Essays in Honour of Gabriele Müller-Oberhäuser
Edited By Simon Rosenberg and Sandra Simon
Authors, Publishers, and the Literary Agent: An Ideal Literary Trinity?
Sandra Simon, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster
A. P. Watt, the first professional literary agent, provided a service welcomed by authors and condemned by several publishers. Stirring the power relations on the book-market at the turn of the century, the agent was supposed to be part of an ideal literary trinity with authors and publishers.
Concepts of authorship and publishing are rarely debated but what exactly a literary agent is has remained elusive ever since the emergence of the agent in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary defines him (or her) as “an agent … who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting his or her work.”1 One of the most recent and probably best known examples of an agent who not only promoted but essentially made an author is that of the literary agent Christopher Little. This agent-made success is Joanne K. Rowling, author of the bestselling Harry Potter series. Several publishers refused to publish Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) before she signed a contract with Little in 1995. It is claimed that he “secured the Harry Potter scribe a six-figure book deal and transformed her into a literary superstar.” And what is more: “Both made a fortune.”2 For Little this connection proved even more a remunerative advantage when Rowling severed her links with the agent after 16 years in 2011. She joined lawyer...
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