BOOKS: Too busy for a boozy lunch - Arthur Klebanoff may be a successful and dynamic literary agent, but his story lacks the spice of dealmaking gossip, says Antony Harwood

BOOKS: Too busy for a boozy lunch - Arthur Klebanoff may be a successful and dynamic literary agent, but his story lacks the spice of dealmaking gossip, says Antony Harwood - The Agent; By Arthur Klebanoff; Texere pounds; 18.99

by ANTONY HARWOOD has been a literary agent since 1985
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Agent; By Arthur Klebanoff; Texere pounds; 18.99

Literary agency has to be as near to perfection as any business model can be. Your start-up costs are negligible: a telephone and PC are the bare necessities, and a small office in New York or London, the twin suns around which the publishing industry orbits, is advisable.

Once you are up and running, your overheads will remain relatively modest. And, thanks to the international copyright laws, the deals you make today could continue to generate income for you - and your heirs - for as long as 70 years after the death of the author, your client.

Arthur Klebanoff, an entrepreneur by temperament, was quick to see the beauty in the business of agenting, of managing talent. Having graduated from Yale College in 1965, he embarked on a career in politics, working in New York's City Hall before moving in 1969 to the White House to work with Pat Moynihan, senior counsellor to Richard Nixon. Klebanoff resigned a year later, went to Harvard Law School and in 1973 joined Mort Janklow and Jerry Traum's New York law firm as an associate.

Janklow was bored with the law and fell happily into agenting when an important client of his insisted that Janklow handle a publishing deal on his behalf. Klebanoff assisted Janklow, and soon both had all but abandoned law for publishing.

One of their first literary clients was Judith Krantz. Paperback rights to her first novel, Scruples, were acquired for dollars 500,000. The book sold well. Paperback rights to Krantz's second novel, Princess Daisy, were acquired for dollars 3 million.

Within five years of entering the publishing fray, Janklow, Traum and Klebanoff had clocked up some of the biggest deals the industry had ever seen - provoking Dick Snyder, then CEO of Simon & Schuster, to yell at Janklow down the phone: 'You're destroying publishing!'

Given the scale and speed of growth of the enterprise, who wouldn't be smitten by it? Little wonder that Klebanoff still carries the engraved Cartier pen given to him by Barbara Taylor Bradford in thanks for a seven-figure deal 'to remind me every day what I like about the agenting business'.

It can indeed be a hugely exciting and rewarding industry. Consider the case of London-based agent Christopher Little. Just a few years ago, he was sent a manuscript by an unpublished children's author. He liked it, took on the author as a client and started submitting her novel to publishers, a dozen of whom rejected it before one bought it for the modest sum of pounds 2,500 (agent's commission: pounds 250).

We are, of course, talking about JK Rowling, whose earnings to date from Harry Potter have been estimated at pounds 65 milion (agent's commission: pounds 10 million or more).

In 1983, Klebanoff quit Janklow's firm to set up shop on his own account and he has never looked back; he worked for some time in close association with Mark McCormack and IMG and, in 1993, consolidated and broadened his business with the acquisition of the Scott Meredith agency.

With his keen eye for new ways to exploit intellectual property, Klebanoff has in recent years put his faith in the new media, and his electronic book company, RosettaBooks, aims to be the early bird catching the worm in that infant market.

Klebanoff is undoubtedly a good and successful agent, but a writer he is not. The Agent is a dry and unremittingly straightforward memoir of a career, despite the author's protestations to the contrary in his preface.

The book's cover is an arty shot of a restaurant table, but there are no tales of long lunches, boozy indiscretions or deals signed on tablecloths. He declares that his book 'is a story of transitions and challenges'. If you really want an enjoyable taste of the transitions and challenges an agent might meet, of the profession's highs and lows, what it's like to represent talent, to make the break and set up on your own, then get down to your local video rental outlet and take home a copy of Jerry Maguire.

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