tv About Books Keith Urbahn of Literary Agency Javelin CSPAN January 30, 2022 7:29am-8:01am EST
nonfiction books featured on c-span's booktv. and welcome to the about books podcast and program in this episode. it's an update on what's going on in the publishing world and a look at some new books being published. we'll also introduce you to keith urban. he's the president of a literary agency and will find out exactly what that is and what he does. but first let's start with this week's publishing industry news. now a recent axios report looks at the rise and challenged and banned books in public school libraries. according to the american library association there were over 300 challenges to books in school libraries in just three months. last year that eclipse the 156 challenges in all of 2020 now one of the most targeted titles has been alex gino's novel about a transgender girl.
it's entitled george. retired texas librarian carolyn foote told axios quote we might have one big challenge like every two years i have to say that what we are seeing is really unprecedented. also in the news hunter biden's ex-wife is writing about her life. and the end of her marriage due to what she says was mr. biden's substance abuse and infidelity. the book is entitled if we break it's being published by crown and will be available in june. also in the news author and critic terry teachout died recently at the age of 65. was a regular theater and arts columnist for the wall street journal and he was also the author of numerous books including biographies of hl menken louis armstrong and duke ellington. and in more news former attorney general william barr is publishing a memoir of his time as attorney general in both the
trump and george h.w. bush administrations its title. one -- thing after another and it will be on sale, march 8th. now according to the npd book scan print book sales got off to a rocky start for the new year down close to 14% for the week ending january 8th. now this could be a post holiday slump a reminder that 40% of all books are sold during the holiday period well, what do donald rumsfeld senator tom cotton donna brazil and john boehner all have in common. we'll give you one answer and that's that. they've all worked with the javelin literary agency here in washington dc the president of that organization joins us now on about books keith urban, mr. urban. when did you start javelin and is it fair to call it a literary agency at this point? it is peter. we're one of the litter agencies here in dc.
we started at my partner matt latimer and i did 10 years ago just over that we celebrated at our 10th anniversary. last fall and we've been we love what we do and it's fun to to work with authors. some of them you named i think we've worked with about 150 authors at this point in 10 years and i like to think we have the funnest job in washington dc with just all the conversations. we have all the intelligence we're hearing. it's just it's a it's a fun job to be at the intersection of publishing and media and politics. it's it's a joy. well, mr. urban, what does a literary agent do? well, we are well an unsharable way of putting it would be mercenaries where sort of the middlemen between authors and publishers and we try to get our authors the best possible deal which is usually in the form of an advance from from publishers and and you know, most of them are based in new york the
publishers. they're five big ones harper collins simon schuster mcmillan shett and we work to work with our authors to come up with book proposals. basically the ideas for books and then we go out and sell them and you know, what makes us a little different as agents from a lot of people in the industry is you know, my background as you alluded to is as a writer has a pentagon speechwriter for a number of years as well as my partners a speech writer as well. as well as for the president and you know, so we work with our authors to sort of come up with book ideas and help sharpen those ideas to move to the most commercial. idea possible and we work with them to help in some cases help from write the book and then we have a whole in-house publicity team that works with our authors and the the publishers get the word out about those. books that we're pretty aggressive and if we work with us, you know chances are you'll read about it or hear about it somewhere in the media including
on c-span as many of our authors have done over the years. so isn't that something though that a publisher does as well? you know it is i do think you know in prickly in this day and age editors are overworked a lot of them are editing 20 30 books a year and 20 30 books a year and you know publicity teams are overworked. so i think it helps our authors to have that additional support both on the editorial side as well as with publicity and you know being in washington and working with a lot of journalists. i think, you know we tend to be trusted with with you know, some of the most interesting books and and exclusive interviews. and so when we we work with our authors, we really try to pull out all the stops to make sure that you know, that book is is received well and heard about you know, i think a complaint you'll hear from many who've written books over the last decade is that there's there's not enough support given by
publishers to to the publicity side of it as well as to the editorial. and so i think just having those extra sets of eyes and hands to help support author ends up making a big difference. so we try to do that as a value add and javelin. well keith urban one of the truth i think about the publishing industry is that it's 80% left of center and you don't come at it from that. point of view, is that correct? well, you know, i i try to be my politics out of it. i mean, it's that i worked in. republican politics for a number of years defense department and the united states senate, but you know i work with authors left right center. and you know, i view my job as being their advocate and i don't have to agree with all my authors 100% of the time and i think you know, we're an agency that supports free expression and you know works with a wide range of authors. and so, you know, i try to leave
my my politics outside of it whenever i'm working with an author i think for for some of our authors on the left one who are democrats. i think it helps sometimes to anticipate some of the questions and you know objections that they might get from the right and conversely working with conservatives. and and which is you know, where we started. our company we work with a lot of conservatives. we were one of the only agencies in the business that was working with folks at a republican politics and since then we've grown and really work with with all sides. well some of the best journalists in the world which were really proud to do. have you ever turned down an author? yes many times in fact we do it. you know, i'm for many reasons. sometimes it's because it's you know politics but more often, you know, just business of being an agent is that you know, we get, you know, probably dozen to 20 proposals a week and very rarely do end up taking them on you know it.
and there are lots of reasons to do that, but we end up saying no far far more than we say. yes. keith urban one of the high-profile authors that you did represent after he was fired from the fbi was james comey. what was that process like well, james, comey is one of the the first major authors in in sort of the political sphere who was not coming out of republican or conservative circles. so he was in many ways of a formative client for us. we pitched him out of a blue and my partner really deserves the credit for that and you know after a couple email exchanges where he insisted that he wouldn't wasn't interested in writing a book. we were able to get it in person meeting and you know, i think we're able to convince him that getting his side of the story out. there would be a real service of the country and a real service to history and a higher loyalty ended up being a number one new
york times bestseller for for weeks on end and one of the best-selling political books of the last decade and you know it was it was a privilege to work with him. he's he's a great man. how much editorial input did you have into his book? like like a lot of authors, we work pretty hands-on with him and he delivered a complete first draft about the help of any writer or collaborator, which is pretty rare for someone who's been in public office that long. he's a lawyer so he actually was quite a gifted writer, but i think as he would tell you we spent some time with him. reorganizing is mostly structural helping him pull out of a narrative. showing more than telling and we work with him over, you know, probably two three weeks just crashing on that manuscript and getting it to the best possible shape and making sure that that sort of the storytelling really really shine through and i think you know the success of that book reviews of the book for
that out. i'm proud of i'm proud of i'm really proud of that. mr. urban profiles have been written about javelin and yourself and matt latimer in the washingtonian the new york times magazine and the word ghost writer has come up in both of those profiles. is that something that javelin offers to its clients you know, i would say for some of our authors they do end up hiring ghost writers. back when we started we really did a lot more of that in-house meaning, you know offer that editorial support, you know, our business has grown so much over the last decade that we rarely do that anymore. you know, we have a stable of writers and researchers that we work with and connect authors with but yeah, i mean, it's it's not surprising that you know folks that have been in public office or ceos need writing
assistants from time to time a lot of books. are that way and i think as long as you disclose that and the acknowledgments and say you know how a book was produced. it's it's well about board and so, you know a javelin our jobs produced the best possible book and for people who aren't born writers or you know storytellers. sometimes it helps to bring in some some editorial support whether that's in the form of a full ghost writer or collaborator or an editorial assistant extra set of eyes. mr. urban you were quoted in the new york times profile as saying books still have a cultural weight what were you referring to? well, i think there's something important about holding a book and a physical book and for you know a long time. um in the mid-2000s. there were a lot of obituaries written from publishing industry ebooks are going to take over and you know, the physical print book is dead. and i don't think that's true.
it's certainly not been born on our experience and i i think you know when you when you have a book and and meaning 60 hundred thousand words printed between two bound covers it conveys authority it conveys gravitas allows you to go out and talk to media do podcasts and you know, i think sometimes the the medium through which you people hear about books and learn about books and decide to buy a book changes over time. i think publishing um in terms of the traditional book industry is strong certainly the covid era has borne that out. i think you know the publishing industry profits are up people or left with more times of time on their hands and and reading at home more than they have been before so i think publishing's far from that. i think it's working they may be
for some years in the future. has technology changed the publisher author agent? publicity model in the last couple of years i don't think technology or anything a publishing is really changed. you know, how important publicity is again? i think you know podcasts are you know now a very good vehicle and sort of the long form interview as opposed to you know the network morning shows or some of the ways that you know, 10 20 years ago were really a primary vehicles to to book publicity and i think now there are a lot more avenues to getting worn out about a book than there were before and i think some of them are very successful. i will say one thing that's changed sort of technology-wise in publishing is sort of the advent of ebooks and instantly downloadable on your iphone into
your car being able to hear an author read a book as opposed to you know, you sitting down in a chair and and i on a kindle or or physical copy the explosion and audiobooks has been something that's that's been don't think a lot of people were predicting a decade ago. keith urban here in washington, we've all been exposed to the to the revelation to the newspaper article in the washington post or somewhere. that's an excerpt from a book. how important is that revelation that shock moment in a book? you know, it depends on the kind of book if you know, we would do a lot of history do a lot of pop science. what do things outside of politics that don't need a big flashy excerpt or you know, a push notification via the washington post that this bombshell book is now out or you know something on the drudge report. i think it's more important for political books to have that kind of coverage and sort of
sequencing, you know a publicity campaign, so that parts of the book come out, you know when the author and and when the publisher wants it to rather than having it leak out which happens, you know particularly on these highly anticipated political books, you know oftentimes the guardian will get a copy early and and sort of discord all the contents all the the newsy tidbits out there and when that happens i think it you know, authors aren't generally happy so we try to get ahead of that and plan in advance working with different reporters and journalists who are interested in subject matter to to get the book out and point them to passages that they'll find interesting and that that, you know, a general audience will find interesting. so i think think it's very important that you there's sort of strategic rollout and that you know, that media is a big part. well, i'm glad you mentioned the guardian because it does seem that the guardian newspaper out of london.
gets advanced copies of a lot of these books and can excerpt them and bring the shock value to light. how do you think that happens? you know, i don't know someone did a profile of i think the journalist who gets a lot of them and you know, it's anyone's guess as to how the guardian gets advanced copies, but i know it's a it's a big thorn in the backside of publishers. and you know, we plan we plan rollouts around it and we try to game out when we think the guardian is going to get an advanced copy and and you know, sometimes we work that into our plan. sometimes we try to preempt it. but you know, it's it's a big mystery. i don't know but kudos to them they obviously have you know a system that that works publishers work really hard in some cases like we did in with the comey book. we kept it under lock and key for weeks and we were able to hold that secret, you know a long time up until the thursday
friday before publications. so four days before and we you if a book is contains truly explosive material publishers will go to extreme lights to make sure that you know, the embargo holds as long as possible and that folks like the guardian. don't get it two weeks early, which sometimes they do keith urban. i want to ask you a question about putting an author on tour here at book tv we get most every nonfiction author that you can possibly imagine. we find an event or an interview or something. but with president biden's book prior to running for office promises to keep. we could not get an event because it was being sponsored by live nation and they would not let cameras in. is this a new model? you know, i think it's been a model that's been tried. i know president biden with that
book, you know, he partnered with, you know, meet a big sort of corporate deal with live nation to do book events around the country. i don't know. how successful it was from a profits perspective. i think they're competing interests with with a book rollout. i'm sure that um, you know, that reality was frustrating to the the publisher of that book not being able to do, you know an event a broadcast event with book tv which in our experience and i think in pretty much everyone's experience one of the tried and true to reach a book buying audience in any in any form of media and i think you know, i i think that was sort of more of a one-off. i i think in the covid era sort of that live events business has taken a big hit and may come back in the future as we start to do more and more things in person again, but i have not, you know, i've not heard of a lot of examples in the last two three years of you know, sort of as book selling opportunities be
a big part of the business. i think of anything. it's the client substantially. has the pandemic. hurt authors trying to get out on tour. i think it is. it's the pandemic has certainly changed the way authors promote books and where we used to do 10 15 city tours around the country and you know bundle 500,000 books in each event that hasn't happened. and so i think it's put more of a premium on earned media and doing you know, sort of more remote interviews to reach audiences, you know, there was a period early on the pandemic when people were doing you know, book events by zoom and i think enthusiasm for those quickly waned that's did not end up be particularly successful for authors and selling books. so, you know, i'd say in the last six months.
you know since the summer i think. omicron has has changed it and people are dow back the in-person events again, but i'm not sure that that's gonna continue. we'll see but i do think just not not being able able to go out and be with an audience speaking in person. it's been harder, but people are still able to find books. you know, it's you know, i think the pandemic has certainly cemented amazon's, you know status as the dominant player in terms of retail sales and people being able to with a click of a button have books delivered to their doorstep. that's just how people buy books these days and it's a reality of life in 2022 keith urban. what are the advantages and perhaps disadvantages of being located in washington and not the publishing center of the world, new york city? wow, that's a good question. i mean i think this was an underserved market before we started. you know start a javelin in
terms of just america has a fascination with politics and what goes on in the city and you know, i think we've been able part of the reason we've been successful is we've tapped into that and work with authors who have interesting things to say that people want to hear and so there was i think avoid here in terms of publishing and helping authors think through books before we started certainly there's some some good agents in dc, but i think we've helped sort of tell the story of journalists and political figures and people here. i think one of the limits is, you know, a lot of our colleagues who are editors that we work day to day. they are in new york, although for the last two years very few of them have even been back in their offices. so they're all working remote and you know, we would travel up to new york every month to do author meetings, you know, pre-pandemic and we haven't we haven't done that since we haven't we haven't needed to you since everyone sort of working
remotely and publishing succeeded in you know, making the remote model of work succeed and so, you know, i think i think one challenge that we have is for a lot of our authors who are maybe not in politics or not journalists convincing them that we you know, have a you know, a broader repertoire and and you know record of new york times, but best sellers beyond politics is you know, it's conversation. we have a lot but you know, we've diversified our list and hundreds of books over the last decade about under 180 200 books now many dozens of which have nothing to do with politics. so, you know, i think it gives us a it serves a in washington market in big way being here and being able to do in person meetings. and you know, we're good at we're gonna keep building our list and keep doing things
beyond politics as well as within it. well, robert barnett is considered the godfather of literary agents here in washington the lawyer with williams and connelly. is he a competitor? well, look i worked with bob, you know first book i did was when i was working with secretary rumsfeld and we worked with bob together and and you know, bob's been very successful and built up a great business over the last a couple decades and you know, i think he has the record for what is you know, probably the biggest nonfiction deal and history with michelle and barack obama. and so, you know, he's a formidable figure he's very good at what he does. you know, i i have all the respect in the world for him. so is he competitor? i think there's some books that you know, you know, we pitch authors together and and we win some and he wins some well if you've listened to us to the last for the last 20 minutes, you've heard the name javelin as the name of this literary agency. where did that come from?
um interesting story theater. it was actually an homage to math, my partner and i are are mentor donald rumsfeld. his wife's secret service name joyce rumsfeld was javelin and we we admired her got to know her very well over the years and we decided we thought it was a catchy name. it didn't sound like another washington cliche and and so we decided to go with it and for whatever reason it's stuck and that's how we're known and we're proud to be associated with joy. keith urban is the president founding partner of the javelin literary agency. we appreciate you joining us on about books. thank you peter. appreciate it. and this is about books. this is book tvs. look at the latest publishing news and nonfiction books. here's some books being published this week. in south to america princeton university african-american
studies professor and native, alabama imani perry provides a history of america through her travels in the south. nobel prize-winning economist amarta sen reflects on his life in the places. he's called home which include india bangladesh and england. is memoir home in the world? and in the economic weapon cornell university professor nicholas boulder looks at the use of economic sanctions in times of war and peace. and also being published this week new york university philosophy and neuroscience professor david chalmers weighs in on our technological future and what it means to live in a virtual world. his book is called reality plus. and in savage journey peter richardson looks at the writing life of hunter s thompson from his early influences to his embrace of so-called gonzo journalism. well another new book that is just out is by theoretical
physicists leonard maladna. he's appearing on our author interview program afterwards this weekend to talk about the advances. in the study of emotion in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. here's a preview. emotions play a important vital role i argue in your everyday life even in not it may be always moment to moment unless you're talking about core effect, but but emotional emotional experiences happen much more often probably than people think about it's not just when you get really angry at that driver who cut you off that you're that's not the only time in the day that you're feeling emotion. you're you're feeling it in much more subtle and every day normal situations and all through the day and they and their emotions are what prompt you to do might take much many of your actions if you had no feelings at all. if you were just a robot with no feelings when i was on. star trek the next generation that was what data was supposed to be at least spock was half
human, but data was purely on, you know unemotional what what would cause you to even do anything you wouldn't you have? no desire. no goals. no enjoyment. no joy, so why would you get up off your chair? you know, unless your program specifically said at nine o'clock get up and go make coffee or whatever it is that you know, our current robots do but it would never initiate action on its own other than what was programmed into it. so i argue that i talk about how that works. and how emotion is is really vital, but let me say one other thing and i know that you you'll agree. i believe you'll agree with this and it's an important part. i want to make clear i talk about. the emotional motion and rational thinking and i don't mean by i i say that these are inextricable that they are not only is emotion not counterproductive, but there's no such thing as a purely logical rational processing in your brain that it all happens
together and it works together and i talked about how that happens. and that was leonard malad now discussing his latest book emotional on book tvs afterwards program. a reminder that afterwards airs every sunday on book tv and is also a podcast available at c-span now or wherever you get your podcast. finally, here's a look at some of the best-selling books according to the los angeles times. topping the list is michelle zahner's memoir crying in h-bart. that's followed by university of houston professor brene brown's atlas of the heart. it's about making meaningful human connections. after that pulitzer prize winning reporter and creator of the 1619 project nicole hannah jones looks at american history and slavery's legacy in present-day america. then it's my body model and actress emily ratajkowski's thoughts on feminism and beauty. and wrapping up our look at the
los angeles times bestselling nonfiction books is comedian mel brooks memoir all about me. and that's this week's publishing news in the latest nonfiction books. thanks for joining us on the about books program and podcast. a reminder that this is available as a podcast at c-span now which is c-span's app or wherever you get your podcast.
with penn state professor rachel sheldon. all right. so up to this point in the course, we've been talking a lot about the degree to which the constitution did not simply take the form of a written legal document right but rather as a set of ideas about the structure and function of american governance. and among these key ideas was a reliance