Agent Andrew Wylie Touts Foreign Sales as the Road to Profitability

In Global Trade Talk by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Like him or not, Andrew Wylie is certainly savvy about managing his reputation. In April, the UK Guardian offered this profile and now Harvard magazine visits the man known overseas for the nickname “The Jackal.” The piece tracks his progress from Harvard undergrad to his position at the top of the publishing food chain.

Like so many in the elite circle of American culture, he was a legacy: His father, Craig Wylie, a Harvard grad as well, had been editor-in-chief at Houghton Mifflin.

He claims to have little interest in bestsellers: “I’m not going to sit around reading the bestseller list — the bound form of daytime television.” And he has unkind words about the past generation of literary agents: “They were in small offices covered in dust, with dying spider plants in the windows. The whole thing was absolutely depressing. And you got the feeling that the best writers had the worst representation, and the worst writers had the best representation. If I wanted to enjoy my life, I had to read good books. But how do you turn that into a business, if people who write well aren’t well paid? Yes, the best writers do make money over time — so in the long run, the most valuable author of all is Shakespeare. But publishing is constructed as if the most valuable author is Danielle Steel.”

Now, 30 years later his firm has some 700 clients and we can credit him with having helped turn big money literary publishing into something of a blood sport and bringing the book world into the gleaming towers of glass and steel.

What’s perhaps most interesting to note for our publication is just how much emphasis he places on foreign sales.

“You have to get on a plane and go to Paris and Milan and Munich and Beijing and Tokyo, and get to know the business there as well as you know the business in New York,” Wylie is quoted as saying. “The way you do that is a combination of frequent visits, business meetings, social meetings — lunch and dinner — getting friendly with the people who run these companies, and getting inside the culture of each country. You’ve got to get on a jet plane every month. It’s pretty exhausting.” He claims to have logged a total of 1,728,000 air miles to and from England alone, a number that would put the lead character in the film Up in the Air to shame.

He continues: “There are payoffs for the legwork. Philip Roth’s revenues, for example, derive roughly 50-50 from the United States and foreign sources. “Many agencies capture the former 50 percent, but they tend to capture only 20 percent of the latter,” Wylie says. “We are able to capture that latter 50 percent. So at the start, you’re talking about a jump of roughly 30 percent. And there are all sorts of ways to enhance value, country by country. We apply some analysis, and what ordinarily happens is an increase of 300 to 500 percent in revenue.” (The agency charges a 15 percent commission domestically today, 20 percent abroad; it was one of the last to work for 10 percent domestically until that proved unsustainable.)”

You can read the full article here.

Photo: Photograph by Robert Adam Mayer, via Harvard Magazine

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.