Just over two years after leaving his job as an agent at ICM to open a New York–based literary department for the Hollywood talent agency Endeavor, Richard Abate has found himself having to plan the next phase of his career.
Mr. Abate, who is in his early 40s, oversaw a number of seven-figure book deals during his brief tenure at Endeavor and built up a staff of several literary agents while cementing his reputation in publishing circles as a brash and sometimes sly businessman. Now he is rumored to be in the process of reconstituting his operation as an independent literary agency. Whether his staff—which included former Dutton editor in chief Trena Keating, as well as Shawn Coyne, Kirby Kim and Rebecca Oliver—would join him there could not be determined.
What spurred Mr. Abate’s exit from Endeavor, of course, was the firm’s long-planned merger with rival William Morris Agency, which was approved on Monday afternoon by the governing bodies of both companies after months of negotiations.
Variety called the merger “a giant leap into showbiz’s future,” but what it means for the publishing industry has not been the subject of much discussion in the Hollywood press, because as major as both companies’ literary departments have been in the New York book world, neither generates anywhere near the sort of revenues the two firms take in from their work in film, television and music.
Once the merger receives governmental approval, the literary department for the combined William Morris–Endeavor firm will be run by Jennifer Rudolph Walsh and Suzanne Gluck, who have spent the past eight years as co-heads of the lit department at William Morris. Ms. Walsh, a high-octane 42-year-old who started her career in publishing about 20 years ago at the Virginia Barber Agency, will serve as the only literary department representative on the combined company’s nine-person governing board.
The reason why Ms. Walsh got the board seat instead of Ms. Gluck, who is several years older than she and no less accomplished an agent, can be explained by Ms. Walsh’s demonstrable will to be a leader in the company and Ms. Gluck’s relative lack thereof. (Unlike Ms. Gluck, for instance, Ms. Walsh served on William Morris’ seven-person executive board, spearheaded the implementation of a company-wide yearly retreat and helped created internal evaluation systems for employees and board members.)
“Jennifer Rudolph Walsh drips ‘alpha female,’ whereas Suzanne Gluck’s m.o. is much more … sweet,” said an editor who has done business with both women. “Jennifer Rudolph Walsh carries herself like she has a razor-sharp mind and a ninja’s body.”
The fact that Mr. Abate will not be working at William Morris Endeavor was for all intents and purposes a done deal after he and Ms. Walsh got together in March to discuss the merger. Despite Mr. Abate’s relationship with Endeavor founder Ari Emanuel, who will oversee the new company’s day-to-day operations as co-CEO, it seems that Ms. Walsh’s leadership position in the lit department was never in much doubt. This was in part because her department was many times bigger and more firmly established than Mr. Abate’s, but also because Mr. Emanuel’s priorities lie with the more lucrative film and TV business, and so giving William Morris control of the book business was an easy concession. As one senior publishing executive put it, “Jennifer’s ascension is the bone being thrown to William Morris.”
The notion that Mr. Abate would be satisfied reporting to Ms. Walsh or Ms. Gluck after running his own show for two years was a tough one to visualize during the run-up to Monday’s announcement. As one literary agent put it this week, “This is a guy who for the first 10 years of his career worked for two very strong-willed women [ICMers Esther Newberg and Amanda “Binky” Urban]. Would he really want to do it again?”
Mr. Abate had indeed been working in the literary department of ICM for a decade when he decided that it was time to run his own shop. According to a breach-of-contract lawsuit ICM filed against him when he announced his intention to defect to Endeavor in February 2007, Mr. Abate started at the firm as a lowly assistant making just over $20,000 a year. He was made an agent just two years later, and before long, according to the Publisher’s Lunch database, was doing deals for celebrities like Bernie Mac, journalists like Andrew Schneider and several first-time fiction writers.
Since leaving ICM, Mr. Abate has brokered a number of lucrative book deals for Endeavor clients. Last April, he sold a trilogy of thrillers co-written by Heroes creator Tim Kring and the novelist Dale Peck for $3 million. The following September, he got $3 million more for a vampire trilogy by the director Guillermo del Toro. In October, Mr. Abate scored a deal worth $6 million for Tina Fey; two months later, his colleague Ms. Keating got $2 million for Kathy Griffin. In between, there were also good deals for Endeavor clients such as James Franco, Tracy Morgan and Artie Lange.
But Mr. Abate, who began his career in publishing at the age of 30 after completing a Ph.D. in American Studies at N.Y.U. and teaching high school for two years, also has a list of clients of his own, most of whom would presumably follow him to his next gig. When he defected from ICM, he reportedly brought nearly 50 clients with him—among them Evan Wright, It Girl teen-lit author Lisi Harrison, James Swanson and Kate Christensen—and a substantial number of the deals he has brokered since joining Endeavor were for authors who have no affiliation with the talent side of the agency.
Mr. Abate and Ms. Walsh both declined to comment. Ms. Gluck did not respond to an interview request.