The hottest agent for Washingtonians seeking megubuck book contracts is a bushy-eyebrowed, 47-year-old New York lawyer, Morton Janklow, who clients include William Safire, John Ehrlichman, Marvin and Bernard Kalb, Daniel Schorr, Ted Koppel and William Colby. For each of those men, Janklow has negotiated publishing contracts amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in the case of John ("Behind Closed Doors") Ehrlichman, a fat television contract.
With chutzpah and a bargaining talent honed through twenty-four years as a securities lawyer, Janklow began spending part of his working day in the literary marketplace when his college friend, William Safire, asked him to negotiate his Nixon-years memoir.
Janklow's different approach to agenting was soon obvious. He spent several weeks studying the book biz and then, instead of sending sample chapters to publishers, he invited them to his office to read and bid. It worked; Safire's advance was $250,000.
The pattern was set: over $200,000 in advances for Daniel Schorr's upcoming book (based on a mere two-and-a-half-page proposal), $250,000 for the Kalb brothers' Kissinger biography, hundreds of thousands for the Ehrlichman hardback-paperback-television extravaganza. As he pockets his ten per cent fee, Janklow rewrites standard contracts to give himself control over reprint, foreign and dramatic rights. When Safire's publisher was ready to accept the Literary Guild's $75,000 offer for book club rights for the novel Full Disclosure , Janklow said no and wrangled another $200,000 which he says set up the now-famous $1.375 million paperback sale. He has also made publishers agree to advance to a large first printing and a firm advertising budget.
"A publisher's contract is to the writer what a landlord's lease is to a tenant," argues Janklow, who says dealing on Wall Street is "a piece of cake" compared to the close and unpredictable publishing world where companies are "marching steadfastly into the nineteenth century." His blunt disdain for the old-fashioned business practices of most publishers only contributes to his image as a tough agent who talks in terms of "important packages" as the trend toward books with movie or TV tie-ins begins to take hold.
Janklow now spends about half his time on literary matters. It is, he says, a mid-life career change that delights him, as it must his clients for who Janklow stands by to counsel on tax matters made difficult by their new wealth.