How I Got My Agent: Paul Elwork

“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. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. 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.

Paul is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Margaret F. won.)


Paul Elwork lives in Philadelphia and is the father
of two sons. His
novel, The Girl Who Would Speak
for the Dead (Amy Einhorn Books, March 2011), is
available now.
Publishers Weekly, in a starred review,
said “Elwork’s first novel poignantly depicts the
desperate need of people to believe in life after
death … it will haunt readers long after they put
the book down.” Learn more and read his short
fiction on his website.



I met my agent—Dan Lazar of Writers House—not by pursuing an agent, but by trying something different to get exposure for my small-press novel at the time. The novel was a shorter iteration of the recently released and expanded version entitled The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead.

Before the earlier version got picked up by a small press (Casperian Books in Sacramento), I shopped it around all over to agents and editors. I got lots of interest, lots of requests for samples and complete manuscripts, but no takers. I received many flattering rejection letters, some a bit frustrating in that they praised the book for being everything I believe a successful novel should be, and then begged off based on fears of marketability. Two important things to take from this quick account: 1) In the end, any agent or editor is just another human being who has to go with his or her gut, so begging off for any reason at all is fair; 2) Praise from an agent or editor, however frustrating, must be cherished as a struggling writer moves forward into the desert, for the simple fact that any such personal praise is given genuinely and infrequently. These folks don’t have the time to just be nice.

I began to despair; I started exploring the self-publishing option. And then Casperian picked up my book and released it as The Tea House. On behalf of that release, I did all the things writers are told to do: book signings, book fairs, opened a MySpace page, a Facebook page, and so on and so on. I approached reviewers in print and online media all over to get the book talked about wherever I could.


Several months after the book came out, I looked into AuthorBuzz, the promotional service started by suspense writer M.J. Rose. I checked out AuthorBuzz online, saw legitimate writers with releases from big houses using the service, and decided to give it a go.

From the beginning, M J.’s responses to my query e-mails were warm and straightforward. The voice of the person writing back to me was one of experience, sympathy, and intolerance toward authors getting ripped off instead of getting good advice and direction. (Okay, so this seems to have changed into a big old plug for AuthorBuzz and M.J., but I’m constitutionally incapable of writing about M.J. without displaying my gratitude and admiration.)

Before I ever sent M.J. a dime in the way of payment, she took an interest in my writing via short story links on my site and blog posts. M.J. bought a copy of my book and liked it so much she introduced me to Dan Lazar. Before I knew it, I was sending Dan a copy of my small-press novel. Then—wonders upon wonders—he wanted to have a phone conversation with me, in which he told me how he jumped a bit while reading a particularly tense scene and the pizza delivery guy knocked at his door. I hope I didn’t sound too much like an idiot during that first phone conversation, my head spinning. You spend years hoping and working toward a phone conversation like this, but somewhere deep down you don’t actually believe it’s ever going to happen.


Before the conversation was over, Dan had offered to represent me with a wonderful offhandedness that almost made me want to ask for confirmation. As I sometimes do, I think I replied with shocked understatement, something like, “Great, sounds good.” Not a misguided attempt to be cool, understand—I’ve long given up on such things. And within a couple of months, we had a deal to release the novel in an expanded version from Amy Einhorn Books. The book came out as The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead on March 31, 2011.

The moral of the story is that writers have to get themselves out there. I mean work the angles, reach out to bloggers, explore legitimate services that can help with publicity, whatever seems to make sense. Not because any given thing is bound to work, but because in order for anything to work, you’re bound to spread those nets wide—which is all any of us can do in this numbers game of a life.

Paul is excited to give
away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Margaret F. won.)

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24 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Paul Elwork

  1. Valerie Norris

    I’m so overwhelmed at the marketing of a novel. I love the writing process, but the rest of it is like living in a foreign land, with a language barrier. Congratulations on your handling of that side of the publishing equation!

  2. Zach Turner

    Congratulations again on getting the book out there. I’m in the middle of this process myself for Visions. I want to reach out as much as I can for marketing but I’m actually starting to really enjoy the blogging world and all the ingenious people there are out there 🙂

  3. Margo Berendsen

    I loved that last paragraph. About getting yourself out there, casting your nets wide, the numbers game of life. The only thing I’d add to this powerful philosophy is the more we give to others, the more we get back, too. Would love to win a copy!

  4. Nichole Bernier

    You are so right about taking encouragement in quality rejections. When I was at a low point, getting an extremely thoughtful 3-page rejection letter from an agent who called it a “near miss” felt like a breakthrough. It was a caffeine burst I needed to tackle another round of revisions and submissions. In writing you have to take encouragement where you can, and recognize incremental victories. Thanks for sharing your route, and congratulations on your launch!

  5. Sharon Sun

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, Paul. It’s really great to see how someone else managed to get there, and congratulations on receiving such a sweet offer. It sounds like the hard work never ends, even after you’ve finished writing the actual novel, but it’s a challenge I look forward to.
    Your book sounds fascinating, too; can’t wait to read it!

  6. Kristin Barrett

    Thank you so much for sharing your path! Like a few others, I have finished a first draft and while I revise, I am starting a blog and looking into other options to get my name out there. Always good to hear about different methods that work, as well as a ghost story that became a success. Mine has ghosts too. Congratulations!

  7. joanie murray

    Thanks for the valuable information. I’ve only just finished my first draft of my children’s novel, but am looking forward to the editing, revising stage. I have an awesome beta reader and am looking forward to her suggestions. Writers groups, facebook, blogs are all so important at every stage of the process. Much good fortune to you!

  8. Jenna S

    Congrats on your success. It seems like with websites like twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs, there’s a whole new way to connect with your audience, other writers and other industry professionals. You just have to think creatively.

  9. hank

    MJ Rose is a very interesting writer who has definitely benefitted from the growth of the web. Her blog, "Buzz, Balls and Hype" is first rate, and I very much enjoyed reading her novel, "Lip Service". I also bought a book "How To Publish and Promote Online", which she co-wrote with Angela Adair-Hoy, back in the days when e-books were only available in PDF form. Still, I am surprised to find that you acquired an agent through her. That’s fantastic. Good luck.

  10. jackie

    Congratulations. It is encouraging to know there is success for those who roll up their sleeves and put their back to it. Hard work created your own luck. Thanks for the article. Can’t wait to read your book.

  11. Jan Patterson

    Congrats on your book success. I also enjoyed your article about finding an agent. I have a first draft manuscript to edit and revise, and am in the middle of a different genre story. It will be a bit before I am ready to look in ernest, but one of my critique group is close to that point. Any informaton is of value to us. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    I also have to admit I would love to win your book.

    Here’s hoping you have unlimited sales.
    Jan Patterson


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