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'The agent works for the writer'

12 December 2016

‘When I began, I had very little idea about what being an agent involved. All I knew was that I wanted to read and represent writers I admired. I wanted the job not to be about money, but about the quality of the work I represented.

The bestseller list was dominated by commercial trash. Literary writers had been left out in the cold and were starving for decent representation, but it was their backlist that provided publishers with a reliable base. The works of Borges, Nabokov and Camus, etcetera, remained in print and sold steadily and the situation had to be addressed. And that was our role.

The agent works for the writer. He's the writer's interpreter, business adviser, and ideally the stable element in the writer's life - always available at the end of the phone, always ready to read and respond. The agent is the gardener on an author's estate.

A writer is like a convict, spending a good part of their time in solitary confinement. So the writer is idiosyncratic, a-socialized, isolated, insecure.

A writer sits alone in his room. It's like a prison cell. But outside the window there's a garden. It's planted as he wished it to be. And in the corner, with a rake and a hoe, the agent is planting the flowers that the author has accumulated.'

Andrew Wylie, aka ‘The Jackal', of The Wylie Agency, speaking at the Guadalajara International Book Fair