Trident Media Group C.E.O. and literary agent Daniel Strone oversaw two of the season’s most high-stakes book auctions last week, fielding eye-popping offers from publishers across the city without giving them so much as a proposal for either project. Sarah Silverman’s book, which Mr. Strone sold to HarperCollins on Thursday, went for about $2.5 million dollars. Jerry Seinfeld’s, which publishers found out about last Monday, is said to have attracted bids over $7 million.
At this point, Mr. Seinfeld’s deal looks like it still hasn’t closed, but the sheer number of commas Mr. Strone is juggling has stunned many in the publishing industry.
Media Mob spoke to the seven figure agent—who has brokered deals for Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Paris Hilton—by phone this morning and put before him the concerns of the book industry’s most anxious critics.
Below, our Q&A, with some of the questions recreated post-facto from memory and some of Mr. Strone’s answers edited for clarity.
What’s happening with the Seinfeld book?
I have nothing I can say on that. I’m not making any comment.
Is it becoming more common for book projects to go out to publishers without proposals attached, the way these two did?
I do both. I have books that I sell with detailed proposals. It just depends on the situation and the particular person involved. I’ve been doing this a long time. I have pretty good instincts about what the market is.
What are some other celebrity-driven deals of this scale that you’ve done recently?
There’s been so many—I’m trying to think. There was the deal for Anthony Zuiker, the creator of CSI. There’s the Buzz Aldrin book that is coming out July 20th. Belinda Carlisle, Melissa Gilbert. I just sold Tori Spelling‘s second book. I did Roger Moore’s book, My Word Is My Bond.
Do you think the economic environment makes these celebrity-driven books more likely to attract interest from publishers than they used to?
I think there’s always going to be a market for books that publishers think are going to sell a lot of copies. People don’t spend money on stuff unless they think they’re gonna make money. That’s just common sense. You’re not gonna report something you don’t think anyone cares about, right? It’s the same thing. People are bidding, competitively, in a marketplace. What can I say? I mean, I don’t make people spend the money.
Do you think those big books are compelling publishers to pull back resources from “midlist” books, the ones that don’t go for a lot of money because the author isn’t well-known or the book isn’t obviously commercial?
I think there is a sense of belt-tightening in that area. I feel that is evident at this time. You should ask the publishers. I’m one step removed.
What do you say to the people who were horrified last week to hear about these multimillion dollar deals of yours?
I don’t know why they should be horrified. As I say, nobody is forced to spend the money. People don’t spend the money unless they feel it’s a good investment.
There is a concern that publishers feel cowed, and out of timidy are only willing to pick up books that have built-in audiences.
What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with knowing you have a built-in audience? [How is it any different] if you’re talking about a name-brand fiction author? Do you think it’s wrong for a publisher to spend a lot of money on Dan Brown or John Grisham or James Patterson? It’s the same thing. It’s a built-in audience, it’s just that they’re a slightly different business model.
Did you have reservations about going out with two such huge books in one week? Is there an argument to be made for spacing them out?
I suppose you could make an argument for spacing them out. But, no, I didn’t have a problem with it.