Thursday Thoughts: Publishing & Talent

“Creativity is the first thing that comes out of crisis and chaos” – wise words from Jonny Geller

Posted on May 15, 2020

Every fortnight, we hold a discussion with leading figures in the creative industries, each one hosted by a former Creative Access trainee. Yesterday we were thrilled to be joined by Jonny Geller and Cameron Myers.

Jonny is CEO of Original Talent and Chairman of Curtis Brown Literary & Talent Agency which represents actors, presenters, authors, playwrights and directors including Robert Pattinson, Margaret Atwood, Stacey Dooley, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Robert Peston and more. Jonny was awarded Literary Agent of the Year Award in 2012. He consistently appears on Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential People in London list and was named amongst Britain’s most influential 500 people by Debrett’s 500 in 2015 and in the same year as one of GQ’s 100 Most Connected Men in Britain – so it was a real privilege to have him join us!

Cameron is an Assistant Editor with Hodder & Stoughton’s General Non-Fiction team – where he started as an intern via Creative Access – and was one of SYP London’s Events Coordinators in 2019. In 2016, he graduated from King’s College London with a degree in Law, and has since gone on to pursue a career in book publishing.

Jonny began his discussion by acknowledging that ‘Creative Access is an extraordinary organisation that I’m glad to say that we’ve not only supported, but that we’ve benefitted from. Over the years we’ve some excellent people coming through our agency.’ We’re delighted to have placed so many talented interns at Curtis Brown.

Starting off with a little about his background, Jonny had some advice for those starting out in the creative industries and are unsure of what direction to take. After realising he would have to re-evaluate his decision to become an actor, his friend offered a useful strategy on deciding what to do next, saying that the only way to give up on a dream, is to replace it with something else:

‘Write down two columns. In one column, you write what your passions are, no matter how silly, and in the other write down what you’re good at.’

For Jonny, the lines crossed at books and selling. This resulted in Jonny finding himself at Curtis Brown as an assistant, where he is now CEO of Original Talent and Chairman of the agency twenty-seven years later. Discussing the role of an agent, Jonny said: ‘My job is to pick the best possible creative talent. It’s a fantastic feeling taking someone’s dreams and hopes and finding them a publisher and then seeing their books on the shelves of a bookshop a year later.’

When Cameron asked what skills make a successful agent, Jonny responded with the fact that, ‘You need empathy’. Empathy for your client’s work and empathy for them. Followed by ‘clarity, in your objectives’ and the ‘joy of discovery’. As an author’s agent, Jonny is ‘at the beginning of that chain. If I don’t believe in it, nobody else will’. Enthusiasm for the book is essential behind a book’s success.

In our Q&A, when an intern asked about the aftermath of being furloughed and missing out on valuable experience, Jonny stressed the importance of staying committed. ‘If you’re starting off in a career, you must keep absolutely focused on what it is you want to achieve and why you’re in it. Don’t give up.’ He then offered valuable advice for interns when they start work: ‘My experience is the people I remember who come to the company full of enthusiasm, full of positivity and full of knowledge’ about the company they’re going into. ‘Everyone notices a good intern’.

After Cameron enquired how things might change in the creative industries, Jonny finished the discussion by acknowledging that ‘the great thing about crisis and chaos, creativity is always the first thing that comes out of it… People need storytellers. People need creative industries’.

With huge thanks to Jonny and Cameron for their time and wise words.

You can view the whole conversation on our YouTube channel here.