The Insider: Kate Lee
We like to think of Kate Lee as an Of a Kind super fan—it makes us feel good about ourselves. On top of being stylin’, she’s crazy smart and eloquent—not surprising for a literary agent at International Creative Management who has helped put out scores of New York Times bestsellers. Just don’t ask her what her favorite is. That’d be like prodding a proud mom to pick her most-loved child.
Q: How did you end up as a literary agent?
A: I started out in journalism, actually. My first job was as a reporter for Us Weekly, back when it had just transitioned from being a monthly magazine. It was led by Terry McDonell, who is now the editor of the Time Inc. Sports Group. I was his assistant, and he was an amazing mentor. When he left, I decided I wanted to make a change as well. Several people suggested that I become a literary agent, and I said, “Ok,” without really knowing what that meant. But I got a job as an assistant at ICM, and that was almost ten years ago.
Q: You’ve helped publish a wide range of titles. How do you go about scouting for talent?
A: A couple of different ways. One is certainly that writers know writers—in many ways it’s a small community. There’s also what’s called the slush pile, which is all of the incoming proposals. My assistant really helps me manage—we do take a look at everything. And, of course, there’s the outreach I do. It could be because of an article I read in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, a cool website I found, or a speech or TED talk I saw—something that piques my interest and makes me think, “Huh, I wonder if they’ve ever thought about writing a book.” And I just reach out to them—it’s great because I don’t need an excuse other than, “Hey, I’m an agent, and I’d like to talk to you.”
Q: There’s that 2004 New Yorker profile about you searching blogs for talent. Do you still frequent them today?
A: It’s funny how much the world and the media landscape has changed—which I don’t think any of us could have foreseen. These days, I look less at blogs for talent than to stay on top of news—because now I have a list of clients to maintain. But I really love The Awl and The Hairpin. I think long-form journalism is coming back, simply because a market has developed for it—you have places like Kindle Singles, Byliner, and Atavist for these ten- to thirty-thousand word pieces. The space for that had not existed a few years ago. And at The Awl and The Hairpin, they aren’t afraid to buck away from the typical blog format and go longer form.
Q: You own a bunch of Of a Kind editions. Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming designers?
A: I used to live down the block from this store called ANNA in the East Village. The clothes are designed by this woman called Kathy Kemp. Her store’s great and has the best dresses and coats. I also love Dusen Dusen. I have some of her shirts—the prints are amazing.
Q: Who would you say are your biggest icons?
A: In terms of contemporary culture, I look up to women like Sally Singer. I think what she’s doing at T Magazine is amazing. Her sensibility, her personal style, and the thoughtfulness and literary quality that she’s brought to the magazine just really makes it stand apart. In the grander and larger sense, I’m a huge Beatles fan, and I will always love Paul McCartney. I think people are either Paul people or John people, so I might be crucified for being a Paul person because it’s cooler to be a John person—but I am, alas, a Paul person, and I am forever in awe of what he has done.