by Tammy Burke
I am so glad that you will be joining us for our 22nd annual “Write Stuff” conference. Your background — as an international literary scout, managing author rights, previous author support, and now an agent — I’m sure has given you exceptional skills in knowing what’s a good fit in the publishing world in addition to having the expertise to help an author grow. Welcome!
So the first question I would like to ask is on your bio on Waxman Leavell Literary Agency’s website you say that you “look forward to creating partnerships that prioritize building identifiable author brands.” Could you share a tidbit on some branding ideas? Also, what would be your dream manuscript and how would you describe the ideal author?
Cassie Hanjian: For author branding, the most important thing to think about is your audience. How does your audience see you, and how easily will your audience be able to identify you in the future? I don’t have any one “dream” manuscript — although I’m currently looking for historical fiction similar to Sarah’s Key set in a period before WWII. Outside of specific plot elements, I’m looking for a good handle on plot and pacing, writing that doesn’t need to be heavily edited, and a style that is accessible to even the casual reader. To me, the ideal author is one that is not only supremely talented; they also have to be open to constructive criticism, able and willing to do a lot of leg work to market and publicize their book, respectful, and professional.
Could you share any pet peeves or significant ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to sending out a query or giving a pitch? Does it make a difference if it is for fiction or nonfiction?
Cassie Hanjian: For both fiction and nonfiction queries, writers should take care to proofread and pay special attention to the spelling of the agent’s name and the name of the agency. Spelling my name or that of my agency incorrectly signals either apathy or a lack of attention to detail — qualities I’m definitely not looking for in an aspiring author. I view the query letter as a representation of what I’ll find in the manuscript; if there are lots of spelling/grammar errors, or if the letter is unfocused, I can only assume I’ll find more of the same in the actual sample. It’s also important to remember to succinctly describe the central idea of the book in the pitch — I need to have a clear idea of what I’m going to read before I actually take the time to do so.
Out of curiosity, when did you decide that you wanted to be involved in the publishing world? Was there a specific inspiration?
Cassie Hanjian: (Laughs.) I decided I wanted to pursue a career in publishing when I was sixteen years old. I had an English teacher who had just moved to the area; her husband’s job forced them to relocate. She had previously worked at Houghton Mifflin as an editor in their educational division. I was an avid reader from a very young age, and when I heard that you could actually work with books for a living, I was sold. From that point on, I never thought about doing anything else.
One of the genres you represent is New Adult which seems to be trending in the publishing world. I am sure you counter misconceptions about what it is and what it is not. How do you explain the differences?
Cassie Hanjian: Yes, there are quite a few misconceptions out there about New Adult, which I think, in large part, is due to the fact that the publishing industry has yet to come up with a standardized definition. Many people have stuck the New Adult label on a variety of things: YA Crossover, erotic romance, etc. When I try to succinctly explain New Adult, I usually compare it to YA: YA is about discovering who you are; NA is about discovering your place in the world.
What’s your take about romance in upmarket women’s fiction…necessary, nice or not needed? What do you see happening for 2015 in women’s fiction and what really grabs you?
Cassie Hanjian: Romance is not a requisite in upmarket women’s fiction — or even commercial women’s fiction for that matter. Women’s fiction covers a wide range of issues and topics; sometimes a romantic element is integral to the story’s telling, and sometimes it’s not. Because the women’s fiction world is so varied, it’s hard to predict any one thing that will rise to the top this year, but I’m looking for family sagas with an element of mystery or suspense and emotionally wrought narratives about traumatic events or difficult life decisions.
Being a history buff and seeing you represent historical fiction I can’t resist asking…do you have a favorite time period?
Cassie Hanjian: I love historical fiction set between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment — there is so much natural human drama in those centuries, that these stories naturally lend themselves to intricate and imaginative plots. If I had to pick one period in particular, I’d have to go with the Elizabethan period.
Anything you are definitely not looking for?
Cassie Hanjian: I don’t represent children’s fiction or speculative fiction of any sort.
And last question…if you could give three ‘words of wisdom’ for our attendees, what comes to mind?
Cassie Hanjian: Can I have five words? Start with an elevator pitch. Boiling your book down to one succinct sentence to start, whether in a query letter or during an in-person pitch, is often more effective than trying to explain all the intricacies of your plot, concept or thesis when you have limited space or time.
Thank you so much for taking the time out and we look forward to seeing you soon!
Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an agent, 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
Areas of interest/representation: New Adult, commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological suspense, cozy mystery, contemporary romance, parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction focusing on food-related topics and cookbooks.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).