How I Got My Literary Agent: Pamela Skjolsvik

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Pamela Skjolsvik, author of DEATH BECOMES US. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

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Column by Pamela Skjolsvik, author of DEATH BECOMES US (Dec. 2015,
CreateSpace). Pamela’s work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Ten Spurs,
The Dallas Morning News Death Penalty Blog and Witness.  She still attends
the DFW Writers’ Workshop on Wednesday. Follow her on Twitter

A promising beginning?
Since I could first hold a pen, I’ve been inclined to scribble bad poetry and clumsy attempts at self-examination on napkins, the backs of envelopes and in composition books. In 2005 I naively decided to send some of that writing out into the real world for possible publication. I was 35 and still not exactly sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. Writing seemed like a good gig. Lucky for me (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), the first essay I ever submitted was accepted into a fairly prestigious literary journal. It was an auspicious beginning to my frustrating writing life.

(What does it mean when an agent says “This isn’t right for me”?)

Like most people pursuing creative acceptance that is heavily guarded by gatekeepers, the more I submitted, the more I was rejected. While rejection is par for those who compose prose, I decided to attend Graduate School in 2008 to figure out what I was doing wrong and how to make it right. Attending Goucher’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction was just what I needed. It not only validated my desire to be a published writer, it gave me some much needed tools to increase my chances.

Death professions on the mind
In school, I wrote my thesis about death professions to impress a teacher. I had extreme social anxiety and being held accountable by my mentors and other students was the exact kick in the pants I needed to step outside of my comfort zone.  In two years, I had a pretty darn good beginning to a book, but first I had to figure out what that book was about. That took a while.  Thankfully, I found a well-attended and extremely organized writers’ group that helped me figure it out.

During that process, I pitched, I queried, and when asked, I submitted my proposal or the full manuscript.  I was repeatedly rejected.  “I love your voice,” they’d say, which was always followed by the big but.  But, but, but! Just when I was about to throw in the proverbial towel, I decided that I’d submit my manuscript to a contest that promised publication to the first place winner. If nothing happened, my plan was to self-publish the book. On the night of the award’s ceremony in 2013, they announced that I was the “First Runner Up,” which confirmed what I already knew—always a bridesmaid, but never a bride.

(If an agent rejects you, are they open to reviewing your revised submission?)

A bright future
But, and this is a good but, a literary agent was seated at my table. He was intrigued by my book’s synopsis and asked if I’d send him my proposal. I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, whatever.  But then within a week I received a lovely email from David Patterson offering representation. I still have that email posted on my desk to remind me that I’m headed in the right direction, even though the keys to the big six magical publishing kingdom have not yet been handed to me.

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