How I Got My Agent: Jolina Petersheim

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Jolina Petersheim, author of THE OUTCAST. 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. GIVEAWAY: Jolina is excited to give away a free copy of her novel 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: Pulcetta won.)
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Jolina Petersheim, author of THE OUTCAST. 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.

(Read debut author interviews to see how first-time authors/novelists got published.)

GIVEAWAY: Jolina is excited to give away a free copy of her novel 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: Pulcetta won.)

Jolina-Petersheim-author-writer
The-Outcast-novel-cover

Though THE OUTCAST is Jolina Petersheim's first novel, her writing
has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books,
and numerous online and print publications. Her blog is syndicated with
The Tennessean's "On Nashville", as well as featured on other creative
writing sites. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and
Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,
but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter.
Follow Jolina and her blog.

I got my agent because of my husband’s last name.

That may sound strange, but it’s true.

You see, there aren’t too many Petersheims in Nashville, Tennessee. There aren’t too many Petersheims in the world, for that matter.

(How to collaborate with a freelance editor.)

So the evening I met my agent, Wes Yoder, at an author reading, he only had to hear my last name to know we shared the Plain heritage originating in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: The throbbing heart of Amish country.
And that somehow, somewhere, we were probably related. Or at least my husband was related to him.

The second oddity of our encounter was that I had no idea Wes Yoder was an agent. I had heard his name mentioned earlier that day but only that he was a writer like the rest of us gathered at the luncheon. His name had caught my attention, though, for Yoders are scarce in Tennessee as well.

"Yoder!"

I heard his name a second time, when the introductory speaker announced that Wes Yoder was at the author reading. I quickly scanned the audience—looking for the tell-tale Amish straw hat, I suppose, or beard—but it was to no avail. After the reading, I entered the lobby and told the author’s husband to give my kind regards to his wife. I had a two hour drive back to my home in the mountains of Tennessee and couldn’t stay much longer.
I was still speaking when a genial, white-haired man in a navy suitcoat and gold-framed glasses crossed the tiles toward us.

He waited until I had finished talking and then introduced himself to the author’s husband. “I’m Wes Yoder,” he said.

“Yoder!” I shrilled.

Turning toward me, Wes stopped shaking the man’s hand and smiled.

I jabbed my collarbone. “I’m Jolina Petersheim!”

“Petersheim!” Wes said, with just as much enthusiasm—thankfully.

“I was born in Lancaster!” I babbled. “My dad went to Lancaster Mennonite High School!”

Wes’s mouth dropped. “I went to Lancaster Mennonite High School!”

In five minutes, we covered all the basics of Plain life: shoo-fly pie, chicken rivvel suppe, Amish auctions, family reunions, and traced our last names—trying to figure out just how closely we were related through Sadie’s Amos’s Verna’s Rhoda’s kin. After a pause, I said, “Actually—I’ve just started writing a modern-retelling of The Scarlet Letter set in an Old Order Mennonite community in Tennessee.”

Wes crossed his arms and held his chin with one hand. “You should send it to me,” he said.

I just looked at him—wondering why an author would want to read my unfinished work. “I’m only twenty-five thousand words in.”

“That’s perfect,” he said. “I’m an agent.”

An agent!

(Should you mention your age in a query letter?)

So much for playing it cool.

I wanted to smack myself on the forehead. Here, instead of repeating an author pitch, I’d been gabbing about shoo-fly pie and what Mennonite high school my father had attended. I thanked Wes for his time, told him I would send the excerpt after I’d finished polishing it, and strode through the lobby while wanting to click my heels. I hadn’t even crossed the parking lot when I called my husband and bellowed, “I think I just met your cousin—and he’s an agent!”

I heard the click of vehicle doors automatically unlocking. I glanced over my shoulder. Wes Yoder was also going to his car. So much for playing it smooth.

One month later, I sent Wes Yoder The Outcast’s first twenty-five thousand words. He read them while flying home from a book festival in Brazil with Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack, and wanted to read more, because my story had legs.

Legs! I thought. My story has legs! Nothing sounded so magical. Four months after that, right before Christmas, I mailed the completed manuscript to Wes Yoder’s literary agency.

During our conference call with Tyndale House, the acquisitions director asked how Wes and I had met.
“Because of my husband’s last name,” I said, and laughed.

GIVEAWAY: Jolina is excited to give away a free copy of her novel 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: Pulcetta won.)

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