United Talent Agency Grows Its Literary Business

From a New York Times story by Alexandra Alter headlined “United Talent Agency Grows Its Literary Business”:

When United Talent Agency, which represents celebrities like Chris Pratt, Timothée Chalamet, Kevin Hart, Bad Bunny and Lizzo, bought the esteemed London-based agency Curtis Brown last summer, it made a bold play for a bigger toehold in the book world. With the acquisition, UTA took on the estates of towering literary figures like John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Daphne du Maurier and A.A. Milne.

Now, UTA is expanding its ambitions even further by buying the literary agency Fletcher & Company, dramatically increasing its roster of contemporary novelists and nonfiction writers.

Fletcher & Company, founded by Christy Fletcher in 2003, represents hundreds of writers, among them novelists like Maggie Shipstead and Daniel Mason, and best-selling nonfiction authors like Gretchen Rubin and the investigative reporter John Carreyrou.

The sale, for an undisclosed amount, gives UTA a larger stake in the literary world at a moment when the major talent agencies are ferociously competing to bulk up. Talent agencies are also in a race for intellectual property to develop into TV shows, films and podcasts, and books are regarded as a rich source of I.P.

Last summer, the competitive landscape shifted when Creative Artists Agency bought ICM partners, in a blockbuster deal that brought in big name literary agents and authors from ICM, among them Kazuo Ishiguro, Walter Isaacson and Cormac McCarthy. It was the largest consolidation among talent agencies since the William Morris Agency merged with Endeavor in 2009.

Some of the biggest agencies — UTA stands third behind its rival giants, WME and CAA — are seeking to grow as a counterweight to consolidation in publishing and other corners of the entertainment industry. The hope is that getting bigger will give them an edge over competitors, and more leverage to negotiate on behalf of their clients.

The biggest publishing companies have grown rapidly in recent years by buying smaller houses and merging with one other. One of the largest companies, Simon & Schuster, is currently up for sale.

UTA made its first big push into publishing in 2015, when it started a publishing division to develop and sell books by its celebrity clients, including works by the actors and comedians Hilary Duff, Seth Rogen and Chelsea Handler. Many of those projects were successful, and UTA has since expanded into other genres.

UTA’s president, David Kramer, said the deal with Fletcher & Company came about in part because the agency wanted to develop more projects based on existing intellectual property and “things with a built-in audience.”

“There’s no better place to do that than with books that are popular or have withstood the test of time,” he said.

Fletcher, who will lead the expanded UTA Publishing with its current head, Byrd Leavell, said joining UTA would benefit her agency’s authors, as many of them seek to become multi-platform brands and expand their work into podcasts, screen adaptations or speaking tours. Another advantage UTA offered is its consumer analytics and marketing abilities, Fletcher said, which have become essential tools for authors and publishers, as writers search for new ways to develop online audiences and market their work in a crowded field.

“The problem with discovery is the problem of publishing right now,” she said. “For authors to have longevity and to continue to grow, these are the tools that agencies need to be able to provide to help them rise above the noise.”

Alexandra Alter writes about publishing and the literary world. Before joining The Times in 2014, she covered books and culture for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she reported on religion, and the occasional hurricane, for The Miami Herald.

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