How I Got My Literary Agent: Oksana Marafioti - Writer's Digest

How I Got My Agent: Oksana Marafioti

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. Oksana Marafioti is the author of AMERICAN GYPSY: A MEMOIR (FSG Originals, July 2012). 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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“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, email 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.)

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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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