As reported in the San Francisco Appeal, a literary agent, Jillian Manus, paid $47,000 for the privilege of naming a Sumatran tiger cub at San Francisco Zoo “Jillian” — “presumably after herself.” The naming rights were sold off as part of the zoo’s ZooFest fundraiser.
Before jumping to conclusions about how much money Jillian Manus makes out of her authors, who include Newt Gingrich and Jerry Rice, it’s only fair to point out that the fee for that tiger’s name might have come out of the pocket of her husband, venture capitalist Alan Salzman. (You can read more about their lifestyle here.) Manus is also “founding partner of Broad Strategy LLC providing 360° platform building, branding and management for clients,” a regular philanthropist on behalf of various causes, especially women’s charities, and a supporter of cleantech investment.
Still, the couple does seem to like to mix zoological interests with their philanthropy: According to the same Lookiloos report already cited, guests at one of their regular $300,000 p.a. fundraising bashes for the Stanford Cancer Center were greeted by a live elephant.
I’d like to point out that $47,000 is just under the €40,000 threshold of annual income “earned by writers, composers, visual artists and sculptors from the sale of their work” that Ireland exempts from income tax. In other words, Ireland expects many writers and creatives to subsist for a year on what Manus paid to name her tiger cub.
Manus and Salzman seem to be the kind of people who turn left when they get on the plane: the first class travelers, the globalized economy’s new international elite, the four percent. The profile article quoted above recounts Manus’ traumatic early romance with “a young Swiss baron, true royalty,” who she met when ”she was living in Switzerland working for an international finance company.” (Switzerland a monarchy? That’s new.) Is this the proper background and training for a literary agent? Is this kind of rep the best to show to writers? And how many authors turn left when they get on the plane?
For the record, I do think that literary agents can still have a role, albeit less as the interface between writer and market that they once were. I believe a nimble, imaginative and well-connected agent could run down all kinds of subsidiary rights, exposure venues, new media opportunities, etc., that more than justify their cut of the author’s income that they have expanded.
Despite the reactions of some, I feel agents may even have more to do in the future than traditional publishers. David Gaughran, elsewhere a scourge of ”lazy literary agents” and exploitative agent practices, has made some points in their favor in Let’s Get Digital and elsewhere. And I know from first-hand knowledge that publishing yourself is far, far easier than agenting yourself. And I don’t think Newt Gingrich, for one, is about to do either.
All the same, I never think it does any harm to remind writers how much the publishing industry middlemen (and women) can make off their endeavor, and remind them that now they can choose whether or not to make their contribution to support those peoples’ lifestyles. And it does no harm to remind publishers and agents that authors now know it too.
Tigers remain an endangered species. Are agents? Should they be? Let me know how you feel.