The professional program at FIL opened with a keynote address from Andrew Wylie, one of the world’s most renowned literary agents. Wylie spoke about the role literary agents play today, especially as regards international markets. He observed, “The trouble with most literary agencies is that they are local and not global.”
In his speech, Wylie touched on how he entered the business (the inspiration to become a literary agent from hearing Homer in Greek at school); recounted his wooing of authors such as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, and Susan Sontag; and then went on to describe how his suggestion to Henry Kissinger in 2009 that he write a book on China led to the opening of that country to Wylie’s (and presumably other agents’) authors.
Asked about his failures and what the audience could learn from them, Wylie cited the opening and subsequent closing of a branch of his literary agency in Madrid. He noted that today, of the 1,100 authors his firm represents, 20 are Spanish, many of them added in the past year by his hiring in 2015 of Cristóbal Pera, former editorial director of Penguin Random House Mexico.
In a brief interview with PW after his presentation, Wylie acknowledged that this was not only his first time at FIL but his first time in Mexico. He was impressed by the energy brought to the fair by small publishers and by some of the larger houses as well. Wylie said that while he personally wasn’t scouting for authors at FIL, Pera was looking for writers from Spain and Latin America and for Latino writers that live in the U.S.
Wylie believes that a new kind of Latin American boom may be in the making. The new boom, he said, will be different from the first. “I think the writers are perhaps less explosive but they are perhaps more targeted,” he said. “There is a lot of very interesting work from young Latin American writers. The publishers you meet with are very aware of this and that is why the big companies are making investments and the small publishers are making the investments they can afford to make. There is quite a bit going on in this territory—in this language.”
Despite his enthusiasm for the Spanish-language market, Wylie said that he has no plans to try a second time to open an office in Spain, noting that all his business will be run from offices in New York and London.
During his formal presentation, Wylie recounted the two times he tried to merge with Spanish superagent Carmen Balcells. The first attempt came to an end when Balcells insisted on bringing her astrological adviser into the negotiations, and the adviser balked at the deal upon learning Wylie’s astrological sign was Scorpio. The second time negotiations ended was when Balcells died. “Which was a negotiating tactic I was not willing to emulate,” Wylie said dryly. Still, he admits having had great respect for her. “Carmen may have been eccentric, but she was very special too. I even took my daughter to meet her once and told her, ‘This type of person is very rare, you will not meet them often.’ ”