Literary agent Andrew Wylie is of the old school. His office suite in New York’s Fisk Building feels more like a faculty lounge than a synergistic, new-media conglomerate. But the Wylie Agency, which represents some 750 clients, including a who’s who of the literary establishment–Roth, Updike, Rushdie–has been at the vanguard of changes in the book industry world-wide. With the advent of e-books and the demise of Borders, the publishing establishment may seem to be crumbling. Yet Wylie, renowned for his ability to extract huge advances from tightfisted publishers, doesn’t seem to be much ruffled.
Nicknamed “The Jackal” for his aggressive deal-making, Wylie struck terror into publishers last year by setting up a company, Odyssey Editions, to distribute electronic versions of books he represents through Amazon.com. But don’t mistake him for a pop-culture version of a vulpine 15-percenter. Trim, polite and circumspect, Wylie, 63, is uncaffeinated. A New England WASP, he stands foursquare for literary elitism and good old-fashioned standards. And while he has his share of celebrity and political clients, he insists his work is all about great, lasting literature, not quick-buck synergies, “60 Minutes” tie-ins or Facebook friends.