SFist Interview, December 2005

The SFist Interview: Ted Weinstein

Most parents aren’t exactly proud when their child announces that he or she works on adult media. Ted Weinstein has navigated this difficult territory time and time again. True, the pronouncement is doubtlessly made easier because he works in adult non-fiction literature. SFist has long been obsessed with the literati and the glitterati. Since we struggle gaining access to them, we are proud to bring you the next best thing—their agent. Ted Weinstein is a fierce proponent of the Bay Area’s literature scene. He is also good at getting the authors he represents to finish their manuscripts. His methods are a trade secret, but let’s just say both carrots and sticks are used. And he was kind enough to submit to an SFist interview.

You are described (by yourself among others) as “one of SF’s best, coolest, funniest lit’ry agents”…why would they say this?
Because I pay them. The current administration has demonstrated how important it is to fund good stories about oneself in the media…

Is it true?
Welllll, I do think I have the best job in the world and it was a good fit as soon as I started – I work with all these talented authors writing books about all kinds of fascinating topics. One of my roles is to keep them adequately supplied with caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, or whatever else it takes so they can actually finish their books. We seem to have fun together along the journey.

How did you decide to focus on Non-Fiction for Adults?
It’s fun to shock my parents by telling them I work in “adult media,” plus this way I can read novels just for fun, without having to analyze and evaluate.

Who is the “author who got away”?
They never get away – I keep clients chained in my basement, away from all distractions, working diligently on their book proposals or manuscripts.

What’s your take on the literary scene in San Francisco/ Bay Area?
Best in the country. New ideas and voices need to get validated by the national media outlets eventually, most of which are centered in NYC, but fresh perspectives rarely spring up in that small, provincial town east of the Hudson River. SF has been a magnet for inventive, creative people for centuries and the literary scene out here (authors, editors, agents, publishers) is breathtakingly wonderful. We will tell our grandchildren about this golden age.

Do you write yourself?
Hi, my name is Ted – I’m a recovering writer. (“Hi, Ted”) I used to be a music critic for All Things Considered and the Chronicle, and late last century I took a year off to write a book, from which I conclusively learned I belong on the business side of publishing.

Any advice to the struggling writers out there?
Treat your writing like a real career. Hard work, discipline and professionalism are what separate successful authors from the otherwise talented writers who are just sitting in cafes kvetching that they aren’t succeeding.

Tell us the war story that makes you the most proud?
Hmmm, maybe the time I took on a new client ( and sold his book (The Skeptic’s Dictionary) to an editor who had turned it down two years earlier when the author pitched it himself, or maybe the client ( who had been turned down by 27 other agents before I saw the potential in his project and got him a deal with a major publisher as well as a recent movie deal (American Nightingale).

Which of your authors should we be looking out for?
All of them, of course! Several with great books that were recently published are NPR’s “Math Guy,” Keith Devlin, author of THE MATH INSTINCT, a fun book for non-math people all about the innate math talents of all kinds of animals (including humans), and Craig Conley, whose ONE-LETTER WORDS: A DICTIONARY is an amazingly fun treat for Scrabble players or any word nerd, all about the 1,000+ definitions of the 26 letters in the alphabet.

The Interview –

Ted Weinstein

Introduce yourself in one sentence
I’m a negotiator, editor, lawyer, accountant, cheerleader, disciplinarian and occasional psychotherapist for lots of talented writers.

Age and Occupation
43, literary agent

Home Town
Philadelphia, PA

How much time have you spent in the Bay Area? Where abouts and doing what?
I arrived here more than 15 years ago almost by accident. I got a job for a consulting firm here after grad school and figured I’d try SF. Two weeks later they moved me to Indianapolis almost full time for three months. But I’d already realized SF was the home I’d been looking for all those years before, and I jumped to the local media world shortly thereafter.

Favorite website
Metafilter — weird, often obnoxious, but wonderful.

Favorite dot com or local business
Trader Joe’s

What I’m currently reading
Tender Bar – great memoir. The Undressed Art: Why We Draw– fascinating, insightful companion to my newly reactivated passion for drawing

Best Deal in San Francisco
Hiking at Pt. Reyes, or the view coming back to SF over the Bay Bridge near sunset in late autumn

Favorite mode of transportation
My feet

Best Band or Musician to come out of the Bay Area
Oranj Symphonette

Favorite local hangout
Dalva (for booze) or Cafe Quetal (for coffee)

SF has the BEST:

You’ve never lived in SF until:
You’ve told your visiting friend or family member to go to Fisherman’s Wharf on their own.

Favorite Bay area politician of past or present:
The Gavster – my first career was in politics, and while I don’t agree with everything he is doing he’s the first politician I’ve seen in forever who genuinely seems to want to do the right thing for the public.

Now that Gavin Newsom is single, who are you going to set him up with?
A better hairdresser? (Sorry, Gav, bite the bullet and change the ‘do now, before you run for national office…)

You can tell someone is a local here IF:
They don’t bat an eye when a guy wearing chaps with nothing on underneath gets on Muni next to them

SF would be soooo much better if only:
We had 25 or 30 electoral votes

Best Burrito:

Best Restaurant:
The dear, departed Rooster

Best movie scene filmed in or about SF:
Bullitt – when my car is ready to be junked I want to recreate that chase scene

Best thing to do in the city in the summer:
Wear a jacket

Favorite artist to come out of the bay area:
Bob Arneson

Favorite author to come out of the bay area:
Too many to mention

Place you always tell visitors to check out:
Valencia Street, between 16th and 23rd

Favorite Bridge in the area:
Romain St. pedestrian overpass above Market Street, on the way up to Twin Peaks

You have two hours and $15 bucks to kill in SF, what are you going to do?
Valencia Street, between 16th and 23rd

Question you’d ask if you were doing this interview:
If for some tragic reason you couldn’t live in SF, where would you live?