“You get people who write books about dog burials,” he told The New York Times in 1980. “People write letters to me about how this book should sell five million copies in hardcover, 10 million in paperback, and why Robert Redford will want to make a movie out of it. And you pick it up and it’s a book about a postman. Then we get these books all the time about how the C.I.A. has planted a transmitter in my teeth.”
Having made millions, Mr. Janklow shifted direction in 1989. He formed a partnership with Lynn Nesbit, a veteran agent for International Creative Management whose clients included such literary figures as Toni Morrison, Tom Wolfe, John le Carré, Donald Barthelme, John Gregory Dunne and Robert A. Caro.
Representing moneymakers as well as literary talents, Janklow & Nesbit eventually established a client list of 1,100 novelists and nonfiction writers, including the winners of Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, Academy Awards and other accolades. Many were well-known politicians, entertainers, historians, journalists, and leaders of the arts and sciences.
Mr. Janklow took commissions of 15 percent when most agents got 10 percent. But his clients received abundant rewards. The Janklovian clout often won signing bonuses and subsidiary rights for television and movie spinoffs, as well as book club and world publishing deals. He also won rights rarely given to authors: a say in advertising and promotional campaigns, even in the details of a book’s cover and jacket copy.
For some established writers, he secured contracts for books not yet plotted, let alone written. Many of his clients became regulars on the best-seller list. In November 1989, he had three clients who held No. 1 positions on Times lists: Danielle Steel on hardcover fiction with “Daddy,” Nancy Reagan on nonfiction with “My Turn” and Sidney Sheldon on paperback fiction with “The Sands of Time.”
Unlike most agents, who remain in their clients’ shadows, Mr. Janklow was a flamboyant self-promoter who moved in political, cultural, communications and entertainment circles and gave lavish parties for the A-list. His friends included Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York; the television news stars Morley Safer and Barbara Walters; The Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham; William Paley, the chairman of CBS; California’s governor, Jerry Brown; and the writers Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer.
He was tall and intense, and he talked a blue streak. “One doesn’t so much converse with Janklow as plunge into a rushing river of words and try to grab onto a piece of conversational driftwood,” Trip Gabriel wrote in a magazine article for The Times in 1989. He noted that Mr. Janklow’s quest for big advances was more than a macho game or the result of gossip’s influence on the marketplace.