’m usually up by 8.30 and I’ll make tea and toast and spend an hour going through the unsolicited submissions I received the day before, browsing Twitter & Instagram and replying to any outstanding ‘quick’ emails before getting showered and dressed to start work ‘properly’ at my desk by 10am.

I think the underlying drive for anyone working in publishing always comes from a lifelong love of reading, and I’m no exception! My passion for being an agent comes from the pride and belief I have in the talent of my authors and the satisfaction of helping them succeed – it’s an honour to work with such creative people and to play a part in helping them achieve their dreams. After my undergraduate degree I did a Publishing MA and I was lucky enough to get a part-time job as an assistant literary agent, which turned into a full-time role once I finished studying. I worked for several years before launching DKW with Bryony Woods in 2012. MA Publishing degrees are definitely useful and interesting – I made a lot of fantastic contacts during the course, not least Bryony – but they’re not a prerequisite. Internships that help you learn and demonstrate an understanding of the publishing process and a love of books is the usual route – though if possible make sure your internships are properly paid! I’ve always had it instilled in me that you shouldn’t put limits on your ambitions. My brilliant school played a large role in this – the school motto was ‘We Work In Hope’ – which might sound cheesy, but it’s something I took to heart, and I think it fits being a literary agent well! My colleagues Bryony & Elinor are the women who inspire me – when you’re running a small business together it’s important to have a tight-knit team- to encourage each other when things haven’t gone your way, and to celebrate together when they do!

My favourite part of the job has got to be seeing the finished copies of a book I’ve sold for the first time – and seeing the author with them! It’s such a special, tangible measure of all their hard work and I’ll never get tired of it. There’s a lot of rejection that comes with the role of agent – both having to disappoint authors who I don’t take on (I receive over 300 submissions a month and sign maybe 3 or 4 new authors a year, so that’s a lot of rejection emails to send) and when my clients’ work is turned down by publishers, which invariably happens even to books that sell at auction. You have to manage expectations a lot, but it makes the good news even sweeter in the end.

I like to try and step away from my desk completely for half an hour while I have lunch, and read a (non-work) book but that doesn’t always happen! I try to always have a proper hot lunch – most likely a bowl of pasta with a quick mushroom sauce that I can put together in ten minutes. I usually finish work by 6ish – my brain does not function well late into the night. Sometimes I’ll have events in the evenings, networking drinks or book launches, meeting friends for dinner or going to the theatre with my family, but most often I just unwind by cooking and watching Netflix with my boyfriend. Last year I spent one evening a week singing with a brilliant choir called Some Voices Sing, and I’m hoping to pick that up again in the new year.

I love pilates and yoga and try to do both at least once a week, at the fantastic One Yoga London studio in Crouch End. Their Pilates Sculpt class is pretty tough, but I always feel much stronger and invigorated afterwards and it’s good to balance this out with a more stretch-focused yoga class later in the week. I recently ran my first half-marathon, but because I’d injured myself a couple of times during training I wasn’t as fast as I’d have liked! We still raised over £1000 for the mental health charity Mind though, a cause which means a lot to me, so it was worth the pain. I’m trying to get into a better routine, running a couple of times a week, but it’s hard to motivate myself as winter sets in.

When I was about 10 I said I wanted to be an author – before I realised there were other jobs involved in creating books and that I was much better at helping other people write books than coming up with ideas for my own!

My top 3 sources of online inspiration are:

Twitter – my main source of news and interesting articles, and it’s great for networking and publishing chat.

Instagram – appeals to my arty side and allows me to indulge my love of fancy food and interior design!

Words With Friends – I have a serious Scrabble addiction…