Thursday, November 13, 2014

1 Agent Cassie Hanjian from Waxman Leavell Lit on Queries, Taking Risks, and Coca Cola

Cassie Hanjian is a primary agent at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency with a passion for compelling commercial fiction and feel-good nonfiction. Prior to joining Waxman Leavell, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @Cjhanjian.

Let's get right to what our readers want to know. What is on your wish list? 

I'm drawn to plot-driven commercial fiction with an emotional core -- the word tear-jerker comes to mind. In New Adult, I'm specifically looking for stories with a bit of an edge and authors who aren't afraid to take bold risks. I'd love to find a New Adult novel that takes a taboo subject and turns it on its head, making the audience reconsider their preconceptions. I think the rising popularity of New Adult has a lot to with the fact that these authors aren't afraid to push the envelope with their readers, who are actively looking for quality stories that can elegantly and eloquently take on controversial topics. 

I love that you're about taking risks! Let's talk Query's. What are some of the worst things you've seen in a query?

A lot of writers don't take the necessary time to focus their submission. They send their book widely to every agent under the sun instead of researching and querying a limited number of the most likely agents. I get so many queries in categories I don't represent: speculative fiction, histories, biographies, hard-boiled crime, political thrillers, etc. I think there's a misconception among many writers that an agent will sign you if you're a genuinely great writer, regardless of the category or genre. Agents build their areas of specialization carefully, cultivating contacts in each area to ensure that their authors have the best chance at getting picked up by a publisher. Even if you have an amazing fantasy novel, I'm not going sign you; it's not an area I'm interested in representing, nor would you want me to represent you -- I simply don't have the experience dealing in this genre.

Other writers make the mistake of not including enough information about their book in the query letter. It's great to talk about what you bring to the table as an author, but if I don't know what your book is about, I'm probably not going to take the time to read your manuscript. One of the worst sins a writer can make when querying, however, is not having any materials to actually show to an agent. Don't send around query letters to garner interest before you have something ready. Agents have a lot on their plates, and if you don't have anything to show them after they've taken the time to respond, that's an automatic strike against you. 

I liken querying agents to applying for jobs: a generic cover letter that doesn't specifically mention the company or the nature of the specific position is more likely to get passed over than one that was written to address the company's needs or show how your experiences are applicable to that role. If you use the same cover letter for multiple jobs without editing it, there will likely be incongruities. Similarly, if you misspell the name of the hiring manager or company on a cover letter, chances are you're probably not going to get a response. I view the query letter as an extension of the book: if things are sloppy and unorganized in the query, I can only imagine that the manuscript will be more of the same.

Wow. That is valuable info you shared on querying. How about your agenting style? Are you an editorial agent?

Yes! Projects that don't need intensive attention by editors are more likely to sell, so I always go through at least one round of "clean up" edits with my authors before putting a project on submission. If I find a project with a great idea at the center that needs a little tightening in the execution, clients and I will work on a larger structural or developmental edit. No matter what, I always want to be as involved as possible in the editorial process.

And one more very important question. Ahem. Coffee, tea, wine, chocolate, or any other vices?

Coca-Cola! I'm *that* person in our office who always has a Coke on her desk in the morning instead of a coffee. Coffee has never really appealed to me, and most teas don't have enough caffeine in them to really jump start my morning. My grandfather purchased Coca-Cola stock for me when I was born, so I'm fairly certain my addiction was fated. 

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