October 9, 2013

“The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès.” Andrew Wylie’s guide to publishing


Andrew Wylie was interviewed by Laura Bennett for The New Republic

Welcome to publishing, bitch.

Andrew Wylie, aka, The Jackal, has spoken. But when Wylie, maybe the world’s leading literary agent, considered arch-enemy to many in the publishing industry, speaks, he does not speak like a normal human being. No, Wylie has developed a language all of his own, a bombastic fusion of hyperbolic metaphors, plain-talking, Wylie aphorisms, and punchy narratives which more often than not end with the words ‘Fuck it’.

I want everyone in publishing to talk like Wylie. Fuck the niceties, fuck Amazon‘s shit-stirring, fuck the regrets. This is how you do it.

1) Patience is for wimps. Don’t be someone who waits around for things, whether that’s an author or a Kindle. Fuck that. Wiley tells of his frustration when he first used a Kindle and his story teaches us an important lesson about never accepting anything but the best: ‘I was in Rome, in the back of a taxi, and I couldn’t see it. So I thought, fuck this.’

But the same attitude extends to poaching authors too, and this leads into rule number 2) Which is that you are the best:

“I was the guy with the scalpel. I didn’t think it was rude to say to the patient you’d do better in surgery with me with my scalpel than with this other person with the shovel. Because after all, the patient is dying.”

Try to brush aside any mental image of Wiley coming towards you brandishing a scalpel and focus on the lesson here: when dealing with personal criticism, evoke death and posit yourself as saviour. You are the saviour.

3) Before Wiley spoke, I didn’t know metaphors could be so ambitious. In fact, Wiley has single-handedly redefined the use of metaphor. Here is Wiley responding to the question ‘What is your next move?’: ‘Instead of being intimate like a massage parlor, we should be able to expand infinitely, like a Borgesian library.’ And here he is on the publishing industry’s development: ‘The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès.’ See how he mixes high and low? See how he takes the metaphor to ludicrous extremes? It’s outlandish! It’s incomprehensible! It’s genius.

4) Amazon. Napoleon. Amazon. Napoleon. It’s so simple, so true, and yet we just didn’t see it:

I think that Napoleon was a terrific guy before he started crossing national borders. Over the course of time, his temperament changed, and his behavior was insensitive to the nations he occupied.

Through greed—which it sees differently, as technological development and efficiency for the customer and low price, all that—[Amazon] has walked itself into the position of thinking that it can thrive without the assistance of anyone else. That is megalomania.

5) Real style comes in knowing when a Book Fair is really a Book Fair, and when it is just a poor African country masquerading as a book fair:

The London Book Fair is a sort of squalid thing. The agents are in an agent center and it’s ghastly. Like being in a primary school in Lagos. It’s a bunch of agents sitting together at primary school tables.

But equally, you should know where you’re not welcome. 6) And in those cases, you should just fuck the fuck off:

Young writers, when they see me, it’s like meeting Ronald Reagan.

Sometimes I go in to pay my respects. Everyone is perfectly polite, but you can tell they’d be a lot comfier if I’d just get the fuck out. So I do.

7) Make very clear distinctions between high culture (what you do) and low culture (what Amazon does): ‘They [Amazon] can do all of that shit. Take over daytime television, too. They are deeply into refrigeration.’

8) Continue to make jokes about the general public:

‘Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. It’s a tiny little business.’

9) And their reading habits:

‘What I thought was: If I have to read James Michener, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, I’m toast. Fuck it. This is about making money.’

10) And the people who sell books in megastores:

“You walk up to the clerk and say ‘Susan Sontag,’ and they think you’re talking about the cleaning lady.”

10) And now in one broad sweep, backhandedly complement and insult writers and readers everywhere, all at the same time:

‘Unless you’re a terribly bad writer, you are never going to have too many readers.’

Now that’s what I call a pro.

11) Most crucially, publishing is a matter of life and death. Yours, and your children’s. Here is Wiley on what it would take for him to sell a book to Amazon’s publishing programme: ‘If one of my children were kidnapped and they were threatening to throw a child off a bridge and I believed them, I might.’

12) Your only limit is your own mortality: ‘If the industry dies, I die with it.’