Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why My Heart Is in San Francisco (and the rest of my body as well)

People often ask me why I live in San Francisco when most of the publishing industry is based in New York. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person: Why do you live in San Francisco when most of publishing is in New York?
Me: You mean, besides the weather, the friendly people, access to unparalleled tomatoes in the summer, a lively arts and restaurant scene, and the fact that you can go to the beach, hike in a redwood forest, drink wine in Napa and hit the ski slopes on consecutive days?
Person: I hate people from California.

But in all seriousness, there are some really great non-tomato-related reasons why I made the decision, after two years working in Manhattan and living in Brooklyn, to return to the West Coast. Yes, most of the publishing industry is based in New York, and yes, you can get perfectly decent (but not transcendent) tomatoes in Union Square at the farmer's market, so why make the switch?

First off, I have never lived in a city that loves its writers as much as San Francisco. I mean, if you go to a reading here the mood in the crowd is somewhere between awe and outright idol worship. San Francisco loves its writers in the way people in Los Angles love their movie stars, and almost as much as New Yorkers love telling people which subway lines to take to get somewhere. As a result, there is an amazing, thriving writing community here, and it's a wonderful thing to be a part of. And this is an underserved community when it comes to publishing connections (shh, don't tell anyone), and thus I'm much better able to meet new unagented writers than I was in New York. I still represent writers around the country and the world, some of whom I've never met face to face, but there's something to be said for having a non-New York centered degrees of separation. I'm MUCH closer to Kevin Bacon.

As I mentioned in the agent panel at the San Francisco Writer's Conference, it's also really great to be swimming in non-New York cultural waters. The publishing industry has a tendency to be pretty New York-centric, and I've found that being exposed to different trends, fads, newspapers, etc. in a different part of the country has made me better able to discover new writers and to anticipate what the rest of the non-New York based country is thinking about.

And really, I am fortunate, with Curtis Brown, to have the best of both worlds -- I am in San Francisco, but I have the resources of a larger New York based agency behind me.

There are, of course, some small drawbacks. It is a bit more difficult to network face to face with New York publishing types, but in this respect I am fortunate -- I am a part of a general ongoing dispersal of the publishing industry around the country. It's much more common to work in publishing and not live in New York than ever before, and this has broken down many of the biases against hinterland agents and editors. And because of newfangled devices like the telephone and e-mail, especially with my generation, people are much more comfortable networking via technology than in the past. The book parties and cocktail hours, once the main way to brush elbows with the publishing industry powers, are almost extinct as publishers focus on more cost effective ways of selling books.

I've been completely thrilled by my move to San Francisco, and while I certainly miss my friends back in New York (not to mention the Gowanus Yacht Club), I have met new talented writers, I'm invigorated by the writing scene, and it's been a great career move as well. And did I mention how easy it is to go to the beach, hike in a redwood forest, drink wine in Napa and go skiing? I must have forgotten.


Kris said...

I agree with you about the dispersal around the country of talented people in publishing. My best friend's editor lives in the Southwest and he has no problem dealing with someone who works for a big NY publisher outside NYC.

We can have choices now that technology has made instant communication possible. What difference does it make that you are there and an editor is there (save for the time zones, that is!)

Good luck in SF. I envy you. I miss my view of Mt. Tam now that I live in New England.

Michelle Zink said...

Sigh. I love California.

As a transplanted Southern Californian living in New York, I can say both coats have their merits.

Believe it or not, I DID get sick of all the sunny weather.

Hmmm... I heard there's a lot of fog in SF. Maybe I should have moved there instead!

Seriously, though, I'm only an hour-and-a-half from NYC, and I challenge you to try and find a reading anywhere within 40 minutes of me, let alone a writers group.

Right about now, a thriving community of writers sounds preeeeeetty nice!

I'm a nomad. I've lived in Seattle, Redondo Beach, Phoenix, NY, VA, and Utah.

Maybe I'll add SF to my list of places to try living!

Anonymous said...

I just learned of you a few days ago, but so far am impressed with the informative topics and discussions, not only from you, but from several of the other writers here as well.

I always thought San Francisco was the best big city. In some ways it's like Seattle, where you can escape into some pristine wilderness in about ten minutes, and it has more sun that Seattle.

You can hop in and out of SF real quick and see what going on.

I'm from the South and always loved it out there, but please don't send any of those west coast peaches this way. That should be a federal crime you know.

As far as literature, City Lights was a cool place back in the day. Probably not your kind of crowd but it must have contributed to the lit scene.

John C

McKoala said...

I lived in San Francisco for a year and loved it. Fog apart the climate was great for active sports (I love my tennis and walking); and there was so much to do.

And then there was an earthquake... Not a big one, just a little one. Enough to rock us awake and make us think about crawling under the bed - and then it stopped. The only after-effects were a window sticking that had never stuck before and an all-consuming fear in my heart.

I couldn't imagine living there now that I have children. I just can't do it. Drives DH nuts as he would love to go back there, but I can't get over my conviction that 'the big one' is coming and I don't want to be there for it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan, terrific blog!

Your post touched on a question I've had for a while. You mentioned that you "...have the resources of a larger, New York based agency behind me."

I was wondering, in bigger agencies like Curtis Brown, how much sharing goes on between agents? Do you give each other the names of appropriate editors, share information with less-experienced colleagues, read each other's manuscripts, etc.?

Thanks again! You're the best.

Nathan Bransford said...


Great question! Lots and lots and lots of sharing. Yes, in addition to sharing names of appropriate editors we read each other's stuff, we have a weekly staff meeting where we address issues with publishers and share news, we collaborate on contracts, we brainstorm.... we're always in touch with each other. I miss everyone in the New York office a great deal after spending two years there, but luckily I talk to everyone in the New York office all the time.

A Paperback Writer said...

I don't live in CA, but I can tell you that SF is one of the most charming cities in the northern hemisphere. I always like visiting.
But I had no idea it was so keen on its authors, so thanks for the tidbit, Nathan.
Edinburgh, Scotland is very keen on its authors, so that was a fun place to live for me, but it's nice to know there's such a place closer to home.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick answer, Nathan. It sounds like you work in a wonderful environment.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do adore SF. Sigh.

However, certain Colorado writers have access to the BEST powder in the world, (24 inches in the last 72 hours) and a ski-loving, friendly agent would probably have a free place to stay.

Maybe I should include that tidbit in my queries. Hmmm. ;)

Jen said...

Native Californian here. I'm grateful that San Francisco does love it's writers.
I live in the boonies of northern California. When I researched agents for my work, I decided to query one in San Francisco. Part of me wanted a chance for some "face time" with whatever agent represents me.
I love California, despite it's earthquakes. I lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It's all part of the California experience.

Bran Fan said...

Thanks for the answer to this question, Nathan. I had no idea that tomatoes were part of the answer!

New topic: if Miss Snark has her snarklings, can we be "Bran Fans?"

Katie said...

See, and God sent an earthquake to San Francisco last night to punish you for bragging!

Just kidding. Just don't talk about how awesome Los Angeles is.

Your blog is funny and informative; thanks for posting!

L.C.McCabe said...


As a Sonoma County partisan, I'm going to have to try and sway you to the charms of the county just west of Napa. (We actually refer to the mountain chain separating our counties as the Continental Divide!)

This weekend in fact is a chance to go barrel tasting.

It is wonderful chance to taste fine wine and talk directly with winemakers.

Oh and in the words of Tommy Smothers:

Sonoma makes wine
Napa makes...



Julie K. Rose said...

I love living in the Bay Area - been here since 1984 (with a detour to Charlottesville VA for grad school) and I really can't imagine living anywhere else. So diverse, so beautiful, and it's a fantastic place to be a creative person of any stripe.

Megan said...

When I look at your picture I wonder, did he go to my high school? Redwood in Larkspur. But I guess not. I grew up in the Bay area and have relocated to Indiana (I know, why would anyone). I need no explination why you would live where you are. My husband and I come back often. Hope to meet you some day.

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