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Jeff Kleinman

An exclusive interview
with attorney, literary agent, and co-founder of
Manhattan's
Folio Literary Management

By Adrienne M. Lewin


Practical matters. It is rare for a literary agent to provide writers with practical guidance combined with a prompt turnaround, but Jeff Kleinman has built a solid reputation for both practical advice and a lightning-round review of a writer's manuscript.

However, many new writers might turn a deaf ear when they hear his comments because Kleinman talks about writing as a component of the business of publishing, not as a form of subsidized art nor as a path that requires only a talented writer's ideas. Publishing is hard work. Publishing is a business.

And according to literary agent Jeff Kleinman, co-founder of Folio Literary Management, that’s where many writers go wrong. They have difficulty bringing their heads up out of smoke-filled manuscripts into the chilly world of rapid business decisions.

Kleinman says when someone sends a manuscript, he seeks answers to two questions, which he credits editor Jill Rothenberg with summarizing, when considering whether to represent an author: “One, why should I care? And two, can I sell it?”

Many writers don’t convince him of a project’s worth.

“Sometimes you feel like people are writing books as if they’re doing the slideshow from their vacation that you’re forced to listen to, and you just wonder, ‘Why did we sit through that?’” he says. “Other times, it’s You would not believe where I just got back from. That’s kind of what you’re looking for, and I don’t see writers making that clear.”

For example, he says, “I’m sure there’s a market for parents of murdered children. I’m positive they are out there and need support. My heart goes out to them, but that doesn’t mean that I think the market is big enough to support [a book.]

“It wouldn’t be any parent of a live child, so it’s not that. Is it serial killers? Maybe, but that seems very limited. Who else is going to read it? Grandparents, who are less involved? Friends? … I totally care that your child was murdered, but that doesn’t mean I could sell a book about it.”

For aspiring writers hoping to find representation, Kleinman says, being prepared will make it easier to sell themselves so agents can sell their work.

“Everybody says it’s so hard to get an agent,” he says. “It is so incredibly hard to find something that is ready to go.”

Once writers answer the two main questions of market significance (will it sell) and story (why do I care about these characters, this storyline), he recommends they have “really, really, really exceptional writing. The voice is fresh, interesting, taking a perspective I didn’t expect.”

One such work, an upcoming project he’s “absolutely, totally in love with,” tells the story of a journalist transformed after a year imprisoned in a leper colony. An unexpected voice in an intriguing landscape.


“This is a business for me. I only make money if you make money,” he says. “But if you don’t write a book people want to read, you ought to be doing something else. It’s not my job to sell a book that I think the market is simply too small to buy a book on.”

Kleinman offers tips to writers: know how agents prefer to receive queries. The key to his lightning-fast manuscript reads: email. There was a time a few years ago when he would have requested three chapters in hard copy, but now he finds it’s much easier to read manuscripts on his computer in bed.

“I’m steering clear of hard-copy queries. I know a lot of friends of mine are, too,” he says. “I’m focusing more and more on electronics. The ‘Finn’ author e-mailed comments electronically. I think I read it electronically. I don’t know if a hard copy was ever printed.”

Kleinman opened Folio Literary Management with Paige Wheeler and Scott Hoffman in February 2006 after the closure of his previous firm, Graybill & English Literary Agency. At his former agency, Kleinman sold Ron McLarty’s “The Memory of Running,” which became a runaway success after an endorsement from Stephen King was published in “Entertainment Weekly.”

With offices in New York and Washington, D.C., Folio has sold about 125 books, he says, and the fledgling agency grossed more than $5 million in its first year. Two of its most successful titles were “The Widow of the South” by Robert Hicks and “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles Shields. A recently published work is “Finn,” the story of Huckleberry Finn’s father, by author Jon Clinch.

Founding his own business was partly based on his love of working with writers, Kleinman says. “I had found as I interviewed with several places less of an interest in really supporting authors and more interest in the next advance and next royalty check.”

Folio Literary Management publishes books in genres ranging from commercial fiction, mystery, romance and thrillers to non-fiction, pop culture, book club fiction and health. The firm is in the process of creating a “mini lecture agency” for its authors and forming alliances with licensing agents.

For more about Jeff Kleinman, read our interview from 2003 in which he talks about the exciting discovery of Ron McLarty's best-selling book The Memory of Running. To reach FLM's New York office, click on this link. Folio Literary Management.


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