Who do you think you are?: How we embraced change and why you should too
After over forty years in the same offices, just over a year ago David Higham Associates moved to new premises. Some of us worried about losing our characterful, rather shambolic old offices. There was a sense that perhaps the offices *were* DHA. You could find our history in the teetering piles of manuscripts; read our successes in the piles of ancient accounting ledgers; see seventy-nine years worth of books lining over half a kilometre of shelving. And the way we endured our offices characterised us too: the heating may have failed us but we wore coats! The fan heaters triggered multiple power cuts but we learned to save our work more frequently! The shabby (quite dirty) fittings reflected our economy and modesty; we were too busy working to redecorate - too intellectual or sensible to re-fit. The eccentricity of our premises (offices with no windows; offices with windows which never closed; ancient uplighters; stationary cupboards tucked behind disused lift shafts) was our eccentricity.
The place on Golden Square was a building with beauty; but it was a muffled kind of overlooked beauty. People used to think of the offices as old-fashioned and ordinary and then walk into the main space, with its soaring, largely glass, roof and say: wow, I didn't know it would be this great! That modesty and hidden brilliance seemed to suit us. Oh you might think us ordinary - but don't take us for granted, we're rather fabulous when you get to know us. We're not a bunch of agents who spend much time on press releases, or who like to give profile interviews or who throw many parties. But we represent more bestselling authors than you realise.
Our new offices - a plain rectangular space, in a plain modern building in a different part of Soho, acted as the blank canvas on which we were challenged to write our version of Who We Are. As we set about conceiving the new space, we naturally quickly realised that no we were not to be found in the dented old filing cabinets; the dusty lever arch folders; the eccentricity; the modesty; the making-do; the damned Englishness of it all. We were a lot more than the sum total of 79 years of successful business.
We are successful, today. Yes we have been successful for many years but it is our success today - our presence on today's bestseller lists - which enables us to be as powerful an agency as we are. We are British but we are international too. We are an established group but actually we are young, in age. We aren't particularly dented: we're strong and determined. We are as eccentric as any of you; but we're professional, even slick, at times. Yes we're intellectual but we're defined by our cleverness more. And those yards of books - yes we are partly defined by our obligations to our illustrious client list of the past, by the many, many authors who have trusted us over - now - eighty years. We are respected for that history and its success. But we are also defined by our embrace of the new, of the future. We are constantly casting forward to imagine what our industry will be like years from now; we are at the heart of all of our industry's debates on how it will survive and thrive. We speak up for the author's interest today and tomorrow and are amongst its most active and successful defenders. We have embraced and exploited, fully, new technologies; we have invested time in authors who will top the bestseller lists years from now.
We are excellent literary agents, but we have a very successful TV/film department too. And we're at the heart of the London publishing community, but we are known across the world and indeed our international team is run by one of the most talented rights people of her generation. We don't need you to get to know us, to see how fabulous we are. As soon as you walk into our new offices, you will see it immediately.
Our new offices are modern and fresh; the design is international and clever; the important communal spaces we have created represent how well we feel we work as a team. The agents' individual offices may be regular in size and shape now but each quirkily reflects its resident, somehow better revealing important aspects of why each agent is successful and worthy. Each empty office wall has been filled; with the things we discovered that we valued the most, when we packed our things into boxes and unpacked them the other end. We are proud of who we now say we are: come and visit us some time and you'll see why.
If you are a published author, you will know how quickly you become defined by the books you have written in the past, and the way in which they have been packaged and marketed. Do not allow yourself to become defined by your package. Be brave enough to describe yourself afresh, in whatever ways you can, but probably through change. Your publishers rely on established routes to success; their instincts will often be to perpetuate something which is working, to a predictable extent. But if what you have doesn't seem to be enough to you; if you are no longer sure that your books and the way they are published is a good representation of all you have to offer, speak up. Change will have to start with you; the best creative ideas will come from you. Reveal yourself for who you are; let us see you clearly, now. Let us have no modesty, or muffled beauty. Step up, let's embrace some changes, now.