In 2015 Nikesh had the idea for The Good Immigrant, a book of essays by writers of colour about race and immigration in the UK. It was successfully crowdfunded via Unbound, the crowdfunding publishers, in three days and J. K. Rowling contributed and became its patron. It was published in September 2016, was Radio 4 Book of the Week and has gone on to sell over 60,000 copies and win the Books are My Bag Readers Choice Award.
It sparked a conversation in the UK publishing industry and across culture, the media and the arts about representation. Not long after publication Nikesh was talking to Julia (his agent) about what more we could do to increase representation across publishing and we had two ideas: a journal and a literary agency.
The idea for The Good Journal came about because people kept asking when we were going to do another edition of The Good Immigrant. We wanted to be able to do something a little more flexible than a book, so we thought we’d launch it as a journal, with slots for established writers, up-and-coming writers and open slots for undiscovered talent, open up the remit to encompass writing from all fields.
At the same time we had a lot of writers who were getting in touch looking for representation and opportunities to submit work and we started to look at the issues in publishing as we saw them and try to think of viable solutions for increasing representation in publishing. Publishers complain that they aren’t sent enough under-represented writers by agents and agents complain that when they do submit them, publishers either don’t buy them or pay very little for their work. It was obvious to us that there was a pipeline problem. And that's when we struck on the idea of a social enterprise literary agency, explicitly to represent the under-represented and the idea for The Good Literary Agency started to take shape.
This was all happening in November 2016. Since then we scoped out the idea, put together a business plan, talked to publishers, agents, authors, writer development agencies and a whole host of prospective partners and funders. In order to have real impact the agency needed quite a lot of investment and we applied for and were awarded funding from the Arts Council via their Ambition for Excellence fund.
One of the reasons for needing the funding is because alongside increased opportunities for representation we also want to offer as much development support as possible because it's incredibly important.
Why development is important
Once upon a time publishing invested much more heavily in developing authors’ work, but changing businesses models and new challenges and media make it harder to spend as much time as they once did. The impetus is now placed much more heavily on writers to come with very polished manuscripts and without the ability to invest in creative writing courses it can be hard to achieve that for many talented writers. Take Harper Lee as an example. Ms Lee moved to New York because she wanted to be a writer but she had to work hard to support herself and was struggling to find the time. A friend of the family gave her some money to enable her to take some time off (no, we’re not offering that to writers) and she was able to complete a book which she sold to a publisher. It was called Go Set a Watchman. Nearly three years later and with considerable support from her editor she’d turned it into To Kill a Mockingbird. Could she have done it without them? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem very likely. That’s the sort of impact we want to have on the writers we work with!
Nikesh's debut novel, Coconut Unlimited, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010. Alongside his second novel, Meatspace, Nikesh has written for The Guardian, Esquire, Buzzfeed, Vice and BBC2, LitHub, Guernica and BBC Radio 4. Nikesh is also the editor the bestselling essay collection, The Good Immigrant, which won the reader's choice at the Books Are My Bag Awards. Nikesh was one of Foreign Policy magazine's 100 Global Thinkers and The Bookseller's 100 most influential people in publishing in 2016. Nikesh’s third adult novel The One Who Wrote Destiny and first YA novel Run, Riot will be published in 2018.
Julia is a literary agent and publishing and consumer marketing consultant. She set up the literary agency Kingsford Campbell in 2014 and prior to that was co-founder and CEO of World Book Night and Head of Marketing at Foyles bookshops. She was a British Council Young Publishing Entrepreneur in 2010 and one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners from 2012-15. Her first book, Aspergers & Asparagus, co-written with her sister Katherine who is autistic, will be published in 2019.