After more than a decade working in various aspects of publishing, from managing print production to editorial to selling rights at Kids Can Press, Kelvin Kong has launched his own literary agency. K2 Literary represents a small list of authors including Matt Cahill, Andrew Wilmot, and Teri Vlassapoulos.
Q&Q asked Kong – who recently left his post as agent and rights manager at the Rights Factory, and who continues to teach literary rights management for Ryerson University’s publishing certificate program – about his new endeavour.
Why did you leave The Rights Factory, and when did the idea of launching your own agency come up?
I left last November. I had been with the agency for quite a long time (by today’s standards), and really wanted to strike out on my own. It was something I was considering for a while, but I wanted to have a deeper and wider network first. I felt that now was the best time.
How long did it take to go from idea to reality in launching K2 Literary?
I’d been preparing for this role all my life. From when I was birthed, the configuration of stellar constellations revealed to diviners and holy persons of five different creeds that I was fated to run K2. From there, I was trained by the finest teachers and engaged in an intense physical training regimen (of ultramarathons) to prepare for what will happen today, and lead to my eventual ascension to lead publishing with iron fist and open heart.
Really, it took a couple of months to set up. I started registering business names and web hosts in September, and from there, discussed it with my clients and business partners. Spent the better part of my Christmas vacation building the website. There are still a number of things left to do, and my list is very small right now.
In your announcement, you say that you want to keep “represent[ing] books that interest [you], and selling rights on behalf of some publishers who could use a hand with rights sales and negotiations.” What kind of books are you interested in?
At TRF, I was representing rights for select titles with publishers such as Wolsak & Wynn and Book*hug. I was also consulting on rights and contracts for some others. Since my list right now is so small, the rights-related work rounds out my activities, and diversifies my list of books I can present to international publishers.
As for interest: I’m interested in anything that catches my interest. It’s a nebulous answer (and tautological), but I really don’t know what I’ll be interested in until I see or hear about it. I can tell you I like literary novels and non-fiction titles about food and drink, but my most recent sale was a crime trilogy, and I really didn’t think I’d be representing that kind of book. So, I like to keep an open mind. It also means I won’t keep receiving the same kind of work.
Whatever I do represent must have international appeal. Most of my work is based on international publishing, so I’d like to represent books that will interest as many readers as possible.
For now K2 Literary is a one-person operation with a handful of clients. What are your short-term and long-term plans, in regard to expanding your roster and perhaps bringing on junior agents?
I’m not even considering expansion right now. It’s too early, and I’d like to move slowly, because I work a few different jobs. It’s more important to me to develop this agency at a pace that’s not overwhelming, so that I can give my clients the best service. I want to honour my commitment to them first and foremost. If that means being a small operation for a few years, I’m happy with that.
As a result, expanding my roster is something I’m being very careful about. My agency is closed to unsolicited submissions and queries, unless by referral from someone I trust. Relationships are very important to me, and I prefer to start with people who already know what I’m like, so that expectations are established. That way, I won’t have someone ask me why I keeping posting pictures of pho instead of working on their books.
In the long term, I’m not setting out to be a large agency. There are a number of boutique agencies who represent very successful authors, and that’s the sort I’d like to model myself after.
As for hiring agents, I’ll look at that in a year or two. There’s a learning curve to all this, as you can imagine.
What, for you, will a successful first year look like?
Making enough huge deals that I can dig a hole in the ground, fill it with gold coins and dive in, Scrooge McDuck-style (a la Ducktales). In lieu of that, I will happy accept: 1) selling many books for my client authors and publishers; 2) strengthening my international network of business and personal relationships; and 3) everyone involved being as happy with me as when this all began, or more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.