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interviews William Clark
Stone, author of the mystery/thrillers "The Cold Truth,"
"The Heat of Lies" and "Breakthrough," recalls
the swift process of selling his first novel to St. Martin's
He had brought the manuscript to literary agent William Clark
of Manhattan's William Clark Associates during his lunch break.
The rest is practically a blur.
"He sat down to read it late that afternoon, called me
at eight when he'd finished it, sent me a contract the next
morning, pitched the book over the next 48 hours and had us
a two-book deal within days," Stone says.
"He called me from a noisy restaurant on his cell phone
with the good news."
Pretty impressive for a guy who began his life in a Virginia
town of 700 people and chose not to graduate from college. But
then, Clark's career has always been about finding what he likes
and pursuing it with vigor.
After attending boarding school and studying in Paris and northern
England, Clark majored in English literature at the College
of William & Mary, where in "four-and-a- half years
I took every course I wanted to take."
He then lived in Richmond, Virginia, for a year, where two friends
had written a biography of entertainer Oscar Levant, and their
agent needed an assistant.
"I was going to move here anyway," he says of New
York, where he lives and works in his Chelsea townhouse. "I
had edited the William & Mary review for three years, I
knew New York writers and I knew this was where I wanted to
His first job was with Roslyn Targ, whom he recalls as "a
pioneer in the business in that she was one of the first in
New York to bring writers in translation to the United States."
From there, he worked with Virginia Barber and another agent
before joining the William Morris Agency in 1993. There, he
worked with authors including James Michener and Gore Vidal
and the estates of Betty Smith and Ralph Ellison.
Clark left William Morris in 1997 and after a few years, decided
to start his own agency in 1999. William Clark Associates was
born, and it has represented an eclectic mix of authors ever
"I'm something of a generalist - I do whatever interests
me," says Clark of projects ranging from non-fiction to
literary fiction, without being limited to one genre. He also
works in London with translation rights.
"My books, more than anything else, seem to have an urban
He notes that, if he doesn't have the feeling that he can best
represent a book, he'll pass on it, without remorse.
"I'm in a fortunate position of being able to say no,"
Clark says. "There have been novels I've turned down that
have sold, but they just weren't right for me. Fiction is such
a subjective thing, but I've never regretted passing on something.
But I'm not perfect."
Clark plays many different roles for his clients, primarily
serving as fiduciary, but also tackling the myriad issues involved
with finding a publisher, creating audio and rights deals, managing
publicity and keeping current with the marketplace."
The editor used to be much more of a constant in an author's
life. The agent now is," he says, adding, "On a diplomatic
level, I never want my clients to have an argument with an editor.
I want to have that argument and win. I seek to preserve that
relationship so it's as creative as possible."
To that end, Clark has cultivated rapport with major industry
players, which works in his clients' favor. "I'm not the
kind of agent who goes to a lunch with a laundry list of products.
I get to know the editors, what they're looking for and what
they've bought," he says, adding, "I am able to move
very quickly. I have established relationships with pretty much
the heads of all of the houses, and that's who I deal with for
the most part."
Enter Stone's experience, as well as that of author Keith Kachtick,
whose first novel, a "Buddhist love story" titled
"Hungry Ghost," Clark sold to HarperCollins in less
than 24 hours.
"Dan Menaker (who's now at Random House) claimed that what
piqued his interest in the novel was a line in William's cover
letter, gently reminding him that, out of respect, William had
never before sent him anything, and the fact that he was doing
so now was testament to how much he liked 'Hungry Ghost,'"
Clark says he becomes just as jazzed about an author's ambition
as he is about their work. "You can recognize if someone
has a sense of purpose, a conviction in their work, a passion."
Those who've worked with him say it's a mutual attribute. "There's
something salutary and sustaining about a positive outlook -
in business, and in human relations in general. William has
that outlook," Stone says. "It's part of his makeup.
So that while he is a 'serious' person - thoughtful, exacting
- he is also an upbeat, forward-looking, positive person. He's
not a brooder. He looks ahead. He concentrates on solutions
and not problems. He sees opportunities, and doesn't get hung
up in disappointments. That positive outlook is great energy
to have in the traditionally lonely writer's camp."
And Kachtick adds that Clark's support as an author's advocate
"makes you feel like he'll die happy because he got to
represent your book."
Clark will continue to run his one-man-show, working with authors
who inspire him as much as traveling and listening to classic
jazz. "I can't imagine doing anything else," he says.
"If I weren't doing this, I would be a Buddhist monk -
his current clients, Clark states, "They
range from Peter Hessler, an Asian correspondent for The New
Yorker, to Bjork, to the chefs and owner of the NY restaurant
Balthazar for THE BALTHAZAR COOKBOOK, to Franklin Toker (FALLINGWATER
RISING, a biography of the Frank Lloyd Wright house just published
by Knopf) to the novelists Keith Kachtick and Jonathan Stone."
Clark is a member of the respected AAR, and he actively represents
contemporary clients who write fiction and nonfiction. He provides
an informative Web site for writers to discover the details
about his professional services, including query guidelines,
and where they may read about the newest authors whom he represents.
Clark to learn more.
Read more tips about contacting a literary agent and find the
link to The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc. (AAR)
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