I do not remember the first book that I read or the first book that was read to me, but I do remember books always being a part of my life—trusty friends and allies to provide comfort or enjoyment whenever needed.
My dad had an enormous library, and some of my earliest memories are of sitting in his armchair, admiring the spines of the books that lined the shelves of our living room, memorizing their locations, and choosing my favorites based on, yes, their covers. For virtually any question that my sister and I have asked throughout our lives, his response has been, “I have a book on that!”
Getting a library card was paramount to getting a driver’s license in my family, and I took to this new world with gusto. Very rarely did a trip to the library with my mother end with any fewer than 20 books in my bag. I also stalked all of the local bookstores in Silver Spring, Md.—originally just Crown Books and Walden Books, later Borders and Barnes & Noble, of course. Used bookstores seemed like little corners of paradise to be explored as well.
When I got older, I discovered book series and flew through those as quickly as I could read them. At one point, I was reading two to three Baby-Sitters Club books per week. I exhausted the lists of favorite childhood authors (Mary Downing Hahn, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor). I got hooked on mystery and crime writers as well, beginning with Mary Higgins Clark and Lillian Jackson Braun, and then continuing on into my love affair with John D. McDonald and Ross Macdonald. Nonfiction work by authors such as Erik Larsen, Bill Bryson, and Joan Didion began to fill my bookshelves.
Because books were such a magical, sacred world to me, I never imagined that there could be a place for me in the publishing business. Surely there had to be people making decisions behind the scenes, but it seemed as if books just miraculously appeared on bookstore shelves, waiting to be purchased.
My love of storytelling also attracted me to the movie business. I made the mandatory trek out to Los Angeles, where I worked for several years in production legal in television and film. The luster of working in the entertainment industry eventually faded, and I found myself at a crossroads. I was single, broke, and 30, but I knew that I was being given an opportunity to start doing what I really wanted to do.
I took a year off to clear my head and traveled throughout Southeast Asia. I went in every English-language bookstore I found, cramming my backpack with books as I explored places like Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal.
I had already spent years working freelance jobs in my spare time, reading and evaluating screenplays and book manuscripts for studios, agencies, production companies, and writing contests. Having spent the entirety of my adult life reading the good, the bad, and the ugly, I knew two things for certain: that I loved reading and that I loved working with writers. When I returned home (schlepping at least two suitcases filled with reading material), I was determined to break into publishing.
After lots of pounding the pavement, fate stepped in and I started as an editorial assistant at Keller Media, a literary agency. Within hours of working here, I knew I had found my calling. Before long I became an agent, and now I work with authors (primarily in nonfiction) and read for a living, pitching and selling projects that I believe in to editors whom I respect.
I finally caved and started using an e-reader last year, though I remain fiercely partial to books that I can hold and cherish. The business has changed so much over the past several years, and continues to do so, and it can be difficult to keep up. There are downs to go with the ups—a book I feel strongly about doesn’t sell, an author is difficult to work with—but for the most part I am excited to go into work every day (how many people get to feel like that?). I feel as if, in our own small way, we are doing our part to create new books for fellow bibliophiles to enjoy, whether on their Kindles, at the library, or maybe even curled up on their fathers’ chairs.
Megan Close Zavala is a literary agent based in Marina del Rey, Calif.