Book agents | At 102, literary agent Sterling Lord passes away.

The remarkably persistent literary agent who spent years trying to secure a publisher for Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and during the ensuing decades negotiated contracts for everyone from real crime author Joe McGinniss to the Berenstain Bears' creators has passed away.




(AP) NEW YORK — Sterling Lord, the remarkably resilient literary agent who spent years trying to secure a publisher for Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," and who over the ensuing decades negotiated contracts for everyone from real crime author Joe McGinniss to the Berenstain Bears creators, has passed away. His age was merely 102.

Lord passed away on Saturday, according to his daughter Rebecca Lord, in an Ocala, Florida nursing home.


According to her, "He had a good death and died peacefully of old age."


A failing magazine publisher named Sterling Lord founded his agency in 1952 and eventually combined it with a competing agency, Literistic, to establish Sterling Lord Literistic Inc. He was probably certainly the longest-tenured agent in the book industry. When he was about 100 years old, he decided to start a new business after remaining with the one he had created for so long.

He was a very skilled negotiator who wore tweed and shunned most vices. He was also well-spoken and athletic. However, he was perceptive about emerging styles and a prodigious representative of the Beats, a revolutionary artistic movement. With uncommon tenacity, he overcame the publishers' initial reluctance to publish Kerouac's unconventional story and went on to serve as the lengthy agent for writers such as novelist Ken Kesey, playwright Amiri Baraka, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and playwright Ken Kesey.


His diverse clientele created pieces on murder, politics, athletics, and the tribulations of depicted animals.


Because of his connection with Dr. Seuss author Theodore Geisel, Stan and Jan Berenstain's best-selling books about an anthropomorphic bear family were given a boost by Lord. He mediated a deal for the true crime classic "Fatal Vision" between McGinniss and the later convicted murder suspect Jeffrey MacDonald. He helped set up the contract for the acclaimed film adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's mob novel "Wiseguy," "Goodfellas," and he located a publisher for it.


For Kesey's first and best-known book, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Viking had asked Lord to obtain a blurb from Kerouac in the early 1960s. Despite Kerouac's rejection, Lord was so moved by the book that he decided to take up the representation of Kesey for his subsequent book, "Sometimes a Great Notion."

He frequently collaborated with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis while she was working as a book editor at Doubleday and Viking. He represented former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Watergate-famous Judge John Sirica. His clients wrote some of the best sports books of the 20th century, including "North Dallas Forty" and "Secretariat."


Lord told the AP in 2013 that "several aspects about this business have captivated me and made it a compelling curiosity." "First and foremost, I value quality writing. Second, I enjoy learning about fresh concepts. Third, I've had the opportunity to meet some fascinating folks.


Lord would also boast about a project he turned down: Lyndon Johnson's autobiography. In the late 1960s, representatives for the former president told Lord that Johnson wanted $1 million for the book and that, in exchange for the privilege of working with him, he should accept a lower commission than usual. They were shocked and furious when Lord rejected them.


Critics criticized Johnson's "The Vantage Point," which was eventually published in 1971, as uninteresting and unoriginal. Instead, Lord secured a deal for the best-selling spoof "Quotations from Chairman LBJ."


Lord had one kid, Rebecca, from his four marriages.


Lord, who was born in 1920 in Burlington, Iowa, has always had a fondness for reading and playing tennis. His mother would read to him after dinner, and from there he went on to edit the high school newspaper and work as a sports stringer for the Des Moines Register around the same time. He later developed into a tennis star at Grinnell College and was skilled enough to compete, among others, against Don Budge.


In a later essay, he described his background as belonging to the "lovely, orderly" society that "the Beats were trampling on in the fifties and sixties."

Lord co-owned the Germany-based magazine Weekend after fighting in the Army Air Force during World War II, but the publication quickly went out of business. He established the Sterling Lord Literary Agency after working as an editor at True and Cosmopolitan in the United States, where he was later sacked. During his time at magazines, Lord had encountered numerous agents, and he felt that they were incompetent in recognizing the urbanization and sophistication of the American public. He also took great delight in his sympathy for writers who led lives that were far more erratic than his own.


He would admit that his first marriage served as part of the motivation for him to start his firm.


In 2015, he said to the Des Moines Register that "honestly, I didn't want to deal with the situation at home."

Lord achieved early success by selling the film rights to two well-known sports books, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" by Rocky Graziano and "Fear Strikes Out" by Jimmy Piersall. However, Lord's "On the Road" journey would be more difficult.


In his 2013 autobiography "Lord of Publishing," Lord recalled their 1952 first encounter. Kerouac had previously finished writing a traditional novel, "The Town and the City," but he lacked an agent and undoubtedly needed one for his next project because "On the Road" was written on a 120-foot scroll of architectural tracing paper, as Lord was among the first to learn.


Kerouac had "a fresh, distinctive voice that should be heard," in Lord's opinion. But the business community was not feeling it. Even more youthful editors who may have identified with Kerouac's jazzy exaltation of youth and individuality rejected him. Kerouac "does have immense potential of a very special kind," one editor remarked to Lord. But this book is not well-written, marketable, or even, in my opinion, good.

Kerouac was prepared to quit by 1955, but Lord was not. The Paris Review and the journal New World Writing both purchased portions from the agent's final sale. Lord received a call from a Viking Press editor who offered a $900 advance. Lord refused a $1,000 offer. When the book was published in 1957, The New York Times gushed, and "On the Road" quickly became a classic of American literature.


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