1) Why did you become a literary agent? How did you get your start?
My path was kind of backwards. I graduated from Cornell in 2005 and was very lucky to land my first job at Penguin pretty quickly. I worked in reprints, where I learned a lot about the importance of backlist. After a year, I left so I could apply for law school. I took the LSATs and got my letters of recommendation, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually apply. I missed publishing, so I figured it would be so easy to get back into publishing. Silly me.
I had to do several unpaid internships to get back in. I wanted to get into an editorial role, but I wound up doing everything from foreign rights to production to editorial to marketing at Dorchester Publishing, Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Writers House literary agency. Luckily, Random House took pity on me and hired me on full-time in their children’s marketing department. I worked there for five years and while I was there, I got my MFA in children’s writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. After that, I made the move to Prospect Agency and eventually, Gallt & Zacker, where I’ve been for the last few years.
2) What’s your favorite thing about being an agent?
Another agent likened it to being like a fairy godmother, where we make people’s dreams come true. My favorite part of agenting is getting to call a client with the news that they received an offer of publication.
3) What challenges do you think there are specifically for BIPOC agents that everyone should be aware of?
Things are shifting now, but the lack of access to certain social networks to help BIPOC agents progress and solid incomes can be impediments. The access has been improved some with the connections being made on social media, though the financial struggle has essentially remained the same. Agents don’t typically receive salaries, which makes it hard to stay in the industry long-term unless client success is found relatively quickly.
4) How would you like to see the industry change for BIPOC agents in general?
I’d really love to see a better standard of payment across agencies. I’m lucky to be at an agency that pays me fairly and generously, but not every BIPOC agent can say the same, unfortunately.
5) How would you like to see the industry change for BIPOC authors in general? And how would having more BIPOC agents help BIPOC authors thrive?
I’d like to see publishers to move beyond the “we already have one” mentality. Where they might, for example, hesitate to take on a book featuring a Puerto Rican protagonist simply because they have another book with a Puerto Rican protagonist, even if the two books are completely different. I do believe that having more BIPOC agents–along with more BIPOC industry folks across the board–will help BIPOC authors thrive. There often tends to be a shared perspective that can help BIPOC navigate the murky waters of publishing. Also, the mere existence of BIPOC publishing people can signal a welcome to BIPOC authors who might feel more included in the space as opposed to feeling like outsiders.
6) If you could give a word of advice for those hoping to become agents, what would it be?
Much like I tell aspiring writers, be persistent. It’s a tough industry to break into and even stay in, but don’t be afraid to fight for your seat at the table. If you really want it, go for it.
7) If you could give aspiring authors a word of advice, what would it be?
Build a community of writers and keep them close. You’ll really need their support no matter how far along you get in your career.
8) What’s currently at the very top of your manuscript wishlist?
I represent a little bit of everything, so it changes regularly, but now I’m really seeking adult romance and women’s fiction!