I’m pretty sure I’m the luckiest writer I know. Mostly, because Cassie Hanjian of DeFiore & Company is my literary agent. She got me contracts with Entangled Publishing and Audible, she gives me encouragement when I need it most, and she cares about my future as a writer. She even has a photo of my first book cover next to her bio! What more could one ask? Accept perhaps a few questions for prospective writers and literary agents.Here’s my interview with Cassie Hanjian.
First, I asked some basic questions about her work as a literary agent.
JT: Describe your path. What was your major in college? Was being a literary agent what you set out to do from the start? Did you begin as an associate agent and move up the ladder?
CH: I knew I wanted to work in publishing in general when I started college, so I declared myself as an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. I enrolled in a lot of workshop classes to learn how to fairly and sensitively critique the work of others, took a few classes on grammar, and even served on my university’s undergraduate literary journal, all in the service of bolstering the skills I would need in the publishing world. After college, I attended the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, moved to New York, and started working on my Master’s degree in Publishing at Pace University.
My path to becoming a literary agent wasn’t direct by any means – I interned in the editorial department at a mid-sized publisher and then got my first job in publishing as an international literary scout, helping foreign publishers find titles to acquire from the US. I then transitioned to the agency side, primarily focusing on foreign rights, but once I was exposed to the role of a literary agent, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my career. The rest is history!
JT: What is your favorite part of being a literary agent? In other words, what is most satisfying for you? What keeps you in the business?
CH: There’s nothing better than being the first to discover a great new story or revolutionary concept. I love being able to shepherd new narratives, voices, and ideas into the marketplace; it is both the act of collaborating with an author to make a work the best it can be and the excitement of getting to showcase something novel to others for the first time that keeps me engaged and passionate about the work I do.
JT: I suspect, like many folks, you put in more than forty hours a week. Is that true? Do you bring your work home with you? I seem to recall you read one of my drafts while on vacation in Italy.
CH: As much as I strive to put boundaries in place for myself, there is a certain amount of work that can’t be done during normal business hours. I don’t really clock how many hours I’m putting in on a given week; I’m more of a “work until the work is done” sort of person. There are definitely weeks where I put in way more than your typical forty hours, but I suspect it evens out in the long run.
JT: What kind of advice would you give to someone who was considering a career as a literary agent?
CH: Learn as much as you can about the categories or genres you want to work with early in your career, identify a few good mentors who can help guide you through the inevitable ups and downs that come with working in this industry, and be a self-starter. A lot of the work a literary agent does is self-directed, and being proactive is incredibly important.
Then, I asked some questions directly related to writers.
JT: I imagine you get hundreds of queries a week. How on earth do you sift through them all? Can you tell in the first sentence/paragraph if the book will appeal to you? What are the most important elements for an author to include in a query letter?
CH: This tends to be at least a portion of the work that I do on the weekends. I’ll often try to spend at least a few minutes each day looking through queries, but because of the number of e-mails I receive, it can be difficult to keep up with it during normal business hours. I always read each query letter all the way through, but I usually have a pretty good idea by the second or third paragraph if I’d be interested in representing the project at hand. Overall, it’s important to situate your book for the agent (using comps and other cultural touchpoints), provide a clear picture of the main conflict/what’s at stake (for fiction) or your main concept (for nonfiction), and ensure your query letter accurately reflects your best writing.
JT: After reading my manuscript, you sent me six pages of notes and asked if I would be willing to incorporate those notes/changes/suggestions into the novel. Do you do this with most new writers you consider? Are there more reasons beyond helping a writer improve the book?
CH: Gosh, was it that many pages? I don’t give extensive notes to a writer unless I’m very serious about their work. It can be quite time-consuming to organize those type of notes, so I only invest my energy if I’m confident that there’s something really special on the page. When I give extensive notes to a prospective client, I’m looking to see how they respond to my style of feedback and how well they incorporate at least a few of my notes. It’s ultimately up to an author to decide if my feedback is in alignment with their vision for their book, but the correspondence and way in which they work with my notes can often tell me a lot about how effective we’d be as a team.
DeFiore & Company
Cassie Hanjian, formerly an agent at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, joined DeFiore and Company in 2017. Cassie specializes in representing prescriptive nonfiction – with a particular focus on mind/body/spirit, health and wellness, self-help, inspiration, and Christian interest titles – as well as select projects in the commercial fiction and romance categories.
During her career, Cassie has also worked at the Park Literary Group and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. You can follow Cassie on Twitter at @cjhanjian.