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WS interviews William Clark

By Adrienne Mand :: Literary Agent William Clark :: Exclusive Word Smitten Interview ::

Jonathan Stone, author of the mystery/thrillers "The Cold Truth," "The Heat of Lies" and "Breakthrough," recalls the swift process of selling his first novel to St. Martin's Press.

He had brought the manuscript to literary agent William Clark of Manhattan's William Clark Associates during his lunch break. The rest is practically a blur.

"He sat down to read it late that afternoon, called me at eight when he'd finished it, sent me a contract the next morning, pitched the book over the next 48 hours and had us a two-book deal within days," Stone says.

"He called me from a noisy restaurant on his cell phone with the good news."

Pretty impressive for a guy who began his life in a Virginia town of 700 people and chose not to graduate from college. But then, Clark's career has always been about finding what he likes and pursuing it with vigor.

After attending boarding school and studying in Paris and northern England, Clark majored in English literature at the College of William & Mary, where in "four-and-a- half years I took every course I wanted to take."

He then lived in Richmond, Virginia, for a year, where two friends had written a biography of entertainer Oscar Levant, and their agent needed an assistant.

"I was going to move here anyway," he says of New York, where he lives and works in his Chelsea townhouse. "I had edited the William & Mary review for three years, I knew New York writers and I knew this was where I wanted to be."

His first job was with Roslyn Targ, whom he recalls as "a pioneer in the business in that she was one of the first in New York to bring writers in translation to the United States."

From there, he worked with Virginia Barber and another agent before joining the William Morris Agency in 1993. There, he worked with authors including James Michener and Gore Vidal and the estates of Betty Smith and Ralph Ellison.

Clark left William Morris in 1997 and after a few years, decided to start his own agency in 1999. William Clark Associates was born, and it has represented an eclectic mix of authors ever since.

"I'm something of a generalist - I do whatever interests me," says Clark of projects ranging from non-fiction to literary fiction, without being limited to one genre. He also works in London with translation rights.

"My books, more than anything else, seem to have an urban sensibility."

He notes that, if he doesn't have the feeling that he can best represent a book, he'll pass on it, without remorse.

"I'm in a fortunate position of being able to say no," Clark says. "There have been novels I've turned down that have sold, but they just weren't right for me. Fiction is such a subjective thing, but I've never regretted passing on something. But I'm not perfect."

Clark plays many different roles for his clients, primarily serving as fiduciary, but also tackling the myriad issues involved with finding a publisher, creating audio and rights deals, managing publicity and keeping current with the marketplace."

The editor used to be much more of a constant in an author's life. The agent now is," he says, adding, "On a diplomatic level, I never want my clients to have an argument with an editor. I want to have that argument and win. I seek to preserve that relationship so it's as creative as possible."

To that end, Clark has cultivated rapport with major industry players, which works in his clients' favor. "I'm not the kind of agent who goes to a lunch with a laundry list of products. I get to know the editors, what they're looking for and what they've bought," he says, adding, "I am able to move very quickly. I have established relationships with pretty much the heads of all of the houses, and that's who I deal with for the most part."

Enter Stone's experience, as well as that of author Keith Kachtick, whose first novel, a "Buddhist love story" titled "Hungry Ghost," Clark sold to HarperCollins in less than 24 hours.

"Dan Menaker (who's now at Random House) claimed that what piqued his interest in the novel was a line in William's cover letter, gently reminding him that, out of respect, William had never before sent him anything, and the fact that he was doing so now was testament to how much he liked 'Hungry Ghost,'" Kachtick recalls.

Clark says he becomes just as jazzed about an author's ambition as he is about their work. "You can recognize if someone has a sense of purpose, a conviction in their work, a passion."

Those who've worked with him say it's a mutual attribute. "There's something salutary and sustaining about a positive outlook - in business, and in human relations in general. William has that outlook," Stone says. "It's part of his makeup. So that while he is a 'serious' person - thoughtful, exacting - he is also an upbeat, forward-looking, positive person. He's not a brooder. He looks ahead. He concentrates on solutions and not problems. He sees opportunities, and doesn't get hung up in disappointments. That positive outlook is great energy to have in the traditionally lonely writer's camp."

And Kachtick adds that Clark's support as an author's advocate "makes you feel like he'll die happy because he got to represent your book."

Clark will continue to run his one-man-show, working with authors who inspire him as much as traveling and listening to classic jazz. "I can't imagine doing anything else," he says. "If I weren't doing this, I would be a Buddhist monk - it's true."

Of his current clients, Clark states, "They
range from Peter Hessler, an Asian correspondent for The New Yorker, to Bjork, to the chefs and owner of the NY restaurant Balthazar for THE BALTHAZAR COOKBOOK, to Franklin Toker (FALLINGWATER RISING, a biography of the Frank Lloyd Wright house just published by Knopf) to the novelists Keith Kachtick and Jonathan Stone."
Clark is a member of the respected AAR, and he actively represents contemporary clients who write fiction and nonfiction. He provides an informative Web site for writers to discover the details about his professional services, including query guidelines, and where they may read about the newest authors whom he represents.

Visit William Clark to learn more.

Read more tips about contacting a literary agent and find the link to The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc. (AAR) on our Writing Tips pages.



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