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How I Got My Agent: Kiersten White

"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. 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. Kiersten White is the author of PARANORMALCY (HarperTeen; Sept. 2010).

"How I Got My Agent" is a new recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we'll talk specifics.

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This installment by Kiersten White, author
of PARANORMALCY (HarperTeen; Sept. 2010)
Check out her blog: Kiersten Writes.

THE SLUSH PILE WORKS

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately on how it’s impossible to get published unless you are somebody, or you know somebody, or you know somebody who knows somebody. Agents filter ruthlessly. Publishers won’t take risks on unknowns. No one wants to spend time and money on something with no guarantee of success. In short: give up. It’s not going to happen. You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you aren’t someone, you’re no one. The system is broken and you will never, ever be able to crack it.

I am proof the system works. I am a no-name, nobody stay-at-home mom - just another woman with a useless English degree, two babies, and a desperate need to do something, anything, to prove that my brain isn’t leaking out while I spend years of my changing diapers and chasing toddlers. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but a couple of years ago it became more than a romantic idea. I picked my genre, wrote the best book I could, and queried. And queried. And queried...

AGENT: YES ... SALE: NOT YET

Fifty letters. Most agents never responded. I spent my afternoons mulling over online databases, Googling agents, doing whatever I could to increase my chances. I had no connections, no author friends to give me a leg up, nothing to set me apart but my writing.

It worked. Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary wasn’t my first choice, mostly because I didn’t know she existed when I started my search, but when Michelle and I talked, we connected. From the very first call I knew that she was passionate about my writing. Her other clients loved her, and my gut instinct was to go for it. So I said yes.

And editors? Well, they said no. Despite Michelle’s work, we couldn’t find a home for that novel. It was too commercial, not commercial enough, too slow, too fast, too old for the market, too much not enough something. Those few months were brutal. But I had something I didn’t have while querying—a professional, someone on my side who believed in my writing for no other reason than that she liked it. And so while I waited, I wrote. Three books. When it was time to pick a new manuscript to send out, I spent the next four months polishing my choice. I workshopped it with critique partners. I cut ten thousand words. I pulled it apart and pieced it back together and combed those lines until they shined.

FRUITION WITH PARANORMALCY

When I couldn’t make it better, I was more than a little nervous to send it to Michelle. I knew she didn’t like “creature” books, and this was so different than the book she signed me for I wasn’t sure what she’d think. Where my first book was third-person, moody and intense, this book was first-person, showcasing a very chatty, sarcastic narrator who was unwillingly immersed in the world of the paranormal—and regularly interacted with vampires, werewolves, hags, and even a mermaid best friend. Totally not Michelle’s thing.

When she loved it, we knew we had something special. The thought of going on submission again made me want to cry, but I wanted this, I had Michelle on my side, and another sub round couldn’t kill me. (Pack five stress pounds onto my body, sure, but definitely not kill me.) Less than a month after it went out, Paranormalcy sold in a three-book deal, in a pre-empt, to HarperTeen. My dreams of publishing were going to come true, with my dream house, no less. All from my agent’s slush, without a single celebrity acquaintance to my name.

I’m currently finishing up edits on the sequel, celebrating four foreign market sales, looking forward to my release, and enjoying being represented by such a savvy, dedicated agent, who signed me not for a book but for a career. I’m still a stay-at-home mom, just a little busier and with quite a bit more random, ecstatic dancing on a regular basis. I’m also proof that good writing and hard work trumps all. The system works. You just have to work harder than it does, is all.

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