Literary Agent Wendy Weil Has Died

Literary agent Wendy Weil, who founded of The Wendy Weil Agency in 1986, died suddenly at her home in Connecticut on September 22, 2012. Atlantic national correspondent and author James Fallows posted a brief remembrance of her online at the Atlantic: "Wendy Weil, who has been my literary agent on all the books I have written, died suddenly while doing what she did most often, and best—reading manuscripts."

The Wendy Weil Agency represents books by authors such as Andrea Barrett, Rita Mae Brown, Alice Fulton, Mark Helprin, and Philip Lopate.

Literary Agents Become Owners of ICM

After more than a year of negotiations, a group of agents at International Creative Management (ICM) successfully reached an agreement to purchase a majority ownership of the company from the private-equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management LLC, and longtime ICM chief executive officer Jeffrey Berg. The Hollywood talent agency will now be known as ICM Partners and is controlled by a partnership of twenty-nine agents and executives from its film, television, publishing, and touring departments. The financial details of the agreement weren't revealed.

ICM was formed in 1975 through the merger of International Famous Agency and Creative Management Associates (which were themselves formed by earlier mergers). Rizvi Traverse Management paid ICM's founding owners seventy million dollars for a majority interest in the agency in 2005, which allowed ICM to purchase the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann literary agency in 2006. According to the Wall Street Journal, in recent years, there were grumblings among the agents that Rizvi, a Connecticut-based financial company, did not show significant interest in the agency.

In the publishing world, one of ICM's best-known agents is Amanda "Binky" Urban, who represents Charles Frazier, Mary Karr, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, and Donna Tartt.

Working With Literary Agent Emilie Jacobsen

The most recent episode of the literary podcast Other People with Brad Listi features novelist Emily St. John Mandel, whose new book The Lola Quartet, is just out from Unbridled Books. The entire interview is worth a listen—Emily and Brad discuss a wide range of subjects, including literary life in Brooklyn, Emily's career in dance, and taking language courses in French leading up to a book tour of France. However, around the twenty-five minute mark Mandel recounts her first experience with an agent—which entailed a rejection with generous notes, a massive revision that took six months, and a resubmission before she was taken on as a client. The agent was Emilie Jacobsen, who landed a job at Curtis Brown Literary when she was just out of college in 1946, and worked there until she passed away at the age of eighty-five, in 2010. At the time, Emily St. John Mandel wrote a remembrance of Ms. Jacobsen for the Millions.

Anne Edelstein on the State of Publishing

With the almost daily news about signifcant changes to the publishing industry, we reached out to veteran literary agent Anne Edelstein for some perspective on how things have changed and what it means. Edelstein has been an independent agent for over twenty years. Some of her clients include Mark Epstein, Jody Shields, and Russell Shorto.

POETS & WRITERS: You spent time at Harold Ober Associates, a storied agency that represented F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, the estate of Langston Hughes, etc., and has a reputation of being steeped in the past, in an older way of doing things. Tell me about your earliest days there, and as an agent. What is the most remarkable difference between then and now?

ANNE EDELSTEIN: It was probably fifteen years ago that I worked briefly at Harold Ober, really only for the matter of a few months. Yes, it was even an old way of doing business back then. I remember bringing my own computer to the office in order to have one to work on. After having already spent a few years running my own agency, mostly representing writers who were starting out, rather than estates, my pace and organizational structure was very different from that of Ober. After a few months, I realized that I preferred my own approach, and went back to my own office where I could represent foreign rights directly, keep my own files and do the bookkeeping on a computerized system, which I immediately streamlined further. 

P&W: The publishing industry is in a state of flux. For some, it's an exciting time, for others it's gloom and doom. Is right now the worst it's ever been? Or is the worst behind us? Are you hopeful? Wary?

AE: The business is indeed in a state of flux unlike ever before. There have always been phases of gloom and doom that seem to pass and then return. But this doesn't seem like a phase so much as a major shift of technology and sensibility. 

P&W: In light of evolving publishing models, do you see new roles agents must play?

AE:  Like many agents, I find myself working much harder on the development of manuscripts and proposals before allowing them out into the world, and encouraging authors to be more astute than ever about aspects of publicity and promotion, and of course dealing with authors' electronic backlist. The biggest issue is that authors need to be paid enough to allow them to continue what they do best, and therefore an openness to new venues of publishing and publicizing is essential.  The bright side is that new opportunities should continue to unfold, and that people so far still seem to appreciate a good, well-written book.

New Business and High Concept Ideas

Deadline Hollywood reports that former ICM agent Nick Harris has partnered with financing specialist Jason Traub (also his brother-in-law) to form The Story Foundation, a company that aims to "create intellectual properties that start as books with ancillary life in film, TV and other multi-platform opportunities." Harris says he plans to offer authors a higher cut of any TV and movie deals based on their books, depending on how involved they were in generating the original idea. The company will focus on young adult and "high concept commercial ideas," as Harris put it. So...what exactly are "high concept commercial ideas"? We asked literary agent Julie Barer for a quick translation. Here's what she says: "I think a 'high concept' idea is one that is easily described in one or two sentences, appeals to a broad audience (meaning both male and female readers, young and old) and is both immediately recognizable and yet sounds original and fresh. It means the story has a 'hook' that will instantly draw people in, and will be easy to pitch to media, booksellers, and the general public. It usually means the focus is more about the plot and the narrative drive/tension than about the beauty of the line-by-line writing, but it doesn't have to be." 

On a related note, Barer's Twitter feed offers news about publishing and upcoming events, and is worth a follow. In fact, we've added the Twitter feeds of all those agents included in our Literary Agents database. Take a look! But remember: It's definitely not a good idea to query an agent via social media.

Bill Clegg on Being Both an Agent and an Author

Bill Clegg of the William Morris Endeavor literary agency represents authors such as Mary Jo Bang, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Mark Doty, Rivka Galchen, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Salvatore Scibona, and Rebecca Wolff. But he's an author, too, having published last year the memoir Portrait of an Addict as Young Man and this April the follow-up Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. Both published by Little, Brown, the memoirs delve into Clegg's drug addiction and recovery. We asked Clegg to talk about what led him to become a literary agent, and a writer.

POETS & WRITERS: Your entry into the publishing industry was via the Radcliffe Publishing Seminar, and soon after you landed your first job at an agency. You've remarked on feeling a cultural outsider when you first arrived in New York (and within the rarefied air of the publishing world). But to the casual observer, you were moving quickly and easily among industry giants. Did outsider status fuel your passions and ambition?

BILL CLEGG: It fueled a lot of things.  What looks like ambition from the outside is often just compensating to get by. I was just trying to keep my head above water and along the way found escape and relief in booze and drugs and also, thank god, in the great work of writers I was lucky enough to represent. There were consequences to both modes of coping, some good, some not so good.

P&W: As a young man, you stood at the foot of J. D. Salinger's driveway, hoping he would come out and say hello. Did you aspire to write at an early age? Could you tell us about the romantic notion of a writer's life versus the work of writing? Do the two ever meet?

BC: I was in Paris a few weeks ago having dinner with a friend and her new boyfriend, a political journalist, who made my fixation on Salinger look like a flimsy crush. When I told him about standing at the bottom of the driveway in Cornish he smiled and excused himself from the table. A minute or two later he returned with a large NO TRESPASSING sign from you-know-where. It had fallen, he insisted, but I wasn't so sure. He'd made the trek twice from Paris—as an adult! What is it about Salinger and those books, that book? Funny that this restless, doubting political writer born and raised in France would linger in the same place hoping to connect with—even just be seen by—the same guy. It must have something to do with how he transcribed perfectly something that feels/felt so private and so intense—that ajar teenage feeling, the hesitancy at adolescence's end. Lingering at the end of the driveway is, in a way, a return to that feeling, that innocence. Maybe for some of us who never felt innocent the draw was exaggerated.

Did I think about writing then? In college, yes, and I wrote this terrible little children's story that was in the end a rip-off (I see now) of Holling C. Holling's Paddle to the Sea. I even sent it to an agent—the daughter of a older couple I did gardening work for in the summers in college. I had a fantasy she'd publish it and it'd go on to be a classic or something and I'd somehow be able to avoid the working world, the regular nine-to-five office-scape that I couldn't fathom finding a place in. Seven or eight months after sending her the manuscript she mailed it back without a cover note but scattered with Post-its with notes on them like "Sweet," "Cut," "No." I was crushed and probably as a result I now spend way too much time writing what I hope are thoughtful rejection letters to writers who submit their work to me for representation. Anyway, Salinger provided a fantasy of what that life could be like—away, shielded by woods, supported by the income of a book that would always sell, a few perfect pieces of literature to represent what I meant without messy human interaction to expose the flaws. We never met.

P&W: Your agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, hired you as an agent at William Morris Endeavor when you returned to the publishing world, after a year-long recovery from addiction. Is there an analog to an agent having an agent? Is it akin to a surgeon having his appendix out? Is it tempting to be a backseat driver? Is your relationship with Jennifer that of a typical author and agent, or more as peers? Has the experience altered your own client relationships?

BC: There are examples of writers I admire who are also in book publishing and who also have agents—David Ebershoff, Jill Bialosky, Robin Robertson—so I'd seen over the years that it was not only possible but essential. I think all agent-author relationships are pretty subjective. Having Jennifer as my boss as well as my agent has been lucky in that she knows better than anyone what's going on in all areas of my work life. And she has an uncanny ability to metabolize writing—almost instantly—into the most useful, insightful responses. We don't tend to have big discussions about the publishing stuff—we have a kind of short hand of nods and hand signals, "yups" and "nopes" that acknowledge what we both sense is right/better/wrong. There's not a lot of hand-wringing or second-guessing. I trust her completely and so, yes, with her driving I'm happy to be in the backseat. When it's time to go there, I settle in comfortably, do my job as an agent, call my clients.

P&W: Please tell us about working with your editor, Pat Strachan. Did this process provide any insight into your life as an agent? 

BC: Working with Pat has been a great privilege. She is the most sensitive and respectful reader and has an architect's eye with writing. She'll see a chapter or a paragraph or even a chubby sentence and with a few quick strokes suggest a shape that is not only more attractive but one that transmits more effectively—usually with greater economy—whatever it was you were initially and not so elegantly trying to say. 

Elissa Schappell on How a Good Agent Can Save a Career

We sat down with Elissa Schappell recently at a favorite New York City watering hole, Clandestino, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and over drinks and olives discussed the crucial role her long-time agent Joy Harris played in the writing of Schappell's recently published story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls, published by Simon & Schuster in September. The book received considerable attention, making several “best of 2011” lists. It was also notable for appearing ten years after her debut, Use Me, a collection of linked short stories published by Morrow in 2000.

As is often the case when a first-time author sells a book of short fiction to a major publisher, the contract with Morrow was a two-book deal. The second book—at the time unwritten—was slated to be a novel, which traditionally perform better in the marketplace. Just as Schappell had done when she was writing Use Me, after she completed a substantial portion of the draft, which took a few years, she showed the manuscript to Joy Harris. Watch the video to hear what happened next.

Agents on the Move

Publishers Lunch reports today that literary agents Amy Hughes and Ethan Bassoff have moved to new agencies. Hughes moves from McCormick & Williams to Dunow, Carlson and Lerner where she will specialize in representing nonfiction writers, including memoirists; Bassoff moves to Lippincott Massie McQuilkin from InkWell Management and will continue to focus on literary and commercial fiction, as well as narrative nonfiction.

A New Literary Agency Announced

Rachel Sussman and Terra Chalberg befriended each other a decade ago as young editors at Scribner. Later, Chalberg joined the Susan Golomb Literary Agency as an agent and director of foreign rights. (Susan Golomb is the long-time agent of Jonathan Franzen.) Sussman moved on, too, becoming an agent for the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Agency, where she worked for six years.

Yesterday, the two peers announced the launch of a new literary agency, Chalberg & Sussman, which will offer an "unwavering commitment to helping emerging and established authors reach a broad audience across multiple platforms." With Chalberg managing the agency’s foreign rights alongside an international group of co-agents, the agency already has an impressive list of clients, including Margaux Fragoso, author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, Tiger, Tiger (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Hal Herzog, professor of psychology and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals (Harper, 2010); and Andrew Porter, Flannery O’Connor Award-winner for The Theory of Light and Matter: Stories (University of Georgia Press, 2008), among numerous others.

Allison Amend's Unconventional and Partly Unagented Road to Publication

For Allison Amend, author of the story collection Things That Pass for Love and the novel Stations West, the road to publication has been a slightly bumpy one. It has required tenacity and perseverance, coupled with faith in her considerable talent. An Iowa MFA grad, with several prestigious credits, and for at least ten years, no books—she diligently wrote, placed articles and stories, applied for residencies and fellowships, freelanced, taught freshman comp, while her peers openly debated why Allison Amend had not yet published a book. She'd been a finalist or semi-finalist in so many first book award contests she'd stopped listing them on her resume.

In 2004, she finished a historical novel, Stations WestA version of the first chapter had appeared in One Story in 2002. And she landed a big-time agent, who shopped the book to over thirty publishing houses, at first big, and then small. Many editors liked it; some came tantalizingly close to saying yes, but ultimately none offered to publish it. Amend’s agent suggested she put her hard-wrought novel, as they say, in the drawer. Subsequently, she and the agent parted ways. But Amend persisted on her own, finally finding a publisher for her book, despite having no representation. The novel was published in 2010, to critical acclaim, and nominated for the $100,000 Sami Rohr prize. She's now represented by Terra Chalberg at the Susan Golomb Literary Agency. (Terra Chalberg answers reader-submitted questions in The Poets & Writers Guide to Literary Agents.)

Of all authors, Amend knows the pros and cons of working with an agent. In this video, she shares her experience. 

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