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Sandra Dijkstra, literary agent, tells of her success with Amy Tan

I'm talking monster books

"You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up." - Image by Dave Allen
"You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up."

Daylight poured through window that spanned from floor to cathedral ceiling. The room’s cedar-lined walls contained a rosewood desk, beige-leather sofa and armchair, glass-topped coffee table.

"Life magazine called me yesterday about Amy; they wanted her to write something, and I turned around and pitched another book to them, another author. Entertainment Weekly, same thing. They called on Robert Ferrigno; I pitched Franchesca Forrer."

Sandra Dijkstra (pronounced dike-stra) — in red coatdress, white hose, blue pumps — stood bending over the table, picking through stacks of some clients' newly published books. She announced titles and authors: Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree; Century's End: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s through the 1990s, Hillel Schwartz; The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman; If I 'm So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? Susan Page; Whispered Secrets: The Couple's Guide to Erotic Fantasy ("This is our hot sex book"), Iris and Steven Finz; How to Father a Successful Daughter, Nicky Marone; Starting on Monday: Christian Living in the Workplace, Reverend William Mahedy and Dr. Christopher Carstens ("Bill Mahedy, he’s a local priest: he counsels students at State and UCSD”); The Horse Latitudes, Robert Ferrigno (setting down Ferrigno’s novel— "Erotic... dark, and violent." says the book jacket — Dijkstra deadpanned. "We don't want to put Robert too close to Bill — that would be sacrilege"). Lastly, she pointed out Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Turn-of-the-Century Culture. "This is my husband’s book; he’s the in-house author (Bram Dijkstra, a professor of comparative literature at UCSD)." Besides Mahedy, she noted. Schwartz, Norman, and the Finzes are also San Diego County residents.

Sandra Dijkstra is a literary agent. Working from her North County office on 15 percent commission, she sells authors’ manuscripts or book proposals to major New York publishers. It is often assumed that, living so far from Manhattan. West Coast-based agents incur a disadvantage. Nonetheless, a full-time agent since 1983. Dijkstra has grown year by year more prosperous and prominent, showing now an author 1st 80 names long. In 1989 a handful of her authors won six-figure contracts; and for Amy Tan, whose novel The Joy Luck Club is a current ten-month bestseller. Dijkstra squeezed out a rumored seven-figure advance for Tan’s next two novels.

She employs three assistants, who work in two rooms next to her own. All three rooms display shelves of books she has represented.

Dijkstra sat back in her armchair, crossed her legs. She recited her background: born and raised in New York City. French literature PhD from UCSD, later a professor at several Southern California universities.

During a 1978 visit to the East Coast, while still a professor, she met informally with three publishing-house editors in the hope that her own writing and that of some colleagues might get published. Two editors showed interest in the work of Dijkstra's friend, Lillian Faderman. Back home a week later, Dijkstra sold Faderman’s book proposal for “a very good price," holding an over-the-phone auction from her kitchen. The published title became Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, "the first book I sold, which is still earning royalties more than ten years later," she said happily.

But her next projects as an agent foundered, and she did not pursue her new career in earnest until 1983. Then, she said. "The good connections came very fast; people were interested in me. I had an unusual background for an agent: Most agents come out of publishing; I came out of academe.

"And I’ve proven that geography isn’t a problem; being in California just means you have a longer day. You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up.

"I’m sort of going nuts right now, because," she laughed, "were getting sometimes 50 queries a day. And they come from everywhere; they come from Nepal, they come from Trinidad, they come from Alaska. I guess maybe you could say the mistake I made in Literary Market Place, which is the telephone book of the industry, is to say that I look at new authors' work. Because many agents refuse. We have had to become hard as nails and not return anything that has no return envelope.

"A lot of what we get unsolicited is dreck. Out of the 500 or so that came in in the last two months, maybe we picked out 3 that we would take on, if that. But every now and then, there’s something wonderful. We try to keep an open door and at least look at a few pages of the work to see — I don’t read those. You know. Kathy and Gloria [two assistants] read, screen out, and the cream rises to the top; and then I read the best of what they get.

"Actually, what’s happened in the last few years is that a goodly proportion of them are recommended, by editors, publishers, book reviewers. You know, L.A. Times book review — jack Miles will send somebody on down. And our authors recommend people.

"It’s very exciting. As you see, I feel like we’re running a publishing company. I mean,” she waved at the room, “I’m just amazed at these books."

Exactly what does an agent do?

"It’s very easy to say what an agent does — an agent fulfills dreams. I mean, really, that’s what we do for writers; we fulfill dreams. It’s very easy to say, and it’s much harder to do.

"We are the go-between, you might say; we are the marriage broker between the writer and the publisher. It’s our business to know our buyers, to know which publishing house, which list — because now Random House owns so many divisions — would be most appropriate to your book, which editor would suit your temperament best.

"Now, for example, when I first met Amy Tan, she told me she wanted to write fiction, and she sent me a short story, and then she sent me her vita. Well, her vita was full of nonfiction writing, and I thought. ‘Oh, well, this is easy: she could collaborate on a lot of books'; and she said. ‘Oh, no, no, no. I do that for business. For pleasure, I want to write fiction.' So then I said. 'Well, let’s see what you can do. Get me two more stories.’

"Once I recognized that she really had a magical, magical imagination and way of putting words together, then it was a question of figuring out. okay, what is a critical mass of material that we need to sell to New York? — do we need a whole book? Could we do it with less?

"I determined that I was gonna be gutsy, and I was gonna be so brazen as to show three short stories, which most people would think is completely crazy, by an author who has one short story published — crazy.

"The next question is, How do these three short stories fall together? If they’re just a random sampling of three short stories — ” she downturned lips — ‘‘$5000 sale. If, however, they’re woven together and they have a theme, it could be much bigger than the parts. So I said write me an outline, and let’s put it together, and she did that.

“Now. Amy had a title on this book. She called it Wind and Water. She was using the theme of the I Ching. I looked at these synopses of the stories, and I thought the chapter titles looked fine. But I thought, I am not taking a book to New York with the title Wind and Water — I will be laughed out of Manhattan! There's just no way: they have such an image of California as it is. You know!

“So I said nooo, and then I looked at her synopsis, and in the middle, she had the words the ‘Joy Luck Club.' and I got goose pimples. I said. ‘Oh. my God. This could really be a bestseller. This is a magical title.' And I said to her, ‘We're gonna call it Joy Luck Club, and it’ll be a Chinese-American Decameron.' And that had a magical effect in New York. It electrified people. But had it been called Wind and Water…So another role of an agent is figuring out how most astutely to package a project.

"The next step is marketing. Here it becomes very important for an agent to be realistic, because she would be, you know, ridiculed if she put a crazy, crazy price. On the other hand, an agent has to have — I’m going to use the title of one of my author's books. Peter Irons — the courage of their convictions. An agent has to say. ‘I want X; I will not accept a penny less than X for this book.'

"So in the case, for example, of Amy Tan, our very first offer was from Knopf, and many agents would have said. 'Divine. Knopf, literary author; she'd be off and running.' And I said $15,000 just ain’t gonna do it. I have to rescue this author from a life of work so that she can devote herself to this book. She needs a minimum — I said - of $50,000.

"Now. Knopf came back, and they said, 'Well, all right, we’ll team up with Vintage: well offer you hardcover and paperback rights — we’ll buy both — for the grand sum of $20,000.' Now, again, many agents would have said. Oh, terrific we got a paperback.' And I don't know, I may be crazy, but I just said, 'I have a dream about this book; I’m not gonna do that.’ I said thank you very much." Dijkstra bent forward. "This woman I said no to is my husband's editor," she laughed.

"After that. I decided it was about getting the most literary editor at the most commercial house — get Amy the money. That was my strategy. So then Putnam came up with their offer of $50,000. But they wanted world rights. I thought that’s crazy; I’m not going to give away world rights. Now, again, many agents would have said. ‘Sure, we got it: we got our 50.’ I said to them, 'No way. I'm not going to give you world rights.’ ”

She grinned. "PS.: We are now negotiating the Serbo-Croatian rights to this book. We just sold Hungary yesterday — I mean. Finland, the check came in the day before. All the little countries of the world are chiming in. Putnam’s vision was that it was a literary book. My vision was, this could do what Louise Erdrich had done. This could do what Alice Walker had done.

"The book has been nominated for almost every major prize. There’s a lot of jealousy among writers, and so it has not won any of the major prizes, but there are stories to be told about that. We get these phone calls — Jack Miles called me to say that if he and Carolyn See had not been home ill, that on the first ballot of the National Book Critics Circle award — it was a tie between Bathgate and Joy Luck — and if they had been there, it wouldn't have been a tie. What do you do with that information? — you wanna wring his neck .” She was joking.

“In any case, it doesn’t matter. As I told Amy’s mother the morning of the National Book Awards — we were all in New York; they brought in Amy ’s mother for it — and I said to her. ‘Mrs. Tan, we have won the national book award.’ She said. ’We HAVE?' And I said. 'With a small n, a small b, and a small a. I mean, the American public voted — with their bucks — they bought this book. So whatever happens tonight....'

"And Amy has been happy not to win; she would much rather have a private life and find the space and time to write her new book, which is due…today! As we speak!" Dijkstra glanced out the window, whispered. "And not gonna be delivered today, ’cause she's not finished with it.

"But all this hoopla has been very distracting to her. I know it’s what every writer dreams of. But now she can’t just walk down the street in San Francisco. I told her to get a wig. Isn't that awful? She told me she tries to wear scuzzy, scuzzy clothes."

How did Dijkstra feel publishing had changed in the last ten years?

"Well, for one thing, the growing conglomerization of publishing has meant that a number of individual, smaller houses have been bought up or have disappeared. As we speak, just in the past week, there’s a big controversy over at Pantheon. André Schiffrin, who's been head of Pantheon for over 20 years, apparently resigned over a dispute about cutting back the number of books he publishes. Four, five editors walked out with him, which is a very brave thing to do in these times of a shrinking publishing industry.

"The big ones are getting bigger — Bantam. Doubleday, and Dell combining into one house; Prentice Hall and Simon Schuster combining; Random House taking over — I mean. Random House is like the Vatican; it owns so many houses there have been cartoons about it.

"But the good thing about conglomerization is that within each of these conglomerates — I look at each of those lists as boutiques. They can maintain the integrity and the uniqueness of vision of each of those lists. Summit Books within Simon and Schuster or Poseidon within S&S. Each of those has a certain editorial vision, which comes from the editor, the person in charge. So the good side is, yes, when I go to Simon and Schuster, it takes two days, but these are different divisions.

“I have really wonderful relations with the editors. For example, we just sold Hillel Schwartz’s new book. Now, he is a brilliant — too brilliant a man; and he wrote this proposal that was just totally unreadable. I mean, it really was unreadable — brilliant — about the Age of Replication in all of its ramifications.

"At his absolute insistence, we sent it to the publisher, Doubleday, that had done Century's End. And I said, ‘Hillel, it’s not gonna sell, but we’ll send it. I’m not gonna tell them it ’s wonderful — I can’t lie — I’m gonna tell them it’s a brilliant idea, that's all.'

"Of course it got rejected, so then he came over. He said. 'What are we gonna do?’ I said. 'Well, we’re gonna sit here, and we're gonna go through this thing, and I’m gonna tell you why it didn’t sell. And you’re gonna listen; you’re gonna change it or else I’m not gonna handle it.' So we sat down, and we went through it step by step, and he did the most brilliant job of rewriting that proposal.

"I made seven phone calls. I said, ‘We're overnighting this proposal to you if you’d like to see it. And I wanna hear from you.’ We sent it, everybody called me, and we sold that book in a week and a half. Knopf. Isn’t that great? Got him a big advance. He's so happy ."

How did she account for her success as an agent?

"I think that I have a sort of natural editorial tropism; it’s sort of innate in me. And on the other hand. I have a sort of irrepressible publicist in me. I help my authors get the word out. I mean, there’s so many unseen things you do for authors. You can't keep calling an author and say. Hey. I just talked about you.’ you know?

"Life magazine called me yesterday about Amy; they wanted her to write something, and I turned around and pitched another book to them, another author. Entertainment Weekly, same thing. They called on Robert Ferrigno; I pitched Franchesca Forrer.

"There’s a new TV show that’s being launched next week called Normal Life, on CBS. With Moon and Zweebil — or Dweezil? Do you know about them? The Moon Unit? The Frank Zappa kids? I didn't know who they were. They called me, and they said. We would like to have a scene in which Dweezil is gonna be reading The Far Side — you know, these cartoons — ‘and Moon wants to be reading The Joy Luck Club. Would you give us your permission?’ ’’ Dijkstra raised her index finger. "Not only did I give them my permission — I sent them my book list. I sent them Xeroxes of all the jackets, and I said. ‘Now, look, here’s an idea for a show: If you had Whispered Secrets: The Couple's Guide to Erotic Fantasy, on a coffee table and Moon came upon it and said. "Oh. my God!”’”— Dijkstra in "valley girl ”-ese —“’”....My parents are having a problem. In bed!" ’ The guy said. ‘What a great idea; send me that jacket.’

“So then I said. ‘Or Father could have The Secret to Conquering Fear on his bed table.' Then I said. Here’s some books that could be hanging around, that could stimulate story ideas for your show.’ He said. Wonderful. Send them.’

"Now. I don’t know what they’ll use, but you know, every opportunity. I pitch the whole list. Anybody who calls this office is in for a half an hour."

Finally, which writers did she consider her greatest discoveries?

"It’s sort of like asking a grandmother who of her grandchildren is her favorite.

I mean, each of my authors has a story to tell or a book in them that wants to be birthed. They’re all special to me."

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"You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up." - Image by Dave Allen
"You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up."

Daylight poured through window that spanned from floor to cathedral ceiling. The room’s cedar-lined walls contained a rosewood desk, beige-leather sofa and armchair, glass-topped coffee table.

"Life magazine called me yesterday about Amy; they wanted her to write something, and I turned around and pitched another book to them, another author. Entertainment Weekly, same thing. They called on Robert Ferrigno; I pitched Franchesca Forrer."

Sandra Dijkstra (pronounced dike-stra) — in red coatdress, white hose, blue pumps — stood bending over the table, picking through stacks of some clients' newly published books. She announced titles and authors: Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree; Century's End: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s through the 1990s, Hillel Schwartz; The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman; If I 'm So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? Susan Page; Whispered Secrets: The Couple's Guide to Erotic Fantasy ("This is our hot sex book"), Iris and Steven Finz; How to Father a Successful Daughter, Nicky Marone; Starting on Monday: Christian Living in the Workplace, Reverend William Mahedy and Dr. Christopher Carstens ("Bill Mahedy, he’s a local priest: he counsels students at State and UCSD”); The Horse Latitudes, Robert Ferrigno (setting down Ferrigno’s novel— "Erotic... dark, and violent." says the book jacket — Dijkstra deadpanned. "We don't want to put Robert too close to Bill — that would be sacrilege"). Lastly, she pointed out Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Turn-of-the-Century Culture. "This is my husband’s book; he’s the in-house author (Bram Dijkstra, a professor of comparative literature at UCSD)." Besides Mahedy, she noted. Schwartz, Norman, and the Finzes are also San Diego County residents.

Sandra Dijkstra is a literary agent. Working from her North County office on 15 percent commission, she sells authors’ manuscripts or book proposals to major New York publishers. It is often assumed that, living so far from Manhattan. West Coast-based agents incur a disadvantage. Nonetheless, a full-time agent since 1983. Dijkstra has grown year by year more prosperous and prominent, showing now an author 1st 80 names long. In 1989 a handful of her authors won six-figure contracts; and for Amy Tan, whose novel The Joy Luck Club is a current ten-month bestseller. Dijkstra squeezed out a rumored seven-figure advance for Tan’s next two novels.

She employs three assistants, who work in two rooms next to her own. All three rooms display shelves of books she has represented.

Dijkstra sat back in her armchair, crossed her legs. She recited her background: born and raised in New York City. French literature PhD from UCSD, later a professor at several Southern California universities.

During a 1978 visit to the East Coast, while still a professor, she met informally with three publishing-house editors in the hope that her own writing and that of some colleagues might get published. Two editors showed interest in the work of Dijkstra's friend, Lillian Faderman. Back home a week later, Dijkstra sold Faderman’s book proposal for “a very good price," holding an over-the-phone auction from her kitchen. The published title became Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, "the first book I sold, which is still earning royalties more than ten years later," she said happily.

But her next projects as an agent foundered, and she did not pursue her new career in earnest until 1983. Then, she said. "The good connections came very fast; people were interested in me. I had an unusual background for an agent: Most agents come out of publishing; I came out of academe.

"And I’ve proven that geography isn’t a problem; being in California just means you have a longer day. You start with the New Yorkers at seven in the morning, before they go to lunch, and you finish with Hollywood after five, when they wake up.

"I’m sort of going nuts right now, because," she laughed, "were getting sometimes 50 queries a day. And they come from everywhere; they come from Nepal, they come from Trinidad, they come from Alaska. I guess maybe you could say the mistake I made in Literary Market Place, which is the telephone book of the industry, is to say that I look at new authors' work. Because many agents refuse. We have had to become hard as nails and not return anything that has no return envelope.

"A lot of what we get unsolicited is dreck. Out of the 500 or so that came in in the last two months, maybe we picked out 3 that we would take on, if that. But every now and then, there’s something wonderful. We try to keep an open door and at least look at a few pages of the work to see — I don’t read those. You know. Kathy and Gloria [two assistants] read, screen out, and the cream rises to the top; and then I read the best of what they get.

"Actually, what’s happened in the last few years is that a goodly proportion of them are recommended, by editors, publishers, book reviewers. You know, L.A. Times book review — jack Miles will send somebody on down. And our authors recommend people.

"It’s very exciting. As you see, I feel like we’re running a publishing company. I mean,” she waved at the room, “I’m just amazed at these books."

Exactly what does an agent do?

"It’s very easy to say what an agent does — an agent fulfills dreams. I mean, really, that’s what we do for writers; we fulfill dreams. It’s very easy to say, and it’s much harder to do.

"We are the go-between, you might say; we are the marriage broker between the writer and the publisher. It’s our business to know our buyers, to know which publishing house, which list — because now Random House owns so many divisions — would be most appropriate to your book, which editor would suit your temperament best.

"Now, for example, when I first met Amy Tan, she told me she wanted to write fiction, and she sent me a short story, and then she sent me her vita. Well, her vita was full of nonfiction writing, and I thought. ‘Oh, well, this is easy: she could collaborate on a lot of books'; and she said. ‘Oh, no, no, no. I do that for business. For pleasure, I want to write fiction.' So then I said. 'Well, let’s see what you can do. Get me two more stories.’

"Once I recognized that she really had a magical, magical imagination and way of putting words together, then it was a question of figuring out. okay, what is a critical mass of material that we need to sell to New York? — do we need a whole book? Could we do it with less?

"I determined that I was gonna be gutsy, and I was gonna be so brazen as to show three short stories, which most people would think is completely crazy, by an author who has one short story published — crazy.

"The next question is, How do these three short stories fall together? If they’re just a random sampling of three short stories — ” she downturned lips — ‘‘$5000 sale. If, however, they’re woven together and they have a theme, it could be much bigger than the parts. So I said write me an outline, and let’s put it together, and she did that.

“Now. Amy had a title on this book. She called it Wind and Water. She was using the theme of the I Ching. I looked at these synopses of the stories, and I thought the chapter titles looked fine. But I thought, I am not taking a book to New York with the title Wind and Water — I will be laughed out of Manhattan! There's just no way: they have such an image of California as it is. You know!

“So I said nooo, and then I looked at her synopsis, and in the middle, she had the words the ‘Joy Luck Club.' and I got goose pimples. I said. ‘Oh. my God. This could really be a bestseller. This is a magical title.' And I said to her, ‘We're gonna call it Joy Luck Club, and it’ll be a Chinese-American Decameron.' And that had a magical effect in New York. It electrified people. But had it been called Wind and Water…So another role of an agent is figuring out how most astutely to package a project.

"The next step is marketing. Here it becomes very important for an agent to be realistic, because she would be, you know, ridiculed if she put a crazy, crazy price. On the other hand, an agent has to have — I’m going to use the title of one of my author's books. Peter Irons — the courage of their convictions. An agent has to say. ‘I want X; I will not accept a penny less than X for this book.'

"So in the case, for example, of Amy Tan, our very first offer was from Knopf, and many agents would have said. 'Divine. Knopf, literary author; she'd be off and running.' And I said $15,000 just ain’t gonna do it. I have to rescue this author from a life of work so that she can devote herself to this book. She needs a minimum — I said - of $50,000.

"Now. Knopf came back, and they said, 'Well, all right, we’ll team up with Vintage: well offer you hardcover and paperback rights — we’ll buy both — for the grand sum of $20,000.' Now, again, many agents would have said. Oh, terrific we got a paperback.' And I don't know, I may be crazy, but I just said, 'I have a dream about this book; I’m not gonna do that.’ I said thank you very much." Dijkstra bent forward. "This woman I said no to is my husband's editor," she laughed.

"After that. I decided it was about getting the most literary editor at the most commercial house — get Amy the money. That was my strategy. So then Putnam came up with their offer of $50,000. But they wanted world rights. I thought that’s crazy; I’m not going to give away world rights. Now, again, many agents would have said. ‘Sure, we got it: we got our 50.’ I said to them, 'No way. I'm not going to give you world rights.’ ”

She grinned. "PS.: We are now negotiating the Serbo-Croatian rights to this book. We just sold Hungary yesterday — I mean. Finland, the check came in the day before. All the little countries of the world are chiming in. Putnam’s vision was that it was a literary book. My vision was, this could do what Louise Erdrich had done. This could do what Alice Walker had done.

"The book has been nominated for almost every major prize. There’s a lot of jealousy among writers, and so it has not won any of the major prizes, but there are stories to be told about that. We get these phone calls — Jack Miles called me to say that if he and Carolyn See had not been home ill, that on the first ballot of the National Book Critics Circle award — it was a tie between Bathgate and Joy Luck — and if they had been there, it wouldn't have been a tie. What do you do with that information? — you wanna wring his neck .” She was joking.

“In any case, it doesn’t matter. As I told Amy’s mother the morning of the National Book Awards — we were all in New York; they brought in Amy ’s mother for it — and I said to her. ‘Mrs. Tan, we have won the national book award.’ She said. ’We HAVE?' And I said. 'With a small n, a small b, and a small a. I mean, the American public voted — with their bucks — they bought this book. So whatever happens tonight....'

"And Amy has been happy not to win; she would much rather have a private life and find the space and time to write her new book, which is due…today! As we speak!" Dijkstra glanced out the window, whispered. "And not gonna be delivered today, ’cause she's not finished with it.

"But all this hoopla has been very distracting to her. I know it’s what every writer dreams of. But now she can’t just walk down the street in San Francisco. I told her to get a wig. Isn't that awful? She told me she tries to wear scuzzy, scuzzy clothes."

How did Dijkstra feel publishing had changed in the last ten years?

"Well, for one thing, the growing conglomerization of publishing has meant that a number of individual, smaller houses have been bought up or have disappeared. As we speak, just in the past week, there’s a big controversy over at Pantheon. André Schiffrin, who's been head of Pantheon for over 20 years, apparently resigned over a dispute about cutting back the number of books he publishes. Four, five editors walked out with him, which is a very brave thing to do in these times of a shrinking publishing industry.

"The big ones are getting bigger — Bantam. Doubleday, and Dell combining into one house; Prentice Hall and Simon Schuster combining; Random House taking over — I mean. Random House is like the Vatican; it owns so many houses there have been cartoons about it.

"But the good thing about conglomerization is that within each of these conglomerates — I look at each of those lists as boutiques. They can maintain the integrity and the uniqueness of vision of each of those lists. Summit Books within Simon and Schuster or Poseidon within S&S. Each of those has a certain editorial vision, which comes from the editor, the person in charge. So the good side is, yes, when I go to Simon and Schuster, it takes two days, but these are different divisions.

“I have really wonderful relations with the editors. For example, we just sold Hillel Schwartz’s new book. Now, he is a brilliant — too brilliant a man; and he wrote this proposal that was just totally unreadable. I mean, it really was unreadable — brilliant — about the Age of Replication in all of its ramifications.

"At his absolute insistence, we sent it to the publisher, Doubleday, that had done Century's End. And I said, ‘Hillel, it’s not gonna sell, but we’ll send it. I’m not gonna tell them it ’s wonderful — I can’t lie — I’m gonna tell them it’s a brilliant idea, that's all.'

"Of course it got rejected, so then he came over. He said. 'What are we gonna do?’ I said. 'Well, we’re gonna sit here, and we're gonna go through this thing, and I’m gonna tell you why it didn’t sell. And you’re gonna listen; you’re gonna change it or else I’m not gonna handle it.' So we sat down, and we went through it step by step, and he did the most brilliant job of rewriting that proposal.

"I made seven phone calls. I said, ‘We're overnighting this proposal to you if you’d like to see it. And I wanna hear from you.’ We sent it, everybody called me, and we sold that book in a week and a half. Knopf. Isn’t that great? Got him a big advance. He's so happy ."

How did she account for her success as an agent?

"I think that I have a sort of natural editorial tropism; it’s sort of innate in me. And on the other hand. I have a sort of irrepressible publicist in me. I help my authors get the word out. I mean, there’s so many unseen things you do for authors. You can't keep calling an author and say. Hey. I just talked about you.’ you know?

"Life magazine called me yesterday about Amy; they wanted her to write something, and I turned around and pitched another book to them, another author. Entertainment Weekly, same thing. They called on Robert Ferrigno; I pitched Franchesca Forrer.

"There’s a new TV show that’s being launched next week called Normal Life, on CBS. With Moon and Zweebil — or Dweezil? Do you know about them? The Moon Unit? The Frank Zappa kids? I didn't know who they were. They called me, and they said. We would like to have a scene in which Dweezil is gonna be reading The Far Side — you know, these cartoons — ‘and Moon wants to be reading The Joy Luck Club. Would you give us your permission?’ ’’ Dijkstra raised her index finger. "Not only did I give them my permission — I sent them my book list. I sent them Xeroxes of all the jackets, and I said. ‘Now, look, here’s an idea for a show: If you had Whispered Secrets: The Couple's Guide to Erotic Fantasy, on a coffee table and Moon came upon it and said. "Oh. my God!”’”— Dijkstra in "valley girl ”-ese —“’”....My parents are having a problem. In bed!" ’ The guy said. ‘What a great idea; send me that jacket.’

“So then I said. ‘Or Father could have The Secret to Conquering Fear on his bed table.' Then I said. Here’s some books that could be hanging around, that could stimulate story ideas for your show.’ He said. Wonderful. Send them.’

"Now. I don’t know what they’ll use, but you know, every opportunity. I pitch the whole list. Anybody who calls this office is in for a half an hour."

Finally, which writers did she consider her greatest discoveries?

"It’s sort of like asking a grandmother who of her grandchildren is her favorite.

I mean, each of my authors has a story to tell or a book in them that wants to be birthed. They’re all special to me."

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