Columbia Library columns (v.39(1989Nov-1990May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.39,no.2(1990:Feb): Page 11  

My Life as a Literary Agent


Literary agents were in my day, in the world in which we
operated, considered to be rather second-class citizens, not
by the authors we represented but by people in that world. It
was said about us that we just sat back and took our ten percent, or,
in the case of some agents, fifteen percent, ofthe authors' receipts,
creating nothing, just second-class citizens. In Hollywood, a party
that included an agent as a guest was considered an event near the
bottom of the social scale. On the East coast, agents were more
socially accepted in the publishing world, although we remained
just ten-percenters.

From novels and stories and films, one had a picture of a female
agent as a rather stout, dowdy, aggressive lady wearing a hat in the
office, and of a male agent as a rather stout, aggressive, cigar-
smoking boor. Neither picture was true. We agents came in all sizes
and shapes and from all backgrounds. I know of no such agents with
hats and cigars.

When one becomes an agent, one usually becomes addicted to
the profession. It is the same thing, with different results, as alcohol¬
ism. The agent (at least this agent) takes on the problems of the
authors he or she represents, not just the writing problems but the
financial, sexual, marital, living problems. It is a treadmill of involve¬
ment, an addiction from which there is no escape except by retire¬
ment or death.

My relationship with Herbert Gold, a graduate of Columbia and
author of more than twenty books, for most of which I was the
agent, I think, is indicative of the unique relationships between
writer and agent. Herb lives in San Francisco, where I have visited
him on numerous occasions. His first divorce was a source of great
distress to him and to me and to the various magazine editors who
tired of the subject of divorce from him in too many articles and
stories. He promised me that he would not consider marrying again
  v.39,no.2(1990:Feb): Page 11