'Godfather of the industry' Michael Sissons dies

'Godfather of the industry' Michael Sissons dies

Veteran literary agent and “godfather of the industry” Michael Sissons has died aged 83.

Various agents have paid tribute to Sissons who died on Saturday (August 24th), following a stellar career which saw him representing names such as Simon Schama, Margaret Drabble and William Hague, setting up the Association of Authors' Agents, and overseeing PFD for almost half a century before acting as a senior consultant for the agency for the last decade.

“I would say that he was the godfather of the industry,” said Caroline Michel, c.e.o. of PFD, who had known Sissons for 30 years, since before she entered the publishing industry.

“For the whole of my publishing and agenting career, he was the best teacher and mentor I could ever have hoped for. He was also one of my husband’s [the late Matthew Evans'] closest friends so personally and professionally his will be a towering loss."

Of Sissons’ battle with melanoma, Michel said that “he had never been anything less than direct”. 

"When the cancer came back just before the summer he said ‘I am going to take the summer off and come back in the autumn.’ When I last spoke to him before I went on holiday to Italy it was about morality clauses, which we are fighting against, and he was typically stalwart and strong. And then when I was in Italy he wrote to me and said, ‘You will not see me again’. It was the most touching and heartbreaking letter I have ever received. It was about how much he admired the agency and how much he admired what we were all doing,” she told The Bookseller.

Other industry figures have paid tribute to Sissons. Arabella Pike, William Collins publishing director, described him as "a master in our industry - a supremely tough and robust negotiator and fiercely loyal to his writers".

"His powerful grasp of the commercial side was balanced by his intellect, love of history and an unerring nose for the right subject. His curiosity, enthusiasm and immense experience of life bubbled up in every conversation - whether about the Vietnam war, or travels in Louisiana, the joys of the British countryside or the follies of politics," she said.

Greene and Heaton agent Laura Williams tweeted: "Hard to find the right words to say about Michael's passing. It was an indescribable privilege to spend 7 years at the beginning of my career learning from one of the great changemakers and geniuses of the industry.”

TV and film agent James Carroll described his experience of being Sissons’ assistant as “such a privilege”. Carroll tweeted: "His negotiations on behalf of authors affected how the whole industry is set up today. He had a wicked sense of humour, spirit of fair play, great advice & endless supply of stories. Will be very sorely missed."

And PFD agent Marilia Savvides also paid tribute, calling Sissons “a legend of a man”. She said that she was “so, so incredibly lucky and thankful to have worked with him all these years”.

Sissons was born in 1934 to a Hull-based family which made paint, Sissons Brothers & Co. The business had run since the 18th century but his father, grandfather and cousin were killed in the Second World War and the paint factory was destroyed during the blitz of Hull.

Instead the Oxford University graduate “fell by accident” into a literary career in 1959, working for literary agent Augustus Dudley Peters. Sissons went on to inherit the agency A D Peters & Co from its founder in 1973.

He told The Bookseller in 2009: “I have never looked at the notion of another job since that day. I have never wished to do anything else, and I can still scarcely believe my luck."

He was partner, m.d. and chairman of the agency for almost 50 years. In 1988 it became Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, following a merger with a rival agency. Thirteen years later PFD was sold to the CSS Stellar but following the defection of a number of agents in 2007 a second buyout followed in 2008, this time headed by chief executive Caroline Michel and backed by newspaperman Andrew Neil.

Sissons helped establish the Association of Authors' Agents in the 1970s, to help define what agents should be and how they should be regarded in the industry. And he was one of the first agents to develop a computer system to keep track of his authors’ work, deadlines and finances, according to the Times.

In 2016, he helped PFD launch an online books catalogue with the aim of having every agented book listed and available by 2024. He said at the time: “It is not enough to hide away books on a shelf and hope they will be picked up. Agents exist to champion authors and their writing in as many ways as possible.”

Michel revealed that “right up until the last moment he was coming in two or three days a week and doing deals for his authors, he could not have been more present”.

She added: “He had a formidable reputation which he lived up to but he had the heart of a lion. He will be so hugely missed by everybody here. Everyone respected and adored him - he was one of the best.”

In 1992 Sissons married Serena Davies (née Palmer), whom he had met at a publishing party some years earlier. She survives him with his children.