Carmel literary agent is doing big things in a small city
The law degree helps with contract work.
The speech writing experience helps with composing in someone else’s voice.
The work on college papers sharpened the pen for later writing.
A mother’s love of books helped plot the entire journey.
And so it’s gone for Craig Wiley, a Carmel resident and the solitary man behind the curtain of the Carmel-based Craig Wiley Agency. Wiley is a literary agent, with ties to some well-known titles, and it seems his entire life has molded and funneled him to this very spot, this very time.
“It’s fate, in way,” Wiley said. “It’s funny how things have worked out.”
Have they ever worked out. In business for less than a decade, Wiley’s venture has seen nearly 60 books to completion and accommodates between 20 and 50 clients at any given time. The most notable fruit of Wiley’s labor is the No. 1 New York Times bestseller What Happened, an inside look at George W. Bush’s presidency. Wiley served as the agent for Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary and the author of the book, on the project.
“What Happened was a huge story,” said Wiley. “I remember pulling up The Drudge Report one day (early in the book’s life) and nearly all the top 10 stories were about McClellan. I called up the publisher and said, ‘However many copies you printed, it’s not enough.’”
That Wiley’s biggest success to date is tied to politics is apropos. Before establishing himself in the literary world, it was Washington, D.C. that had his full attention. A lawyer by trade, the Indiana native found himself drawn to our nation’s capital after law school and while there, Wiley immersed himself in politically-tinged career pursuits – including that of speech writer.
His love for affairs of state soon waned however, as love of another kind bloomed.
“(Wiley’s wife and then-girlfriend Darcy) lived here, and I was torn between politics and her,” Wiley said. “I wanted to pursue her, but I felt too removed from that in Washington. I think as I fell in love with her, I kind of fell out of love with politics.”
Soon, the Butler graduate was back home, working in law firms to pay the rent but eyeing books all the while.
“I love books,” said Wiley in the midst of a vast understatement. “That’s sort of been my passion, my life even beyond work. It comes from my mom, who was very much into books. It’s also the idea of words coming together and making a symphony.”
A stint at the Waterside Literary Agency followed the change in careers, but it wasn’t long before Wiley realized he could strike out on his own. In 2005, he did just that, and his business was born. Today, the Craig Wiley Agency operates out of a home office within walking distance of downtown Carmel. Books occupy nearly the entirety of one wall; it is comfortable, it is cozy, it is Craig.
It is home.
“My parents live in Carmel, and I always wanted to get back here,” Wiley said. “(Darcy) and I were looking elsewhere, but we drove through downtown and it had just started being revitalized. We came down the street and this house was for sale. Three days later, it was ours.”
That home has given rise to Wiley’s world today; he and Darcy have a son and a daughter with a third child, a girl, on the way. The way the two communicate, with tacit respect and glowing fondness, is more impressive than any royalty check.
“I would come over to his apartment when we were dating, and he’d have Les Miserables out on the table and just open the book every once in a while and read,” Darcy said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. But he’s a goofball with such a sense of humor underneath it all.”
While the 1862 Hugo novel is Wiley’s favorite work, it is a just-released project that the 39-year-old is eager to talk about. It is Walter & Me, a book about Walter Payton co-written with author Paul Brown and Eddie Payton, brother of the late Chicago Bears star. It marks Wiley’s second turn behind the published pen, but his first with cover credit.
“I don’t consider myself a professional writer,” said Wiley, humbly. “I wrote papers in school, obviously, and some novels in college that would get to 100 pages and die. But I’ve always had an interest in writing, even as a child.”
Wiley’s role with Walter & Me, as it was with a previous book he did with Brown about professional golfer Boo Weekley, was that of word masseuse. On both occasions, Brown conducted interviews and compiled the book, before Wiley sculpted the prose into the voice of the subject.
“It was a three-month process,” Wiley said of writing the piece. “It was grueling, because writing with three people is hard. I put Eddie’s voice to it, and that process is a lot of fun.”
With a media blitz set to commence to promote Walter & Me, there is every reason to believe this endeavor will be well received by the public, as so many other titles – Underdawgs, The Death of the Grown Up, the McClellan book – have been.
Undoubtedly, it is Wiley’s simple, level-headed approach and a love for what he does, that ensures such accolades.
“One of my mottos is, ‘Not quantity, but quality,’” he said. “You can put out things that do good in the world. I like to focus on books that make a difference.”