Andrew Wylie, the world-renowned literary agent behind the Wylie Agency, a man whose client list boasts the likes of Salman Rushdie, John Barth and Kofi Annan, is kind of a massive hater, which he made abundantly clear during an interview with Laura Bennett of The New Republic published yesterday.
"If one of my children were kidnapped and they were threatening to throw a child off a bridge and I believed them, I might," Wylie said when asked if he'd ever sell a book to Amazon's publishing branch. That should give you an idea of the conversation's tenor.
In some ways, Wylie seems like the last person anyone should be asking about the future of publishing. In a world where Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the top-selling books, he still hates commercial fiction. And his client list is, well, aging. For every rising star he represents, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, there's a dead one — of his hundreds of clients, 92 are the estates of deceased writers. And yet Wylie's still making money, so maybe we can learn a thing or two from him, and all the things he can't stand. Here are the most disparaging remarks he made:
On Amazon and...
Its publishing branch: "If Mrs. Bezos had published her book with Amazon, I’d be more convinced. She seems to feel that Knopf is a better publishing company than Amazon. Her agent could probably tell you why."
Its publishing branch, again: "They don’t publish anything of any interest to anyone."
The company's behavior: "Through greed [Amazon] has walked itself into the position of thinking that it can thrive without the assistance of anyone else. That is megalomania."
On technology and...
The Kindle: "I bought it right away and discarded it immediately. And I haven’t picked it up again."
Walking through the e-reader aisle: "It’s like driving through a bad neighborhood. I just keep focused on the road and hope to arrive in the country."
On publishing and...
The industry: "The industry analyzes its strategies as though it were Procter and Gamble. It’s Hermès. It’s selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. 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. It doesn’t have to be Walmartized."
The London 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."
On readers, commercial fiction, and...
Editing commercial fiction: "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. I know where the money is. It’s on Wall Street. I’m not going to sit around reading this drivel in order to get paid less than a clerk at Barclays. That’s just stupid."
The Art of Fielding: "Didn’t read the book. We did not engage when the opportunity to represent it arose."
Writers: "Unless you’re a terribly bad writer, you are never going to have too many readers."
On himself and...
Being a parent: I’ve probably paid a little less attention to my children than I have to the publishing industry.