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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. 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. Paul Elwork’s 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."

"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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com 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.)


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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.

A SMALL PRESS WITH GUTS

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.

EXPLORING AUTHORBUZZ

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.

AN OFFER IN A NUMBERS GAME

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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