By Jim Schutze
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At the time he took over Eisenberg's clients, Fogelman says, the list included mostly true-crime authors--a natural enough specialization for a Dallas-based agent. "I was an abysmal failure," he laughs, "because I neither read nor cared about true crime." Shifting strategies, he began angling for invitations to speak at romance writers' conferences. "I got into romance for two reasons," he stated in an interview published on the Internet earlier this year. "One, because it's almost 60 percent of the mass market, and it's profitable, and if I suggested anything else to you, it wouldn't be the truth. But also because for years and years, romance writers...have been treated less than fairly when it comes to contractual and financial standards."
Gradually, over the last seven years, he has built the Fogelman Literary Agency into a force in the industry, one that includes among its authors some of the brightest names in romance: Katherine Sutcliffe, Julie Beard, Anne Eames, and Peggy Webb, among others.
In 1996, he won a special award from the Romance Writers of America, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the industry and his author advocacy.
Although he is best known for romance, he also handles a number of other writers, including mystery writer S.K. Epperson and Andy Collins, who has written on everything from Lassie to country music. He charges the industry standard 15 percent for non-published authors, although he says that with established authors he sometimes cuts his fee to 10 percent.
To the surprise of many in the book business, Fogelman is one of at least three prominent bookpeddlers currently operating in Dallas. In addition to Fogelman and David Hale Smith, there is Jan Miller, who may well be the preeminent name in the "self-help" genre. Given that Dallas is, to say the least, not a writers' mecca, the phenomenon of the Dallas agent at first seems mystifying, especially when coupled with the myth of the New York agent. Although many of publishing's hottest agents now live outside New York, the notion persists among authors and even some book-midwives that one must have a Big Apple advocate to be taken seriously. "Fifteen years ago it was true, but not anymore," says Fogelman, who nevertheless maintains a New York office at 53rd and Lexington. "These days, there are successful literary agents in every major city. There are only about 600 editors in Manhattan, and it's just not that difficult to meet them. The question is, Who has the passion and the emotional and commercial rapport with your manuscript?"
Of course, there is another consideration: the agent's approach. "There are three different types of agents," Fogelman notes. "There's the publicist-agent, the former editor-agent, and the entertainment lawyer-agent." The publicist-agent is best personified by Miller, the Faith Popcorn of the book business. Miller, who has handled such self-help infomercial icons as Tony Robbins, Larry North, and Susan Powter, is famed for dragging her decidedly flaky celebrity clients into editors' offices and whipping up a bidding-war frenzy. For this, Miller was recently rewarded with a New Yorker profile so fawning that even one of her clients describes it as "a total blow-job." According to New Yorker writer James Stewart, when Miller meets a client she wants to represent, she does what she calls a "mind map" for promoting them as a celebrity.
Fogelman's approach is in many ways precisely the opposite. There is nothing of the carnival barker about him, and little of the "positive thinker." His approach is lit-crit, not mind-map, and is based on discernment rather than on channeling for the zeitgeist. Although he will, on occasion, handle a self-help book, he is bigger on credentials than on celebrity--an approach he acknowledges is not currently in vogue. Even when he deals with celebrities, he wants to see that proposal.
"I don't want to talk about the book until I understand what the book is," he explains. Indeed, a number of Miller's clients, including the infamous fitness guru Susan Powter, came to Fogelman first and were turned down. ("I have no comment on anybody I may have turned down," says Fogelman.)
The clients he has taken on say he devotes substantial attention to development of their careers and to management of their business affairs. ("That's where we really earn our commissions," Fogelman says. "The selling just isn't that difficult.") Clients and authors tell stories about his aggression negotiating contracts. "I call him my pit bull," says Julie Beard, a best-selling author of medieval romance. "He's very high-energy, very aggressive. He lets the publisher know he wants the best deal; he wants it now, and if he doesn't get it, he's going somewhere else." (Fogelman admits he has been fired by clients for being too adversarial in contract negotiations.)
Even spotting him his inexplicable fondness for Southern Gothic writers, he has impeccable taste. (On Walker Percy: "He's so good, you'll have to read him with your clothes off.") His personal list of his 10 favorite books includes works by Thomas Hardy, T.S. Eliot, and Dante, as well as readings in psychology and economics. Interestingly, the genres that appear on the list more than any other are poetry and biography: McCullough on Truman, Ellman on James Joyce.