The Washington Post

First Person Singular: Gail Ross, 57, Washington//Literary agent and president of the Ross Yoon Agency


Literary agent Gail Ross says: “I am the consummate party guest, because I know a little bit about a lot of things.” (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I just love books that are like looking at a globe and turning it. Just make me look at the world differently. They don’t have to change me from being this extreme to another extreme, but just give me a new pair of glasses to look out through. And that’s all. That’s change enough.

I’m a political junkie; I’m very interested in religion and certain parts of pop culture. I’m interested in psychology, and I love everything related to the brain. I am the consummate party guest, because I know a little bit about a lot of things. Except for the publishing business, I know nothing extraordinarily well.
So I’m a great guest. I can fake anything for a few minutes. I’ve had the longest liberal arts education of anyone I know.

“I really am a platform-agnostic — just buy books. I don’t care how,” Ross says. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I love showing government wrongdoings; I love showing the government when it’s doing the right things. They always said newspapers were the first draft of history; well, books are really the story. The most fundamental thing to me, frankly, is the power of story. Right? It’s the narrative — to change people, to move people, to inspire people, to educate people. When I’m not working, I love to read great novels, and I’m obsessed right now with wonderful Scandinavian and European mystery fiction, because they’re great storytellers. They know about pacing; they know about character development. But when you have the true characters that are in stories like that — it’s fabulous. I mean real people. When I read a book proposal based on a client’s work and say to myself, God, you couldn’t make these characters up, my smile is from ear to ear.

It’s actually a very exciting time. Two years ago was a very scary time. You had Borders going out of business; book sales were very static. Book publishers didn’t know what to do about this new technology. The group I’ve always been concerned about is the next generation. I mean, I will be able to do books that make the boomers happy for the rest of my career ’cause we’re big enough, and we’re still young enough, and we’re gonna read forever. But it’s the next generations that have always concerned me, because they have so much competing for their time, and they want things fast. It’s the best technology we have — the printed book. They’re beautiful. They don’t run on a battery, and they’re tactile. But I think e-books [have] changed all that — the sort of browse-ability of the e-book. Young people are buying books that way. I really am a platform-agnostic — just buy books. I don’t care how.

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