Publishing powerbroker Mort Janklow died on May 25 at his home in Water Mill, N.Y., five days short of his 92nd birthday.
After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1960, Janklow practiced law for 12 years before starting his career as a literary agent when he agreed to help a friend, William Safire, strike a deal for a book he was writing about Richard Nixon. After publisher William Morrow tried to back out of the deal following the breakout of the Watergate scandal, Janklow sued and eventually sold the book to Doubleday. Janklow’s actions were seen by many, including Janklow, as creating a new era for authors’ rights.
“We took the publisher out of the captain’s seat and put the author in it,” Janklow said. “The publisher is replaceable; the author is not.”
In an interview with PW in 2005, Time Warner Book Group CEO Larry Kirshbaum agreed that over the years, authors had gained more leverage in negotiations. “There's no question that the balance of power in the business has swung way over to the talent side,” Kirshbaum said, adding a piece of advice he had received from Janklow. “When I first started, Mort Janklow said to me that the big authors always seem to be expensive at the time—yet when you look back at it, you always end up making money on them.”
After establishing his own literary agency in 1977, Janklow worked with a who’s who of authors. Among his clients were: Jackie Collins, John Glenn, Al Gore, Thomas Harris, Judith Krantz, David McCullough, Michael Moore, Pope John Paul II, Sidney Poitier, Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Pat Riley, Carl Sagan, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, Ted Turner, Robert Wagner, Barbara Walters, and Steven Weinberg.
To ensure his authors got the best deal, Janklow was not shy about moving his authors to a different publisher. In 1997, for example, after moving Jackie Collins from Simon & Schuster to Regan Books, he signed a multimillion-dollar, three-book hard/soft contract with Collins's former S&S editor, Michael Korda. A three book, eight-figure deal lured Barbara Taylor Bradford from Delacorte/Dell and Doubleday to St. Martin's Press in 2002. But he could also keep authors at one house if they were getting a fair deal, as he did with McCullough, who published most of his books with Simon & Schuster.
In 1989, Janklow teamed with Lynn Nesbit to form one of the industry’s most powerful literary agencies, Janklow & Nesbit. “Mort was a beacon of positivity and hope in an uncertain world,” said Nesbit in statement. “He radiated optimism and his clients, family, and friends were always leaning on and learning from him as a result. He was a bright light in the publishing world, devoted to his writers and passionate about our business. We will all miss him.”
Outside of publishing, Janklow was active in numerous endeavors. At Columbia Law School, he founded the Morton L. Janklow Program for Advocacy in the Arts and endowed the Morton L. Janklow Chair in Literary and Artistic Property Law. At Syracuse University, he served on the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors and founded the Janklow Arts Leadership Program. He was a distinguished member of the Council on Foreign Relations for over four decades. He also served on numerous advisory boards for philanthropic institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Plans for a memorial will be announced.