A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent by Shannon Hassan

(Or … No, We Don’t Just Sit Around and Read All Day!)

(Ed. Note: We love all the pieces we publish at The Thrill Begins, but we think writers will find this piece, and tomorrow’s, invaluable. Two of today’s top agents – Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and Andy Kifer of the Gernert Company – took the time to write about a typical day in the life of a literary agent. Ms. Hassan’s runs today, and Mr. Kifer’s runs tomorrow.)


7:30 AM MST: Wake up and immediately check e-mail. (It’s already 9:30 in NYC so I have to get on it right away.)

7:35 AM: See that the email I’ve been waiting on with deal terms has arrived (yay!). Read it. Think about it. Close the email. Try to focus on other things.

7:43 Go back and read the message again. (Good emails are hard to resist!!)

7:45 AM: Make a cup of tea and pack lunches. Send kids off to school.

8:15 AM: Stare at computer screen trying to prioritize the day.

8:30 AM: Call client about the offer. (So great to hear the excitement in her voice. Making phone calls like this is THE BEST part of the job.)

8:45 AM: Call the editor to negotiate a better deal (which is a bit like a roller coaster). Start with feelings of pure excitement. (OMG–Someone loves this manuscript as much as I do!!) Move into the stressful back and forth on deal terms. (Where is that bottle of Tums?)

9:00 AM: Handle various tasks: respond to questions from authors and editors, check on an advance payment, send a pitch regarding audio rights, respond to an invite to judge a contest, look at a list of proposed titles for a new work. (It can take forever to find the perfect title); realize none of these are working (gah!).

10:30 AM: Jump on marketing call with author and publicist about a book that’s launching this season. Go over PR and marketing plan. Get excited. (This book is—finally—hitting the shelves!)

11:30 AM: Look down and realize that I am still wearing my pajamas. Shower, put on clean “clothes” (which are barely a step up from pajamas).

12:00 PM: Check Twitter and Facebook. Re-tweet my author’s posts. Read an article on digital sales. Get distracted and waste a little time reading about the new season of Fargo, watching Jimmy Kimmel highlights, and reading a colleague’s blog.

12:30 PM: See that I have a rejection letter from an editor that I really thought was going to connect.  Feel sad/disappointed. (Agents deal with rejection too, and it’s never fun). Send notes on rejection to client. Send a quick thank you note to editor for her time.

1:00 PM: Scarf down a sandwich and jump on my road bike for a ride -– up Old Stage and then down around through some farm country. (The leaves are changing and it is gorgeous out!) Try not to think about work (but of course I do anyway!).

2:15 PM: Work on manuscript edits. (Agents often put a lot of work into editing manuscripts BEFORE we pitch them to editors at publishing houses)

3:45 PM: Receive an email that my author doesn’t like her book cover. Call author and talk it through. Figure out a diplomatic way to phrase our feedback (“He totally hates the font” becomes “Can we explore other font options that will align with the design aesthetic?”).

4:15 PM: Take a look at the draft pitch letter that I started yesterday for an upmarket thriller. Decide it’s total crap. Rewrite it. Agonize over it. Edit it some more. (Yes, just like authors and their query letters, we agents spend a lot of time obsessing over pitch letters).

5:00 PM: Read query letters. Out of 30 letters, find that several are not in genres I represent and/or are clearly random blasts, find many that are well written and thoughtfully targeted to me (thank you!) but unfortunately still miss for various reasons (the subject matter doesn’t appeal to me, or I’m already working on something similar).  Find two that invoke my pet peeves: saying, “My book would make a great movie!” and using the phrase “fiction novel” (as opposed to a NON-fiction novel??) End up requesting sample pages from two queries that sound promising (yay!).

5:30: Start to feel the daily angst about the number of manuscripts in my “pending submissions” folder that I want to read. Open said folder, and look at the dates. Download two manuscripts to my iPad. Promise myself I will read a good chunk this evening.

5:45: Pour a glass of wine. (And another glamorous day in the life of an agent comes to an end. )


Shannon Hassan brings a depth of business and editorial experience to her role as agent, having worked in publishing and law for more than a decade.  She represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction.  With respect to fiction, she is drawn to fresh voices, compelling characters, and crisp prose, and enjoys both contemporary and historical settings.  For nonfiction, she is interested in exceptional narratives from authors with strong platforms. Based in Boulder, Colorado, she is also eager to hear from authors with a unique perspective on the New West.

Before becoming an agent, she was the Acquisitions Editor at Fulcrum Publishing, and prior to that, a corporate attorney at Arnold & Porter in New York. She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University.

A few of Shannon’s recent or soon to be published books include DIE YOUNG WITH ME, a memoir by Rob Rufus of the Blacklist Royals (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), THE WORLD’S GREATEST ADVENTURE MACHINE, a middle-grade adventure by Frank L. Cole (Delacorte/Penguin Random House), LET THE GOOD PREVAIL, a thriller by Logan Miller and Noah Miller being adapted as a feature film starring Josh Hartnett and Ed Harris (Rare Bird Books), THE MOON IN THE PALACE, a historical series by Weina Dai Randel (Sourcebooks), ALMOST ANYWHERE, a nature memoir by Krista Schlyer (Skyhorse), DIAL EM FOR MURDER, a young adult suspense novel by Marni Bates (Merit Press/F+W Books), IN ANOTHER LIFE, a historical/time-slip novel by Julie Christine Johnson (Sourcebooks).