I met Georges and Anne Borchardt at Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2003. The couple co-founded their literary agency in 1967, and are known for introducing American audiences to the work of Roland Barthes, Samuel Beckett, Pierre Bourdieu, Marguerite Duras, Franz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Eugene Ionesco, Jacques Lacan, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Elie Wiesel.
When we met, I’d just had my first novel published with San Francisco independent MacAdam/Cage (sans agent) and was looking for representation. Jill McCorkle, a faculty member at the conference, read a chapter of the novel I was working on and set up a meeting. Many of the other fellows were going spelunking, but I skipped the cave trip and met the Borchardts on the little patio behind the apartment where they were staying. We talked for a while–about books, writing, my background and interests, my novel-in-progress. I immediately felt a connection with them. I liked their calmness, their magnetic presence. One had the feeling of being in the company of extraordinarily sharp and sensitive literary minds who had worked with some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
The Borchardts told me to keep in touch and send them the manuscript when it was complete. Perhaps a year or more later, I did send it, and Anne agreed to represent it. When she felt the novel was in good shape to be sent out, she passed me on to her daughter Valerie, who had recently joined the agency. The meeting with the Borchardts was one that easily might not have happened, and one that eventually led to four novel contracts and a film deal. My third novel, THE YEAR OF FOG, was not an easy sell, but Valerie Borchardt, who joined the agency after I had met Georges and Anne, worked tirelessly for over a year until she found an editor who wanted to take a chance on an unknown writer with two books under her belt. (It’s much easier to introduce a debut author to publishers than to introduce an author who has already published, and whose sales have not been encouraging.)
Georges was quoted Sunday in Michael Meyer’s article for the New York Times Book Review, “About That Book Advance.” He’s talking about the early seventies, when agents turned the tables on a system that rewarded huge profits to publishers and very little to bestselling authors:
In 1971, for example, Viking sold paperback rights to “The Day of the Jackal” to Bantam for 36 times the $10,000 hardcover advance it had paid its author, Frederick Forsyth. “Agents realized that they should be the ones holding auctions for their authors and get advances more in line with the anticipated total value of their books,” Georges Borchardt, who brokered the hardcover rights, said in an interview.
And from the LA Times on Sunday, this interview with Stephen Elliott, about his online literary venture, The Rumpus. Here’s Elliott, on how he gets well-known literary writers to contribute their work for free:
But the reason they want to contribute to the Rumpus is because it’s a Web magazine that takes good writing seriously. A place where sentences actually matter. We’ll publish something just because it’s well written…A lot of literary writers know they have to start publishing online, but they don’t want to publish something beautiful and introspective next to some television actor giving his opinion on the banking crisis.
I’ve written a personal essay and a book review for The Rumpus, and have also been interviewed there, and can vouch that it’s a good venue for your work, a place where you don’t have to worry too much about deadline pressure or overly-ardent editors and can simply write about something that interests you.