Literary agent to give advice at Writers’ Center


Ken Sherman

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer

Writers at Chautauqua will have a chance to take out their novel or screenplay and confer with a literary agent this week at the Writers’ Center.

Ken Sherman will hold workshops from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday at the Alumni Hall ballroom.

Sherman is flying in as a special guest for Week Three from Beverly Hills, Calif., the home base for his company Ken Sherman & Associates. He has been an agent for more than 20 years and specializes in fiction and nonfiction, film, television and movie rights.

During his stay at Chautauqua, Sherman will advise budding writers on how to focus their work to present it to an editor, the logistics of the changing entertainment industry and general advice for becoming successful as a working writer.

Throughout his career, Sherman has served as agent to a multitude of writers across literature, film and television, including David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars; Oprah’s Book Club author Tawni O’Dell; the detective novelist Anne Perry; and the estates of John Updike, Luis Buñuel and many others.

The biggest part of his job is discerning quality writers, Sherman said.

“I believe that if the characters are there, and I can fall in love with the characters, I’ll stick with them,” Sherman said. “If I like the material, I believe I can go find someone to like it as well who will publish it, or take the book and use it as a screenplay or teleplay for a series.”

He sells across platforms, often working with books that become movies and stage productions. With the late Buñuel, writer and director of the film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Sherman recently closed a deal to turn some of his work into an opera.

“You never know what the life of a book is going to be,” he said.

Since he started working as an agent, Sherman is seeing radical changes in the publishing industry, he said. With the rise of e-books, the size and staff of the largest publishing houses have fallen. In response, some writers attempt self-publishing, but this lacks the distribution network to get their book out to bookstores and other outlets like film and television, he said.

Though the rules are changing, people still buy books, he said, and originality is still what counts.

“A lot of people write because they’ve identified a trend, but my experience has shown me that good editors respond to really good writing,” Sherman said. “Meaning someone who has an original voice and writes well on the page, and really, bottom line, knows how to tell a good story. And that’s what everyone is looking for.”

Part of his workshop will address the relationship between writer and editor, how to prepare proposals and how to develop ideas and work them into a finished manuscript.

“More often than not, good writers finish writing the first draft, and at that moment they go, ‘Ah, now I know how to tell the story. It’s not about him; it’s about her. And it’s not about the city; it’s about the city and her and him, and now I need to go back and start rewriting,’” Sherman said. “It’s an adage, a cliché, that writing is rewriting, but it is very true.”

Sherman’s workshops cost $50 per day, which can be paid and registered in advance or at the door on a space-available basis. His sessions will allow time for writers to pitch their ideas, and he also will be available for 15-minute individual conferences for $25.

“I’m always looking; that’s one of the reasons I’m coming to Chautauqua,” he said. “I’m always looking for good writers.”