Name: Cassie Hanjian
Agency: Waxman Leavell Literary Agency
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? My first job in the industry was as a literary scout. Scouting is a little known area of the industry, and it essentially means that I was a consultant for publishers based outside of North America and advised them on what they should buy from the US and Canadian markets. This particular job requires you to keep informed of new agent submissions and publications at all times. During my time as a scout, I learned which genres and categories best suited my professional eye and developed an awareness of what was and was not working in the marketplace. I even started spotting some successful self-published authors before they were signed by agents, so I felt that moving to the agency side was the logical next step in my career.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? Passion. With all the ups and downs of the book market, it can be easy to lose sight of why you entered into book publishing in the first place. At the end of the day, if you don’t maintain your passion and love for books in general – and specifically the genres and authors you’re working with – then you can’t be as effective as you need to be as an agent, even with all the other skills agents need to have.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? At the end of each working day, I make a prioritized to-do list of the top 5-8 items I need to accomplish the next day from a longer, weekly to-do list I keep. When I walk into the office in the morning, I spend the first half hour “warming up” and answering e-mails, and then I dive head-first into my to-do list.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? No two working days are exactly alike, but some regularly occurring tasks include reviewing contracts, negotiating with editors on deal points, prepping and submitting new materials to editors, taking phone calls with clients and editors, editing manuscripts or proposals, writing up editorial notes for my authors, and networking with editors over lunch or coffee to keep apprised on their tastes and the needs of their imprints.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? The most important aspect of the agent-author relationship is open and honest communication. If you can’t communicate effectively with each other, that’s a huge red flag. Authors should be comfortable asking their agents any question that’s on their minds, and agents should be comfortable communicating clearly and honestly about any issues that might come up during the publication process.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? If I’m intrigued by a particular pitch, I’ll usually ask to see more materials or the entire manuscript. If I’m loving the manuscript to the point where I can’t put it down, I’ll make sure to set up a phone call with the author to go over any questions I may have and answer their questions about working with our agency and the submission process. I can tell pretty quickly from a phone call whether an author is going to be a good fit for me, both professionally and personally.
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? First and foremost, make sure you’re following that specific agency’s submission guidelines. The submission guidelines are usually prominently displayed on any agency’s website, and following them ensures we not only have the information we need in your submission letter, but that your query doesn’t end up in our spam filters as well. Additionally, I always keep an eye out for how personalized each query letter is. Does the writer address why they are approaching me, specifically, with their project? Have they cited any of my other authors in their query? And do they use cultural touchstones or other published titles to demonstrate how well they know their area of the market?
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? Most of my reading and some of my editing happens on nights and weekends. When I’m in the office, I need to be attentive to the needs of the clients and editors who may e-mail or call throughout the day, in addition to the other tasks I need to accomplish. The quiet and space necessary for reading is usually only found in my nights and weekends.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Just keep going. Learn from your mistakes, carefully consider feedback you get from other writers, agents, and editors along the way, and learn as much as you can about the business of publishing. If your aim is eventual publication, investing in continual improvement of your craft and educating yourself about the publishing industry is key.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Don’t feel bad about setting boundaries in your work or about saying “no.”
Favourite film? – Zoolander or Garden State
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? – I adore Modern Family – the writing is so clever!
Favourite book? – I have to just pick one!? One of my favourite works of classic literature is The Age of Innocence, and two of my more recent favourites are Pastrix (non-fiction) and Shine, Shine, Shine (fiction).
Favourite writer? – Again, there’s no one answer to this question for me, but ones that readily pop into my mind are Ron Rash, Loretta Chase, Michael Pollan, and Harlan Coben.
Favourite actor (male or female)? – Has to be Natalie Portman.