No Bridge Too Far: Literary Agents Move to Brooklyn Ruby Washington/The New York Times
The literary agent David Black at his new Brooklyn offices.
By JULIE BOSMAN
When David Black contemplated moving his 21-year-old literary agency to a new office space this summer, he had one nagging worry: the East River.
“Would that be a problem?” Mr. Black said, pointing to the river from his 27th-floor office window, which boasts sweeping views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. “Is water a barrier to clients? Is it a barrier to the business? That was really the question.”
Mr. Black, 51, has taken his literary agency to Brooklyn, a move across the river that few literary agents in the Manhattan-centric publishing industry have dared to make.
Mr. Black has joined a few other literary-agent refugees from Manhattan, along with tiny boutique agencies that were founded in Brooklyn, not to mention the scores of writers, new independent bookstores and small but renowned publishers that are based there.
Susan Golomb, the agent to Jonathan Franzen and William T. Vollmann, moved her agency to Brooklyn in August after 20 years in Manhattan. “My clients don’t care where my office is,” she said. “At this point, if you’re established enough, it’s really about your list and your reputation.”
These days Brooklyn has enough writers and publishing professionals to inspire a “Brooklyn Literary 100” list in The New York Observer, or to be called Manhattan’s Left Bank in The Economist.
“There’s an inexorable drift toward Brooklyn,” said Elyse Cheney, a literary agent who, for now, is based in SoHo. “That’s where writers are and where so many publishers live. And as the profits of the business may change through the advent of e-books, the profit margins in this industry are becoming narrower, so I would imagine that it makes both financial and artistic sense to move there.”
It used to be unthinkable that a decent literary agent would work anywhere but Manhattan. The publishing business was concentrated in fancy Midtown office towers until the 1980s, when many publishers moved to lofts and landmark buildings downtown, in SoHo, Chelsea and the Flatiron district. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one of the publishing pioneers in Union Square, used to warn employees not to walk across the park after dark.)
“When I first started out in this business, you had to be a Manhattan agent,” said Howard Morhaim, whose two-person agency works out of a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. “It didn’t matter where. You just had to have a Manhattan office. Agents who were outside of Manhattan were considered second class.”
When Mr. Black founded his agency in 1990, he found office space near Madison Square, then later moved a few blocks downtown, where even more publishers and agents had relocated.
But last year, while out for a run in Red Hook, he was hit by a car, an accident that left him with a concussion, a broken thumb and a broken leg. While he was recovering, he traveled to work in a car instead of the usual subway.