Tuesday 19 March 2013

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz is now a Singapore-based literary agent, though she spent over a decade at the Writers House agency in New York, where she specialized in young adult fiction. Her clients regularly made the New York Times bestseller list, and some won critical acclaim. She says: “I had a lot of success with series writers and that afforded me the time to work with more literary writers like Chris Lynch who went on to win many awards and was a U.S. National Book Award finalist.  Another N.B.A. finalist, Jack Gantos, won The Newbery Medal, presented annually for the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.”

Fran’s husband is a copyright lawyer, and when his job started bringing him frequently to Asia, the couple decided to move their family to Singapore. Fran wasn’t too worried about continuing her career. “I figured: I'll just find Asian writers!"  She says, “But it took me twelve years to find the sort of writers I feel are ready for the big markets.” Why does she think it took her so long? “Competition here hasn’t so far been fierce enough to produce the sort of commercial titles which can withstand the scrutiny of the world's larger markets.”

To help her clients reach those lucrative overseas markets, Fran has now joined forces with Kevin Mulroy and Amy Shields, both of Potomac Global Media, in Washington. What genre is she most excited to present to her international partners? “Graphic novels are where I see the talent, if not necessarily the buyers.” She says. “Singaporeans are really good at graphic novels.  I think it’s because they provide a sort of sneaky way to reveal one’s thoughts, taking up less air space than a full-blown novel. It's the abbreviation; Singaporeans weren't brought up to vent and gab.”    She mentions two graphic novelists in particular, Troy Chin, and Sonny Liew. “They’re both inventive and witty, but never self-indulgent. They never forget the story, their characters or their audience.” However, she warns, “I like graphic novels, but I’m not inviting a flood of submissions from potential clients.”

Many of Fran’s clients are expats. “That's not by design, it's simply what I think I can sell.”  Beyond the purely commercial, does she think expats have a positive contribution to make to the local literary scene?   “I think their influence on the types of conversation people are having will lead to a greater focus all across the nation on story telling and articulation. New York didn't start out being the publishing capital of the U.S. it happened because crowds of people from all sorts of different backgrounds created a place where stories would be told and read or listened to if and only if they were better than anyone else's. I think expats can help turn Singapore into a similar sort of incubator of excellence.”

You can contact Fran at flebowitz@yahoo.com; her unreliable memoir Tales From A Broad is available as an e-book from Monsoon Books.