“Unlike most agencies, Javelin mixes books, PR and politics…and it’s about to blow up Washington’s book industry”
ALEXANDRIA, VA — In the February issue that hit newsstands this week, Washingtonian offers a feature profile of one of the fastest rising communications, digital and literary agencies in the the D.C. metropolitan area: Javelin.
In January of last year, Keith Urbahn and Matt Latimer, founders of the literary agency Javelin, purchased a 6,000-square-foot building in Old Town Alexandria, setting up their office one flight up from a ceramics showroom. The space is bright and airy and minimally decorated, with graphics intended to be representative of the various services Javelin provides its clients: a computer, for website design and digital marketing; a radio mike, for media deals; and a typewriter, for ghostwriting.
“One of the first things we discovered about the publishing-agent industrial complex, or whatever you want to call it, is how absurd and outdated it can be,” Latimer says. “Like, as an agent, this idea that you do not do promotion for your clients. Or that you do not help them create websites. It seemed silly, so we thought, okay, let’s just reinvent the whole process of being an agent. Let’s reinvent it and see what happens.”
…About two years later, he opened Javelin with Urbahn, 30, another former Rumsfeld speechwriter. The two took the firm’s name from the Secret Service handle for Rumsfeld’s wife; they liked how “distinctly un-Washington” it sounded, Urbahn says. Neither Latimer nor Urbahn—an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve—had a lick of agenting experience. Still, both were consummate readers and experienced writers, and as successful entrepreneurs often can, they’d spotted an opening.
“We knew that typically, with political books, the publisher puts it out there and gives it a week of attention, but if something big happens three weeks out that could help benefit the book, it’s like, ‘Oh well—too late,’ ” Urbahn recalls. “We’d gotten to know all these Washington reporters, and our thinking was that we could use that to help publicize books. And we could use our experience as writers to collaborate with authors, or even book-doctor some projects, if we needed to. That was going to be our niche.
Their first client was their old boss. Latimer and Urbahn had helped write Rumsfeld’s previous book, a memoir called Known and Unknown. Washington superagent Robert Barnett had handled the sale. But according to Latimer and Urbahn, Barnett had been unenthusiastic about the new project, a compendium of flinty Rumsfeldian wisdom. (Barnett did not comment for this story.) Barnett believed Rumsfeld would be “lucky” to get $200,000 from a publisher, Urbahn says. Sticking a thumb in Barnett’s eye, Javelin sold Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Lifeto HarperCollins for nearly $1 million. It also organized a social-media campaign, arranged TV bookings, and built a website with a searchable index of sources.
“What impressed me was that they were able to leverage all this technology in a way that most people my age couldn’t,” Rumsfeld says. “There are few agents who know anything about promoting in the 21st century. Keith and Matt did.”