How I Got My Agent: Monica Wesolowska, Author of HOLDING SILVAN

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Monica Wesolowska, author of HOLDING SILVAN [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 and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Monica 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: PGreene34 won.)


Monica Wesolowska         Cover_HoldingSilvan

Monica Wesolowska has published both fiction and memoir in numerous
literary journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2000,
The Carolina Quarterly, Literary Mama, and the New York Times Bestseller My
Little Red Book. She has taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension for a decade
and lives with her family in Berkeley, California. Her book, HOLDING SILVAN
(March 2013, Hawthorne) is a memoir about motherhood, the power of
love, and modern medicine. Find her on Twitter.




For years, I crept down the path to publication so cautiously I barely moved. Like many a female writer, I heard “no” louder than any request for more; and though I published a few short stories, I hesitated to submit my work to agents, scared to stand before that final gate to publication and be told to go away forever. But something changed once I’d written Holding Silvan. With my memoir, I wanted a “yes” and I wanted it now, and fear of rejection couldn’t hold me back.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that wanting doesn’t always get us what we want. After all, I’d wanted Silvan very much. And during my pregnancy with him, I’d been filled with new confidence. I‘d even started sending out a collection of my stories. Determined to have an agent before I gave birth, I’d flooded agents’ mailboxes, braving the flurry of paper slips that returned with wishes for good luck elsewhere; and then something unimaginable happened. During labor, my baby was asphyxiated. His brain was severely damaged. Thirty-eight days later, Silvan died.

What did words matter to me then? What were characters compared to a child? I thought I’d give up writing forever. As if to seal the deal, the day after Silvan’s death, I got this last rejection from an agent: “I don’t care about your characters.”

On that day, I laughed hollowly. I thought I cared even less than this agent did.

(Find out why agents stop reading your first chapter.)


But I was wrong. Through my grief for Silvan, I went ahead and had two more children. Through my grief, I continued to write. A part of me did wonder if anyone would ever care, but I couldn’t give up. And then one day, a fellow writing mother pulled me aside and said, “I heard you lost a baby. I did too. Can you tell me the story?”

I did more than tell her the story. I wrote a book about it. Never had I written so fast. Not wanting to stall, I wrote to another writer who’d lost a baby and asked if she would read it. More than read it, she passed it to another writing mother who’d lost a baby. Something was happening to my writing, and to me.

Encouraged, I plunged into revision, and soon the book was ready. But would this time be different? Could I bear agents who didn’t “care?” How many years could I endure rejection?

(Do writers need MORE than one literary agent?)


This time, I had a referral. Another writing mother who loved her agent said she would refer me, but with this warning, “She’s very picky.” Well, I felt picky, too. Before submitting, I went back to my folder of rejections. With delight, I found that this same agent was the only one to have taken the time to write a real letter of praise for my short stories. Though she’d ultimately rejected me, she’d done it with such grace I could now almost hear her future “yes.”

I sent my query. An hour later, I got this email back, “Please send ASAP.”

Two weeks later, after years of dreading this step in the process, when my agent took me on saying, “Don’t get me wrong. Selling this book may be hard,” I didn’t worry. After all, she was Mary Evans. She had a reputation for success.

As it turned out, Holding Silvan took six months to sell. Those months of waiting felt miserable but, really, compared to losing a child, how hard could anything be?

So when people ask how I got my agent, I say it’s complicated. It took years of writing alone, it took the sudden help of others. It took grief and joy. It took luck and love. It took Silvan and my certainty that someone would soon care enough about our story to say, “Yes.”

GIVEAWAY: Monica 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: PGreene34 won.)



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19 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Monica Wesolowska, Author of HOLDING SILVAN

  1. kadelr

    I’m sure you’ve thought of this…you may have lost your baby, but through his death you gave birth to his story, and one might not have been the same without the other. So sorry for your loss, but congratulations on your book and having the strength to push on.

  2. Paige

    So happy to see your story here, Monica. I purchased your book as soon as I heard it was coming out, and I have been talking about it ever since to everyone I know. This world needs your words.

  3. susanimhoffbird

    this is beautifully written and as a mother who lost a baby to twin-to-twin transfusion with a similar in utero experience, I immediately felt a bond. I wish you tremendous success with your writing career, and will definitely be reading your book!

  4. susankarr

    How sad to lose a child, and how joyful to have published your book. Each book is its own labor of love, and you’ve given this child of yours a place in the world.

    It was so good to read about your positive experience in getting an agent who sounds so professional and qualified.


  5. vrundell

    OH! I’m trying not to cry. If your prose is half as tender as this article, the memoir must be outstanding. There is nothing-NOTHING-more terrible than losing a child. I applaud your courage, not just in surviving it, but in celebrating in life and having the family you desired.
    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  6. Sunsette

    This is a heartbreaking but beautiful story. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose a child. The fact that you were able to endure and create something beautiful from such a tragic event in your life is extremely encouraging and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  7. Tarren

    Thank you for a chance to win a copy of your work. I just got back from amazon, reading a preview, and honestly, I will be getting your book, even if I don’t win a free copy. It takes a lot of courage and strength to write about something that people still find taboo to talk about, even in today’s modern culture. I have not experienced the heartbreak of losing a child, but I have heard several women speak in our MOPS group about the loss of a child, and even though it’s painful beyond words, everyone wants to just say, “I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what that would be like,” and then sweep it all under the rug, when sometimes, what people need to do in order to heal is talk about it. Write about it. Share their stories. And I find great encouragement and strength in those who do.


    The story behind your memoir is heartbreaking, but the hope message you send is strong: Life goes on despite tragedy.
    Your search for an agent and your journey that started after one said Yes is rich of value. I am living this experience now with my own work. Finding someone who finds your work worthy of publication is not an easy task. So thank you for sharing your experience.
    Cheers to you and to the success of Holding Silvan.

  9. PGreene34

    I was idly paging through Twitter, looking for distraction when your entry caught my eye. My husband has demanded that I finally seek an agent so I was intrigued. Your grief over Silvan twisted my heartstrings.

    We have two grown children, and I just sent them a joint email yesterday because my baby brother died ignominiously at 71 on Sunday. He went into Hospice and drifted away on morphine. This was at his own request which we who loved him felt constrained to support. I begged my two to please never run out of things they want to do because I felt their beloved uncle had died of boredom. Granted that his lungs were destroyed by a lifetime of smoke, every breath was a struggle; but I think he just could not find a reason to go on fighting. They responded immediately to reassure me they would run out of time, not purpose.

    When I called my sister to tell her that Gary was gone, we cried together, not so much over losing him as much as for the life we felt he never had. Of the four children my father had, he was the one who got lost in the complex world of divorce and dysfunction. He was a sweet kid, always a bit lost, always feisty and yet very repressed. It is a book I can never write. It would make others too sad to read it, and me too sad to write it. I have too many other unfinished works and “so little time.”

    I like your face and picture. I’m sorry that Silvan did not get to know it, but I’m glad you turned grief into purpose. Somehow that is reassuring..Thank you. I needed inspiration.

  10. Natasha Hale

    I’ve only heard about the book; have not yet purchased it, but it’s at the top my reading list! Looking forward to curling up on the couch and diving into it!! As an aspiring writer, your agent story gives me hope 🙂 . Thank you for sharing; and I wish you the best of luck in your career.

  11. Pattypans

    Your story is full of life lessons: not giving up after unspeakable grief; the need we all have for each other; the way people with similar stories helped spur you to write and get an agent. Thank you for sharing it.


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