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How I Got My Agent: Oksana Marafioti

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns, Memoir Agents, What's New, Writers' Conferences.

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Oksana Marafioti, author of AMERICAN GYPSY: A MEMOIR. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Oksana is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: nataliewrite won.)

 

 

      

Oksana Marafioti is the author of AMERICAN GYPSY: A MEMOIR
(FSG Originals, July 2012). She moved from the Soviet Union when
she was 15 years old. Trained as a classical pianist, she has also
worked as a cinematographer. Currently, Oksana is a Black
Mountain Institute-Kluge Center Fellow at the Library of
Congress. See her website here.

 

ALL I NEEDED WAS A LITTLE PUSH

When people ask what made me first decide to write American Gypsy: A Memoir, I jokingly reply, “My agent.” In reality, this is kind of true. Though my family story was always something I wanted to explore, I never had the guts to dive in. Not until I met someone who gave me a push.

A few years back I attended the Las Vegas Writers Conference. I had a finished book in the genre of paranormal urban fantasy which I pitched to professionals until my lips felt like they were going to fall off my face. After giving away dozens of pages with the story synopsis and a short personal bio, I got a few leads and a request for a full manuscript, which was amazing.

At the end of the day I noticed a woman who looked so young that at first I was certain she couldn’t be an agent. I remember asking someone that perhaps she was a student here for the student writers contest. When I was assured that Brandi Bowles was indeed and agent with Howard Morhaim [now with Foundry Literary + Media as of 2013], a very reputable New York literary agency, I decided to pitch to her, too.

Brandi liked the story, but she very politely said that she wasn’t taking urban fantasies. I was ready to convince her to reconsider when she asked something really odd. “Have you ever thought about writing a memoir?” I remember looking at her as if she’d spoken Mandarin. I didn’t know people could sell books about their families unless they were Madonna, and I said as much. But she insisted there was a story worth telling, and I promised I’d write a few sample chapters.

(Query letter FAQs answered.)

THE STORY TAKES SHAPE

Several months later I sent off my pages, and, as expected, didn’t sleep for days, waiting for rejection. When Brandi called, I couldn’t breathe. I thought she was calling to tell me how horrible my writing was and that I should burn everything I’d ever written. But she loved the pages, and we got to work. American Gypsy began to take shape.

Since English is my fourth language, I was very nervous about my abilities to express my thoughts clearly. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if my foreignness would show like an open fly. Would people notice? How would they react? An irrational fear, but I think fairly common among those who write in a language other than their own. Luckily Brandi convinced me to get past the language thing. It was never an issue at all, and for the first time since moving to the US, I was confident that I could write a book in English and that no one would laugh.

Writing and editing American Gypsy was a daunting process, because someone other than me was taking my work seriously, and that was just plain scary. There was so much to learn, to figure out, to write and rewrite and to do it all over again. It helped that I found an agent who wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get messy, to help make my work the best it could be.

(How many blog page views are enough to impress an agent?)

BE OPEN TO ALL POSSIBILITIES

Soon after, Brandi began to submit to publishers, and a few months later we had a book deal with Farrar Straus and Giroux.

The most amazing thing about this?

The book wasn’t finished when it sold.

I still have no idea how she did it, but I’m not complaining!

Just goes to show that you don’t have to know what you’re looking for to find it. All you have to do is open your arms to all possibilities.

GIVEAWAY: Oksana is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: nataliewrite won.)

 

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25 Responses to How I Got My Agent: Oksana Marafioti

  1. yamilesmendez says:

    What a wonderful story! As a writer working in a language other than my native tongue, I’m so proud of you! I know too well the fear of expressing yourself in a foreign language. Way to go!

  2. Tracey says:

    Congratulations! Great story. I often wonder how successful writers hook up with their agents. I know that networking is important, this just furthers my beliefs.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  3. dcameron says:

    My husband never knew who his paternal grandfather was because his grandmother wouldn’t tell. Recently, on a trip to New Orleans, he was told by a Romani gypsy psychic reader that he is descended from Romani gypsies. I would’ve been drawn to your book anyway, but now I can’t wait to get my hands on it!!

  4. I loved hearing about the surprising way this book came into being, and am so happy for you! I’d love to read it, and have to say, the cover is so unique and beautiful. Way to put yourself out there! I know it can be scary.

  5. Natasha Yim says:

    English is your Fourth language?? Holy cow! I can’t imagine even writing a paragraph in my second, much less a whole novel. Congrats!

  6. jdmstudios says:

    Oksana, Congratulations! I’m looking forward to reading your memoir, it sounds fascinating!

  7. sheenajohanns says:

    Very inspiring! I’d love to have a publishing company hooked way before the book was finished!

  8. Dee says:

    “American Gypsy” was truly inspiring to me. I’m so glad I trusted my intuition and bought this book!
    My only regret is that I devoured it (from cover to cover) in such a short amount of time, that I am at a loss to find anything else to read that could even come close to affording me the sense of anticipation I felt as I read this book. Alas, I will continue to search, and I will surely find something to read, but the sense of anticipation will be left for Oksana Marafioti’s next release, I’m afraid. I’m sure I will read it again in the meantime. Best of luck, and continued success are my sincere wishes for this gifted author!

  9. nataliewrite says:

    I would love to read your memoir…sounds fascinating and bold. Good Writing is a God-given talent!

  10. nataliewrite says:

    I would love to read your memoir…sounds fascinating and bold. Good Writing is a God-given talent.

  11. Way to go! We can all accomplish what we’ve put all our hard work into!

  12. cparini says:

    I love how, while you were planning on going in one direction, you listened when there was an opening in another. Great work at checking your ego at the door of that convention and staying open! Your approach will certainly lead to continued success! I’m eager to read your memoir. I’m imagining unexpected successes along your journey which will no doubt be a pleasure to ride along side!

  13. eclamie says:

    Oksana,
    I was fortunate enough to hear you speak at the APH Conference last year, and look forward to hearing you again this year. It is so helpful to learn about how you got started with an agent and developed your family story.

    Beth LaMie

  14. jesakalong says:

    This is very inspiring, especially in the way you took a risk to try writing your memoir and trusting your agent. It’s also encouraging to hear that agents and editors are still pursuing memoirs; it’s real stories of real people that truly connect us as humans.

  15. jacheree says:

    So inspiring! I can only hope to have a similar experience once I finish my first book. :)

  16. runningnekkid says:

    What a great story. Adaptability is definitely a strength.

  17. avidreaderwriter says:

    Well that’s pretty awesome and encouraging. I’m working on a few books myself right now (though they’re not completely ready to be pitched yet). It’s always nice to hear stories of success, especially since one of my dreams is to get published.

    Writer to writer—congratulations. :)

  18. Congratulations your book. It looks wonderful.

  19. Obvious foreignness? Not at all. I have not (yet!) read your memoir, but I hope in your writing you hold tightly to the beautiful exotic quality that I perceive in your photo.

    And thanks for your encouraging story of success!

  20. SharryMiller says:

    Congratulations! Your story sounds fascinating, and I’d love to read it.

  21. Chuck Sambuchino says:

    This really looks like a great book. Congrats, Oksana.

  22. Your memoir sounds incredible. Looking forward to reading it. I pray your story does well on the market.
    Heather

  23. PIBarrington says:

    Nice to read something from another American Gypsy!! Congratulations on the entire experience!

  24. Julie Nilson says:

    Would people notice?

    When you use awesome phrases like “my foreignness would show like an open fly,” the answer is no.

  25. JR MacBeth says:

    Very inspiring. I can’t imagine the difficulties that had to be overcome to get to where you are now, a published author. Coming to a new country when you were only 15 years old? English — it’s your FOURTH language? Sheesh. Sometimes I think we Americans have it pretty easy when I hear what you’ve shared about your journey. I think I wan’t to read your memoir now!

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