To start, there's his 15-year relationship with John Grisham, first as editor, then as agent. To hear both men tell it, they're more buddies than business associates, two middle-aged dads who bonded over a shared passion for Little League. How lucky that they've also made each other very, very rich.

As if that weren't enough, there are all those other people—editors, clients, employees and former employees—going on about what a nice, generous, all-around good guy Gernert is. (The closest we got to dish came from Doubleday editor-in-chief Bill Thomas: "David's tragic flaw is a feeling of great affection for the New York Mets"). And then there's the family—his wife of 17 years ("Nancy's the anchor," says Grisham) and the four kids who are clearly his favorite subjects of conversation (don't even get him started on his 14-year-old daughter Annie's precocious taste in literature).

But what rankles more than anything is that the 48-year-old agent and founder of the Gernert Company seems to be having so much fun. Well, sure, who wouldn't have a good time with all those fat commissions flowing in from the sales of book and film rights to Grisham's work? But his friends and colleagues have a different explanation. "He was born that way," says Betsy Lerner, who worked with Gernert for 11 years before leaving to become a partner in Dunow & Carlson earlier this year. "People can't understand it in our industry, because we're all a bunch of schadenfreude-ridden workaholics, and David takes the time to enjoy life."

What's a person who wasn't born that way to do? Imitate.

How to Be Like Gernert

DO stick around: Think company-hopping is the way to advance? Not so, says Gernert, who took a secretarial position at Anchor soon after graduating from Brown and kept moving into bigger jobs for nine years. Of landing the title of Doubleday editor-in-chief at the young age of 32, he says: "It was mostly that I just stuck around."

Of course, you also have to know when to leave. Grisham's longtime agent Jay Garon died in 1995. By that time, Gernert had been Grisham's editor for five years. "I asked David if he'd ever considered becoming an agent," Grisham says, adding, "He was the only other person I knew and trusted in New York, and it just felt like a very natural thing to do." As Grisham recalls, it didn't take much convincing.

DON'Tbe a snob: In 1990, when Grisham's second novel, The Firm, was on submission, some editors nitpicked over character development and other details. But Gernert appreciated the thriller for what it was. "I used to say—and I still feel this way—that if a novel aspires to be a work of commercial fiction, the only thing that matters is how rapidly you turn the pages," he says. Gernert bought the book for $200,000, beginning his career-making collaboration with Grisham.

DOmanage your time well: "I quite consciously decided that I had the great, good fortune when I started this company of being able to spend a lot of time with my kids and do other things I enjoy doing. I probably could have grown the company more than I have if I were a person who wanted to work 70 hours a week—but I'm not."

Still, the eight-person company with only three full-time agents does represent about 100 authors, with Gernert handling about a 15 clients, including Stewart O'Nan, Oscar Hijuelos and Pete Straub. Gernert's flexible hours are easier to pull off because his star client doesn't seem to mind adjusting to his schedule. "Starting about this time of year, I'm not calling David after 3 o'clock because he's on a Little League field," says Grisham.

DON'Twork with jerks: Gernert says he'll represent only people he likes. "I'm working with them, hopefully closely, and how can I represent someone well if when I hear 'it's so-and-so on the phone,' I don't even want to talk to them?"

DOspread the success: A year ago, Michael Lawson was a retired civilian executive for the U.S. Navy, with an unpublished novel. After more than a decade of unsuccessfully trying to get the book sold through ineffectual agents, he sent a query and a portion of the manuscript to Gernert.

Shortly after, he got a call from Gernert, who impressed the debut novelist with his enthusiasm and astute suggestions. Lawson made some changes to his manuscript and sent it to Gernert on a Thursday. The following Tuesday, he heard from the agent again. "Mid-morning he calls me up and says, 'Would you like to go with Doubleday or Knopf?' "

Lawson, who thought his book would maybe fetch a $10,000 or $15,000 advance, signed a six-figure, two-book deal with Doubleday. The first book, Inside Ring, has just come out and the second, Miss July, is slated for next year.

DON'Tforget to recharge: Lawson's experience isn't unique. Gernert takes on about two new clients a year, often debut writers. "It is the excitement of discovery that recharges the batteries of almost everyone in this business," says Gernert. "There's nothing quite like having someone hand you a manuscript or a galley and saying, 'Wow, this is going to knock your socks off.' And if it does, it revs you up."

DOtake risks: Erin Hosier was an assistant at the Gernert Company two years ago when rocker Tommy Lee's people approached the agency about doing a book. Gernert turned the project over to Hosier, even letting her handle an auction in which she sold the rights to Tommy Land for nearly $1 million. "That was kind of ballsy of David, to let me run with that," says Hosier, now a full-fledged agent at Gernert Company.

DON'Tjust say you're family friendly: To replace Betsy Lerner, Gernert hired Sarah Burnes, previously of Burnes & Clegg. Burnes, who started working for Gernert last month, is the mother of two young children and has a third on the way. "His family really and truly is his priority, and it's so inspiring," says Burnes. "I'm seven and a half months pregnant and he hired me; that says something."

DObecome close friends with a blockbuster novelist: And did we mention rule #1?: Stick around. Like husbands who dump their first wives once they can afford a newer model, very successful writers often fire their agents in favor of someone else—James Patterson's defection from Jennifer Rudolph Walsh to Robert Barnett is just the most recent example. Could it happen here? Both men, in separate interviews, insisted: "It never crosses my mind."