Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The strategy of building a client

by Jane

Every once in a while, we are asked why we signed a particular client and what the process was like, specifically what appealed to us about the client and/or the project in the first place, what strategies we used to build that client’s career and how things went from when they first contacted us until now.

Naturally, I have many different stories that could answer this question but one of my favorites is that of Thomas French, a hugely talented journalist and author.

In the fall of 1988, I read a series Tom had written for the St. Petersburg Times about a murder case in Gulfport, Florida, a case where the small town detective ended up arresting one of his best friends and charging him with rape and first degree murder. It was a fascinating case with lots of twists. As I do when I read interesting and compelling material, I called Tom immediately and told him I thought that the series would make a terrific book.

Tom became a client and together we created a super book proposal which we sold to St. Martin’s Press. The book was published first in hardcover in 1991 and then a year later in paperback. It turned out to be a terrific success; it’s still in print and continues to sell today.

In the decades since, I have advised Tom on his other book projects and I think he and I have taught each other a lot. We have talked about the continuing challenges of writing, about the business of publishing, and the differences between the two. I have analyzed for him why this project can snag a contract and why that one will not. Over the years, when Tom found himself having trouble with one of his sources or stuck at a certain point in the writing of a book, I have listened and tried to help him see the big picture. Working in this way allowed Tom to focus on what he wanted to focus on--the reporting and writing and the storytelling and everything else required to wrestle another page, another chapter, another book into publication.

In 1998, Tom French won the Pulitzer Prize for series he did for the St. Petersburg Times entitled “Angels and Demons,” and we actually sold a movie option of the series.

Now, Tom’s third and I think best book to date is about to come out. In July, Zoo Story, an account of life and death inside the Tampa zoo, will be published by Hyperion; it has required six years of immersion reporting, interviewing and writing. For me, it has been exhilarating to watch Tom develop this incredible tale, and I am eagerly anticipating its success.

Now, once again, we are in the early stages of discussing new projects which Tom will develop in the next several months.

When the agent/author relationship unfolds as this one has it is incredibly fulfilling. In fact it is why I continue to love what I do. Strategizing literary careers and developing successful authors is challenging, sure, but it is also enormously satisfying to watch our clients grow and succeed.

4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful collaborative relationship. One in which you both grow and make gains. I hope to one day be so fortunate as well.

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  2. What struck me as I read this post was the incredible amount of trust involved in a great author/agent relationship. It's one reason I plan to take the slow approach to the query process. Thanks for this inspiring story!

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  3. This sounds like a wonderful relationship and it's a great story to hear. It's amazing that you have worked with one client for so long, and it's inspiring.

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  4. I'm glad to read about how long and well you nurtured one of your clients. If only all writers could be so lucky! I'm looking forward to reading ZOO STORY.

    http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com

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