How I Got My Agent: Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings.

To see
the previous installments of this column, click here.

If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short
guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at
and we’ll talk specifics.

Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos is a two-time breast
cancer survivor and penned the book
Cancerland: The Psychic Aspects of Healing. She
is an inspirational speaker and a mentor for We
Can—a women’s self-help group. Kathy contributes
to CapeWomenOnlineMagazine and many other
publications/websites. She is currently working
on her second book. See her website here



Act I began with an e-mail invitation from the Cape Cod Writer’s Group to meet New York literary agents. I sent my RSVP and twenty-two page book proposal in a Word document from Palm Springs, where I was wintering. The timing was perfect. I’d gotten my final draft back from my editor. But how was I to know that my 2007 Word and the group’s 1999 Word were incompatible? That’s when the fun began.

“When’s the party?” my husband asked, as we packed our suitcases and four cats for the flight home to Cape Cod. I replied, “Friday at 5:30. We’ll have time to rest if we don’t have delays…” Yeah, in a perfect world. Our plane landed in Massachusetts five hours late. We began our long drive home at 3 a.m. with a car full of hungry, pissed-off Siamese cats. My husband suggested skipping a party that night with other writers. I said not a chance.

We were greeted at the door of a B&B by the secretary. I was informed that Jack Scovil, the agent I would be meeting with tomorrow, was standing by the bar in the tortoise shell rimmed glasses. I crossed the room, introduced myself and exchanged business cards. He asked if I was attending his class tomorrow on book proposals. Of course, I am,” I said. Actually, I had planned to sleep in. 


The next morning, I entered class late, eyes barely open.  There were only two unoccupied seats … next to Jack. “Your chapter summaries should be one to two pages,” he said. I sat down and raised my hand, explaining that my editor told me to reduce my summaries to one paragraph. He eyed me. “That’s for fiction, not nonfiction.” Things were not going well. Could they get worse? Of course! I suspected that someone of Jack’s caliber would not be interested in a first-time author. But, I had his attention for 20 minutes during my meeting, and I planned to pick his brain.

He asked me what was in my large notebook. “Publishers who accept unagented manuscripts, I said. But, I’d prefer to get a big publishing house. That’s the main reason I’m here. The second is to get feedback on my proposal before I send it out this week.”
“I never received you proposal.” He fanned a tiny pile of papers—my query letter and first three pages of my proposal. There was no “pitch” to be made. No deal to be done. No brain to pick. My saga was over by Act II.
“I don’t want to waste your time,” I stammered and prepared to leave.
Mr. Scovil countered with, “No. Tell me about your book.”  Ten, to my delight, he folded his hands and leaned toward me like a child awaiting a bedtime story. I used everything I’d learned on pitching work to agents, beginning with my tagline and continuing with the main and secondary storylines. When it was all done, he said, “Is your manuscript completed?”
“Yes. It’s polished and ready to go.”
“Is your book proposal ready, too?” He leaning closer.
“Yes.” I crossed my fingers surreptitiously under the table
“Great. Send it all to me.”
So I did—after pulling an all-nighter to change the chapter summaries back to their original length. 


Three weeks and one phone call later, I was in Jack’s New York office. “Do you think he read all of those books?” I asked my husband, gazing up at the floor to ceiling bookshelves. “No. I think he published all these books,” Peter answered. I felt intimidated. Jack entered. We exchanged pleasantries, discussed revising the title and then finished with suggestions on expanding the marketing platform. Then, I sat in the overstuffed chair wondering if he were going to offer me a contract. My husband finally asked, “So, is there a contract to discuss?” I was shocked, and relieved. Those were my exact thoughts, but I didn’t have the courage to voice them. What if Jack said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Instead, Jack folded his hands and solemnly said, “Well…I’m waiting for Kathy to ask me to represent her.” I couldn’t believe my ears! A top agent was asking me to ask him! “I’d love to work with you, Mr. Scovil,” I answered.

“Wonderful! Please call me Jack. I’m looking forward to a long relationship with you,” he chuckled, a smile spreading across his face. And that is how something that seemed so wrong turned out so right. In Act III, I  became a client of Scovil, Galen & Ghosh Literary Agency, and my baby—now titled Surviving Cancerland—is on its way in the big world of publishing.



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