When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I actually have proof of this, but when I was 17, I legitimately wanted to be President of the United States. It’s just hilarious looking back, but I was a debater in high school, and so really into research and policy and all of these things. I was very, very ambitious in kind of the traditional sense of wanting power, and prestige, and that sort of thing.
How did you decide to attend the University of Texas at Austin?
It was not at all what I thought I was going to do. I only applied to schools, aside from UT, [in] the Northeast, and in California. I didn't get into any of the Ivy League schools that I wanted to. I really wanted to go to Brown.
I applied to Texas kind of on a whim. I had gone there for a concert the summer before my senior year of high school, and stayed on South Congress and just had an amazing time. I thought, “This place is cool and there's a school here…” Then I looked into it, and they had this really cool honors program called Plan II (which is a terrible name for an honors program). They had special Plan Two sections for all of your core classes, math, science, English, that were a little bit more theoretical, a little bit more advanced, taught by advanced professors, much smaller than the usual freshman survey courses. So that sounded great.
It came down to Georgetown, Claremont McKenna, and Texas. To be honest, a lot of the reason that I went to Texas was because I was dating someone at the time who went to the University of Oklahoma. I wanted to be close enough to still see him, and that wound up being a disaster of course. I thought about transferring my first year and going to Claremont McKenna instead, which probably would have been a better decision at the time. But I also got things out of my experience at Texas that I wouldn't have gotten at Claremont McKenna.
It made me a much more well-rounded person. My dad wasn't into the whole debate nerd thing. He thought that I needed to be more social, so I joined a sorority and went to frat parties. I think if I had gone to a school that was more academically-focused, I would have just kept being really intense. Instead it kind of broadened my personality, which is a good thing overall.
How did you choose your major?
I started as a government major, because I was still planning on being President. I was gonna go to law school, and transition that way. But I just hated my government classes. They were all these massive lecture classes and lots of memorization. It was really boring. I loved my freshman English class, and I've always loved books more than anything. I didn't really think of it as a job when I was younger, but I was just constantly reading. I used to hide in the closet with a flashlight and a book to avoid going outside to play.
My freshman English professor was great. She wound up being a mentor to me. I took several classes with her in college, and then when I switched my major to English, she wound up supervising my thesis. The turning point was when I took a writing class in the fall of my sophomore year where you had to write an essay every week. There were 20 people in the class, and we had to edit everyone else's paper in the class. For this writing class, they had a folder in the library with copies of everyone's papers, so we would all gather there for hours every week, editing together, which was lovely actually. After that I decided that I was going to become a writer, and so I switched my major to English.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I wanted to work in publishing of some sort, and the summer before my senior year I wound up interning in New York at a fashion magazine - and hated it. Well, parts of it were fun. I'd always wanted to live in New York, so that was amazing. But I realized by the end of the summer that I did not want to spend 100 hours of my life in the archives researching an Armani timeline that would turn out to be 100 words in the final magazine.
I really wanted to be in book publishing, but I couldn't even get an internship in New York because I didn't have any connections or experience. I read an article talking about different careers in publishing, and being an agent sounded like a nice blend of the different skill sets that I had. It said, “If you want to be an agent, going to law school is a great thing to do,” which is ridiculous.
I think, in hindsight, they were talking about the big talent agencies, like William Morris Endeavors, CAA. For those, most of the agents do have law or business degrees. For being a literary agent, it was totally unnecessary. But I'm the type of person who really likes structure, I like having a plan. So I read this, and thought, “Okay, great, something to do.” Also my dad was very, very against the idea of me moving to New York and not having a job and just seeing what happened.
So I took the LSAT and got a really good score, and then I applied to schools. I got into Harvard, and everyone said, “Well, you have to go to Harvard.” Looking back, I didn't really stop to think about whether I really wanted to go to Harvard Law School. At that point, it was just, of course you're going to do it. Once I took the LSAT, it was like I'd boarded the train and there were no more stops.
So I went to law school at Harvard, and it was terrible. Socially, it's a weird place. There are the people who study in the library all the time and want to clerk for the Supreme Court. And there are the people who are going out every night. And I thought, “Can't we just be in the middle? Where are the people who are normal?” They were not there.
The summer after my first year, I worked at a law firm in LA and I hated it. The work was boring, people were mean for no reason. So I came back from that, and I had two more years. I thought, “Maybe I can get a job at a smaller firm in LA, and then transfer to New York. Then I can do publishing and theater. It'll be okay.”
I also worked at a firm in LA the summer after my second year, and I liked it, but at the end of the summer, they told me that I probably didn't have a place in the entertainment department, but they left it kind of open. Like maybe. I interviewed with a couple firms in Texas, but I didn't really want to move to Houston where I'd gotten an offer. I decided I would just go to this firm [in LA] and see what happened.
At this point, I knew that I didn't really want to be a lawyer. I'd actually tried to drop out of law school a couple of times. The Career Services office had this lecture series about alternative careers, and they had a literary agent who had her own firm in New York come talk to us. Then we had an executive producer at Fox Searchlight come talk to us. Both of their jobs sounded amazing, and they said, “You don't need to be here. We are an apprentice industry. You have to work your way up.” I tried to explain that to my parents and my friends, but to everyone else, the idea of quitting Harvard just seemed crazy.
Then, once I was graduated, it seemed crazy to have spent all this time and money on law school and not be a lawyer. So, again, I just kind of got sucked into the path. I graduated and I moved to California. I took the bar. I passed somehow. I found out the month before I started working at the firm that the entertainment department had completely dissolved. I got there and I tried to make the best of it, but I was crying under my desk every day.
So I wound up quitting after six weeks. At that point, even my dad was like, “Okay, fine. You are obviously miserable.” I thought about moving to New York, but honestly I was just a mess. I didn't have the strength and the clarity to do that, because it's a hard city. I had just spent years working on this thing to have it be a complete disaster. I had been seeing someone for a year and that had ended really badly. I had no idea what I was doing.
I moved back to Austin, because I just needed to regroup a little bit. I was applying for a million different jobs, but now I was overqualified for everything. I graduated in 2009, the middle of the recession. There were no jobs, and no one believed me when I said I was willing to take a $25,000 a year job. I started doing contract work for a solo attorney who had an entertainment practice. I enjoyed the work for the most part, but it was very erratic. I did that for about a year while I was applying for different jobs. I was writing a little, but I had no idea what I was doing to do and the economy was still a mess. I wound up going back to school and got certified to teach English.
I got a job at an independent school in Houston teaching freshman English and debate. It was better than being a lawyer, but it was harder than being a lawyer. I loved the curriculum planning aspect of it, but I am not good at classroom management. I did a semester, and in February, they gave us our contracts for the next year. I thought, “I still want to live in New York. I still want to work in publishing. I'm turning 30 this year. I just need to do it.” So I turned down my contract, and I signed a lease in New York.
I moved to New York and started applying again for every publishing job imaginable. I got interviews for none of them, so I started taking classes at NYU at their School of Continuing and Professional Studies. When I don't know what to do, I go to school apparently. They had publishing courses taught by people in the industry, which was really helpful, because I made some connections.
One of my teachers helped me get an internship at this company called Ripple, which is a website that's trying to be the Pinterest of books. I was their young adult editor, and that helped me get an internship at a literary agency, Liza Dawson Associates. I just worked my ass off, working at 11:00pm on a Tuesday, because that's kind of what you have to do. You have impress them.
Liza, to her credit, acknowledged how hard I was working, and she gave me a ton of recommendations for jobs. I wound up getting a job at an agency that focuses on foreign rights, and my boss was horrible. I think maybe if I were younger, I could have stuck it out, but at this point I was thought, “I'm 30 years old. I have a law degree. This is ridiculous.” So I quit after two months.
Fortunately, I wound up getting another job immediately from a company that I had interviewed with. The agent who I worked for was really kind. He was just a wonderful mentor. He was very scattered, so I got to kind of run the show, coming up with submission lists, sending emails for him.
I worked with him for a year, and then I had lunch with Liza. She asked what I was going to do next, because most people don't stay as an assistant for more than a year. I basically pitched myself to her, and told her that I wanted to come back and be an agent for her. She made a spot for me, and that was two and a half years ago.
So I've been a literary agent, representing writers and selling their books to publishers, which involves a little bit of everything. Reading books to decide which ones to take on, and then spending a lot of time editing them, getting them ready to go, sending them to editors, writing pitch letters, negotiating contracts. I love the day-to-day work. My brain is balanced right in the middle of business and logic and creativity. I really like working with writers and other creative people, and giving them the business perspective on things. I think it’s a really good fit. But publishing unfortunately is arguably a dying field, unquestionably a changing field. Some pivoting will probably be necessary for everyone. I think we're all still figuring it out.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
If I could go back knowing what I know now, I think I would do everything differently. I definitely wouldn't have gone to law school. I probably would have gone to Claremont McKenna for college. I would have moved to New York right after school. One thing that's important is to just really listen to yourself and trust yourself. It's hard, but it doesn't really matter whether everyone else thinks something is a great opportunity. You know when it's not right for you.
I was miserable in law school. Maybe I should have tried it, but I unquestionably should have left, but that's really difficult to do when everyone in your life tells you that you're crazy for wanting to do something. I think the more that you can trust yourself, the better.
But then, on the other hand, I think just not being hard on yourself…there were a lot of moments when I moved to New York and I was 30 and I was working for no money, and I just thought, “Oh my god, why am I such a screw up?” But you just never know. If I had moved to New York when I was 22, it's entirely possible that I would have left by the time I was 24, because it's overwhelming and it's hard. By the time I did get there, I had more knowledge about myself and about what I wanted. I was determined to make this work, because I was confident that it was really what I wanted to do. Try not to compare yourself to other people or to beat yourself up for making the choices that you did. But that’s easier said than done.