Today Lloyd Grove turns his gimlet eye to Andrew Wylie, the successful and competitive literary agent who is known in many circles as “The Jackal” (we always suspect that people with nicknames like that made them up for themselves — that’s why nobody famous is nicknamed something like “The Armadillo” or “Eeyore”). In his latest “The World According To…” column at Portfolio.com, Lloyd grills Wylie over his ruthless client stealing, heartless friendship shattering, and personal history with dirty poetry. Wylie admits he has “a puppy crush on Amazon” but that he thinks their new Kindle e-book reader (“which I gather weighs 140 pounds”) will be a dud. Below, we’ve snipped out some of the choicest moments from the 140-pound interview. In them, you’ll read how Lloyd learns to his chagrin that everything you’ve ever heard about Andrew Wylie is true.
• On ruthlessness: “If we want to represent someone, the fact that they are represented by someone else is not an impediment as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes it’s an impediment as far as the writer is concerned, but frequently it isn’t. And if — as was the case with Martin Amis [whose account Wylie took from the wife of Amis’s best friend] — his representation had overlooked a critical flaw in the structure of his business, if that had not happened, we would not be representing him.”
• On Philip Roth’s being caught at a 1969 party with a hundred-dollar bill sticking out of his fly: “That’s where he kept his wallet!”
• On the agency competition: “The people we represent are not writers who make the most money in the business. The greatest advances are paid either to disgraced politicians or to failed novelists. We don’t represent either category.”
• On the book-publishing industry’s profitability: “[It’s] dwarfed by shoe shining. It’s a very odd, very small business, that no one should get into unless they have no other occupation that they want to be involved in.”
• On his friendship with rival ICM agent Binky Urban, from whom he wrested the account of Raymond Carver’s estate: “Oh sure, we’re friends. But we don’t go to the same restaurant. I go to San Domenico, she…” [Grove finishes his sentence] “…to Michaels.”
• On getting Salman Rushdie to work with him: [In the eighties, Wylie legendarily asked Rushdie whether the two could get drinks next time Wylie was in London. When Rushdie said yes, Wylie got on a plane and flew to London that night.] “But he didn’t take us on that first time. But the second time I called him, I was in Karachi [Pakistan], and I said, ‘I’m coming to London.’ He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘Karachi.’ He said, ‘What are you doing in Karachi?’ I said, ‘Representing Benazir Bhutto.’ I think that’s what caught his attention.”
The World According To … Andrew Wylie [Portfolio]