A lot of his clients, he said, he met at Bookhampton, an independent shop founded 40 years ago in Southampton by agent Nat Sobel. “That was a great place to meet people,” Mr. Ashlock said. “After dinner I’d pop in, and I think that was the first time I had a serious talk with Sheri De Borchgrave, who’s a wine, food, and travel columnist. I now have a great novel by her on my plate for February and March.”
Most of his work that summer was done at parties.
“You show up at the right party in the Hamptons, and your credibility comes with you,” Mr. Ashlock explained. “I know that sounds really—I mean, that’s not me. I’m from Memphis. I’m not a Northeastern social game player. But … I just tried to ask everyone I knew to invite me to every party they could get me into. You show up at the right party and meet the right person and you can sign the New York Times writer or the Bravo personality or NBC pundit.”
BY THE END of the summer, Mr. Ashlock and his partners in the new firm—Meredith Dawson and D.C.-based Craig Kayser—had amassed a formidable if predominently commercial client list that includes several editors from Food and Wine, a handful of Time Out New York writers, Alex and Simon from Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City and Pulitzer nominee Sandra Hochman. Since then they have been preparing the necessary paperwork, lining up lawyers and accountants, and fine-tuning the pitch they’re making to editors as they go out with their first submissions.
“We have arrived, as Harold Bloom would say, belatedly,” reads the opening of the informational packet they’re sending out. “The scene is established, the paradigms rigid, the machine stubborn and aging. … We aim, with many of our friends and colleagues, to confront the crisis of the moment, and from the upheaval to design and shape a future.”
The main thing Mr. Ashlock emphasizes when talking about his business plan is that he’s focused on the long term. When people ask him how Moveable Type will make room for itself in what is already a crowded market, he describes a four-step management plan based on contracts with outside publicity firms, speaker bureaus and career counselors that will ensure that the agency’s clients have support regardless of what the publishers they sign with can offer them.
Still, Mr. Ashlock acknowledges that Moveable Type—not to be confused with the software company—faces an uphill battle. And yet, he sees no other option.
“I’ve had a couple of people say, ‘You should wait,’” he said. “But there are no jobs. Yes, there’s an occasional posting on [industry Web portal] Publishers Marketplace, but the field is flooded. I can’t stay with Marianne, right? So I have to go. But where am I gonna go? There are no jobs, so it’s either stay put and be frustrated and make no money, or launch myself out there and compete against people who have industry experience that is far beyond what I could boast. And so I feel like I either do it on my own, or I go do something else. And I don’t want to go do anything else.”