Reading about the Andrew Wylie method is deeply depressing. This is what the literary agent better known as the Jackal told his first prospective client: “The most important thing is to get paid. If you get $100,000, the publisher will print a lot of copies and will make sure the bookstores put your book in the front of the stores. If you’re paid less, they’ll print fewer copies, and you’ll end up spine-out in the back of the store. Thirty percent of book-buying is impulse buying, so you need to be in piles near the front of the store, competing with Danielle Steel. Why should the worst writers have the best deals? If enough people are given a chance to find you, you’ll be a bestseller.”

He speaks from experience, though. This is how he marketed Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses: “Rushdie’s books had sold well in England — between 100,000 and 200,000 copies each — and had been very well received around the world. But he had not done well in the United States, where fewer than 20,000 copies of Midnight’s Children and Shame had been sold. As I saw it, the job was to get a company with offices in both London and New York to base their estimate of the book’s potential on what they knew they could sell in the U.K.

To do that, we would start in Italy. There Rushdie’s previous work had sold well, but he had not been paid author’s advances that were in proportion to his sales; so if we could increase his advance markedly and place him with a stronger publisher, good would come of it. The same potential existed in Germany. So the first two sales of the book were made to Mondadori and Kiepenheuer. His previous publishers complained heavily, which meant that when I returned to New York, there was a high level of interest in the book. We then submitted it to American houses that had no partners in London, and in London to houses that had no partners in New York. Those submissions produced a maximum price, which we gave to publishers with offices in both places. We told them that we were looking to meet those combined advances with a world-English language offer. Penguin prevailed. The book’s first printing in the United States was 75,000 copies. We had achieved what we wanted.”

And people accuse me of being cynical about the world of publishing.





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