’m the only agent I know of, and maybe the only one in the history of the world, who actually grew up wanting to be a literary agent.
In my adolescence I went through a period of obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald and read every published word by or about him, including his Selected Letters edited by Andrew Turnbull.
I was struck by the fact that the letters to his legendary editor, Max Perkins, showed little evidence of Perkins making any contribution to Fitzgerald’s career other than, of course, buying his books in the first place. The letters to his equally legendary (though unknown to the general public) agent, Harold Ober, were more interesting. It was to his agent, not his editor, that he turned for support, advice, encouragement, and inspiration. Together they put together a career over a 20-year period.
I loved writing but was not myself a writer: I was like the clumsy kid who loves the Yankees and wants to be a coach since he can never play center field. So even as early as the age of 14 I figured out that if you wanted to help writers live the good life, rather than write yourself, you could best do that as a literary agent.
I graduated from Brandeis University in May 1976 and started within days as an apprentice to the most colorful and successful agent of his era, Scott Meredith. I made my first sale within a month and had 15 uproarious, adventurous years there, making publishing industry history a few dozen times, and forming the nucleus of the client list I still represent today. When Scott died in 1993 I joined with the two other top agents there, Ted Chichak and Jack Scovil, to found this firm.
I am taking on a very few new authors in areas that have a special meaning for me.
In fiction, my passion is novels which stretch the bounds of reality. There are scores of different ways to do that and I love them all. A novel needs to take me some place I can’t get to in a car, whether it be the past, the future, a fantasy world, an alternate historical track, a world in which our world touches another that is hidden or rarely seen, or one which has been changed by some new technology, event, or idea.
In nonfiction I do strong, serious books on almost any subject. I won’t take on a nonfiction book that doesn’t teach me something. I don’t do books which are merely entertaining, or which are bullshit (diet or pop psych books that don’t really help people, for instance). I’m interested in science, history, journalism, biography, business, memoir, nature, politics, sports, contemporary culture, literary nonfiction, etc. I will take on any book by a good writer willing to work hard and spend a year plumbing the depths of some fascinating aspect of man or nature.
On the following pages I’ve posted examples of the books that have defined my life. Some are hits and some have suffered an undeserving death. Some are recent, others are emotional flamepoints from the past which illuminate some crucial aspect of my tastes, passions, and spirit. These books are what I’ve been exulting or crying over these past few thousand days.