What are some upcoming trends for the rest of 2016?
Trends drive me crazy. Out of frustration and/or confusion, I mostly try to ignore their existence, but it’s probably at my own risk. They do happen frequently, and they are quite real phenomena in the minds of readers. But they’re typically not the most flattering glimpses of our business. They tend to reek of a desperate need to figure out the public without closely analyzing changing buying patterns and gaps in the marketplace. I usually think it’s better to start a trend than to finish one. And I guess when I really love a trend, I’m hoping it’s a sea change (literary memoir, say) and not a temporary blip (biographies of obscure colors and types of rocks).
That said, I won’t duck the question entirely. I currently see a remaking of serious history and political science. I think the doorstopper approach is hard to sell nowadays, for pretty obvious reasons. And when you look at books like [Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik’s] Notorious RBG and [Ta-Nehisi Coates’] Between the World and Me (as unrelated as those two books may seem), you do see the conversation changing in fascinating ways. Whatever your political beliefs, those books forcefully entered the public discourse—and they played with format and length in ways well-suited to the present moment. I’d like to think there’s something to be learned from and embraced in that.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Nonfiction [that’s] more like my answer to Question 1! And either literary fiction with an international component or sophisticated suspense with an elaborate degree of research or storytelling ambition. Also: major bonus credit for upmarket fiction by and about women. Men can sometimes get left off those lists of prospective agents. The assumption being, I guess, that the male reader doesn’t care about the lives of ladies? Not true of me.
How are you working with self-published writers?
I am still waiting to make my transformative signing in the self-published space. I have no allergy to self-published work at all. And I greatly admire the marketing commitment self-published authors make. But it can be a challenge finding the right match in a self-published author—material you connect to and a writer who shows a high degree of promise and who views you and your particular business practices as representing the right next step.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
I used to really love the cookbook business. But something about recipe testing, food photography, headnotes, and all of that minutiae made me dizzy. I have much smarter colleagues in that category. So now I just relentlessly buy and cook out of cookbooks instead of sell them. I’m better matched to that.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
WME has unparalleled reach into other media industries. It’s an incredibly unique place to work, and I’ve always viewed it as one giant irresistible Rolodex. The wonderful challenge for me is in trying to juggle the opportunities and the big personalities from that media universe with the interior reading experience that drew me into the publishing world. I sometimes feel that I live inside of two very different businesses at once. The addition of IMG to our company has also granted me access to some transcendent sports figures (we have books forthcoming from [skier] Lindsey Vonn, [soccer player] Carli Lloyd, and [hockey hall-of-famer] Wayne Gretzky early this fall). Fans have a special connection to their athletic heroes, and I’ve long thought it’s an underrepresented category in the business.
Jay Mandel is a partner in the book group at William Morris Endeavor, where he has been an agent since 2001. He began his career at the Virginia Barber Literary Agency.