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Lynn Nesbit

Janklow & Nesbit Associates

by Joseph Montebello

In the publishing world, there are two people who are crucial to an author’s success: the editor and the agent. An editor nurtures a book once it’s been accepted for publication, but it is the agent who sets the ball rolling and finds the perfect home for an aspiring author.

Lynn Nesbit, one of New York’s most successful literary agents, has been discovering great writers since she graduated from Northwestern and came to New York in the fall of 1960. Her list of famous and successful clients is formidable and continues to grow.

“I enrolled in the Radcliffe Publishing Program where we were told to take the first job we were offered, since there were no jobs in publishing,” Nesbit recalled. “Sterling Lord was an agent who came to speak to us and I decided I’d like to be an agent. Well, of course, he didn’t need another staff member, so I took a job as an editorial apprentice at Ladies Home Journal and hated every minute of it.”

She eventually went to work for Sterling Lord Agency and began dealing with fiction submissions. While reading through a pile of short stories Lord had brought back from a conference, she came upon one by Donald Barthelme. She wrote and asked if she could represent him and he agreed. That was the beginning of her extraordinary career.

In 1989 she and Mort Janklow formed Janklow & Nesbit Associates, where she has discovered and represented authors from John Cheever, Joan Didion, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook to Ann Beattie, Anne Rice and scores of others.

Over the years the publishing business has gone through some drastic changes. While E-Books have contributed to publishers’ bottom lines, Nesbit still has many concerns.

Amazon has made a huge difference in the industry because it controls so much of the distribution,” Nesbit said. “While some independent bookstores are thriving, many more have closed. And nowadays there tend to be two or three gigantic books that sell more than ever. Then there is literary fiction that sells so many fewer copies than you could imagine. There is no solid middle anymore. When people used to be dependent on a store to buy the book they wanted, they would buy it, then browse and buy some more. That doesn’t happen as much anymore.”

But Nesbit is still enthusiastic about publishing and her role in the industry.

“I still love discovering new and young writers,” she said. “I am driven by the voice in a manuscript. To me that matters more than narrative because it shows originality. Voice is what makes a great writer.”

Although Nesbit spends her weekdays in New York, she escapes to her house in Sharon as often as she can.

“I used to go to Canyon Ranch and I loved hiking and saw that there were many trails in the Salisbury area. While visiting friends, I found the perfect piece of land where I eventually built my house. That was eighteen years ago. Now I’ve traded in hiking for tennis and enjoy every minute I’m there. It’s a wonderful place to live because there are many interesting people but it’s not overrun with lunches and cocktail parties. I have enough of that in New York and I treasure the balance being in the country offers me.”