Agent’s Provocateurs (excerpted)
By PJ Mark
MAKING THE PRODUCT At the beginning of April, New York magazine published a story called “The $28,995 Tutor,” about Katherine Cohen, the 33-year-old founder of IvyWise, “a college-consulting firm, and possibly New York’s youngest, probably its most handsomely compensated, and without a doubt its hippest independent college-guidance counselor.” Gluck’s magazines and other mail from ICM haven’t yet caught up to her, but already editors and other agents-around town are reading the New York article and formulating book ideas. Gluck receives a call from an executive at Hyperion, who advises her to read the article about Cohen.
Though the article presents Cohen as a go-getter, when Gluck speaks with Cohen the next day, she finds the counselor to be more complex. Cohen is someone who believes that pushiness on the part of parents gets in the way of making the right college choice for their teenager. “When she and I got on the phone, clearly this was my kind of girl on a topic that I felt really was going to resonate for others the way it did for me,” says Gluck, who signed Cohen as a client later that day. It is not uncommon in publishing for a magazine or newspaper article to spark a book idea for an agent. It’s about intuition and luck and timing, about thinking like a publisher and a marketer. Gluck has had success with this before. After she read an article in The Wall Street Journal about David Cordingly, a British nautical historian who had a fascination with pirates, she signed him and sold his book Under the Black Flag. She also managed to turn the team behind online financial advisers the Motley Fool into best selling authors and to create an unlikely bestseller of beauty tips by makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin.
By the time Cohen and Gluck walk into Hyperion on their first full day of publishing appointments, they decide to present Cohen as a brand. “Sure, there are a lot of college admissions books out there, but how many of them can you associate with a face?” Gluck says. During the meeting they discover that Robert Miller, president of Hyperion, has a teenage daughter who is starting the college tour and that Ellen Archer, Hyperion’s publisher, who told Gluck about the article, has two boys who have been in the admissions process, for preschool and kindergarten. Hyperion wants to buy the book before Gluck and Cohen walk out the door. Fewer than 30 hours after securing Cohen as a client, Gluck makes a deal with Hyperion for two books for a high six-figure price. Soon thereafter, in a vote of confidence, Hyperion decides to publish both titles in hardcover rather than the paperback editions that were originally planned.