I forgot how I discovered this book (it may have been on Publishing Perspectives but I’m not sure). My dream is to one day, very soon, work in the book publishing industry. You can imagine my excitement when I happened upon this memoir by Sterling Lord, who has worked as an agent in the publishing industry for more than 60 years. He is now 92 years old and still works as an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic. He has represented some of the greats in literature like Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Jimmy Breslin. He has played competitive tennis nearly all his life and has attributed some of his success to the qualities that he developed as a tennis player.
Sterling Lord is from a small town in Iowa. After graduating from college, he entered the army and was flown to France where he worked for the army’s newspaper. He soon developed a paper of his own which he operated with a friend until it folded. Soon he married a French woman, flew back to the States, and decided to start his own literary agency. He didn’t know much about book publishing when he started his agency but he learned as he went along.
Much of the book discusses how much he cares for his authors. This can be gleaned from how he speaks of them. He commemorates their work and even puts a positive spin on their shortcomings, sometimes. When Lord speaks of the books that his authors have written, it makes me want to pick up my Nook and immediately purchase them. It’s easy to see that Sterling Lord is passionate about his work, much of which is attributed to having a good instinct about things.
As I read his memoir, I realized that Lord is a very private man. The book mostly discusses publishing and his agency and how he grew as a literary agent. He doesn’t go deep in discussing his life but the chapter on the women in his life intrigued me. I’m nosy so of course it made me curious about his private life. I wanted to know more. In this chapter he speaks of the four women he was once married to and also of his daughter. He grazes the surface of his private life and mostly talks about how the women affected his growth as a person and as a literary agent. I think this is because Lord sees himself as a gentleman and is respectful of those he comes in contact with. He tries not to place anyone in a bad light and seems to discuss both the positives and negatives of a person’s personality.
Overall, it was a good read and one that those interested in publishing should pick up. It would be great to sit down and have a chat with him since he worked in publishing for so long. Throughout the book, Lord drops lots of advice about book publishing and succeeding as a literary agent. I’ve listed a few below.
Quotes from the book:
“…the first area in publishing open to women was work in a literary agency.”
“My finding is that any agent who doesn’t take on new clients is probably on the way out of business.”
“Books are no longer bought by publishers on the basis of one editor’s commitment. The editor and sometimes even the publisher have to check with other editors, advertising, sales, promotion, or a higher authority, or all of the above. It’s ‘committee publishing.'”
“What you should do as early in life as you can is find an occupation or line of work in a field that really interests you.”
- Sixty Years of Sterling Wisdom from the “Lord of Publishing” (publishingperspectives.com)
- Sterling Lord Shares Insight, Memories (latimes.com)