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.