Why I'm a Literary Agent

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved books more than anything else. Growing up, I constantly got in trouble for trying to read at the dinner table. I used to hide in the hall closet where we kept the sleeping bags—they made the perfect nest—avoiding my little brother and sister who wanted me to play outside and reading by flashlight. As you can probably guess, I didn’t have a lot of friends as a small child (most kids LIKE to play!), but I was happy to be besties instead with Laura, Anne, and Jo.

When I was young, like so many other readers, I wanted to be a writer. I was a very determined child, with more drive than knowledge. When I was about seven or eight (around the age of my classic watermelon dress photo featured on the About page), I proudly showed my mother a story I had written for Seventeen’s fiction contest. It had to be double spaced, so I had painstakingly put two spaces between every word. 

I know. She couldn’t contain her laughter either.

I changed my career plans as I grew older. In middle school, I wanted to be a geneticist. I firmly believed in high school that I was going to be the first woman president of the United States. (I couldn’t be happier now that it looks like that would be impossible.) I went to college planning to major in government and go to law school. 

Then I took a by-audition writing class in the fall of my sophomore year: Rhetoric 325M. Each week, we wrote essays that focused on different rhetorical strategies. Then we would gather in the library and edit every single classmate’s paper. We met at people’s apartments to workshop two essays each week. I fell in love with writing once more and editing for the first time and changed my major to English, thinking about one day working in book publishing.

Fast forward to the summer before my senior year of college, when I had made it to New York—but with an internship at a fashion magazine. Definitely not my dream job. Picture The Devil Wears Prada without the free clothes and trip to Paris. After reading about various careers in publishing, I decided I wanted to be a literary agent, and some article that I wish I still had a copy of told me that going to law school is a great plan for people who want to be agents. 

I wrote my admissions essay to law school declaring this intention, relating it back to an argument my Rhetoric 325M class had over a poetic, but rather convoluted, sentence one Wednesday night. My professor ended the debate by telling us that we would never agree because the world is made up of two people: poets and lawyers. I didn’t know which category I fit into at the time, and in my application, I declared that I was a hybrid. My essay stated firmly, “I want to be a literary agent. The poet can bury herself in manuscripts, and the lawyer can negotiate deals with the publishing houses. Both parts of me will be content.” 

A few months later, Harvard sent me an acceptance letter with a handwritten note on the bottom: “The path to becoming a literary agent starts here!” It ended up being a convoluted path that took about nine years to complete and led me into a few dark forests, but I suppose they were right…eventually. 

The funny thing though is that for as much as I got wrong as I found my way to being an agent, my initial instincts (however dramatically phrased) were one hundred percent correct. I love being an agent because it satisfies both sides of my brain and demands that I use every skill in my arsenal. I get to write a little and read a lot and edit and strategize and yep, negotiate contracts, too. This is the only job I’ve had in which I’m constantly challenged.

And I still love books more than anything else. Getting to talk to writers every day, to help bring books into the world that some other girl might one day read in the closet with a flashlight…

I won’t tell you this job is easy, but I simply can’t imagine a better one.