Laura Bennett has a lovely interview with the celebrated literary agent, Andrew Wylie, in the new Republic. It contains some memorable quotes.
“The biggest single problem since 1980 has been that the publishing industry has been led by the nose by the retail sector. The industry analyses its strategies as though it were Procter & Gamble. It’s Hermes. It selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. Is a tiny little business. It doesn’t have to be Walmartized.”
And I particularly liked this exchange:
Q: you grew up with a father who worked in publishing. Was there a disdain for mass-market fiction in your house?
A: Not really. I think what I wanted to know was: Is it possible to have a good business? The image I had was, if you represented writers were good, they and you were doomed to a life of poverty and madness and alcoholism and suicide. Dying spider plants and grimy windows on the Lower East Side. On the other side of my family, there were bankers. So I wanted to put the two together.
Q: how did you put the two together?
A: What I thought was: if I have to read James Mitchener, Danielle steel, Tom Clancy, I’m toast. Fuck it. This is about making money. I know where the money is. It’s on Wall Street. I’m not going to sit around reading this drivel in order to get paid less than a clerk at Barclays. That’s just stupid. So if I want to be interested in what I read, is there a business? Answer: yes, there is.
And the way to make it a business, I figured out, was: One, if you’re going to represent the best, you must represent a preponderance of the best. You’ve got to be very aggressive about representing the right people. Two, it has to be international and seamless.