How I Got My Agent: Monica Wesolowska, Author of HOLDING SILVAN

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Monica Wesolowska, author of HOLDING SILVAN [a memoir]. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. GIVEAWAY: Monica is excited to give away a free copy of her book 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: PGreene34 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 Monica Wesolowska, author of HOLDING SILVAN [a memoir]. 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.

GIVEAWAY: Monica is excited to give away a free copy of her book 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: PGreene34 won.)

Monica Wesolowska
Cover_HoldingSilvan

Monica Wesolowska has published both fiction and memoir in numerous
literary journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2000,
The Carolina Quarterly, Literary Mama, and the New York Times Bestseller My
Little Red Book. She has taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension for a decade
and lives with her family in Berkeley, California. Her book, HOLDING SILVAN
(March 2013, Hawthorne) is a memoir about motherhood, the power of
love, and modern medicine. Find her on Twitter.

AT FIRST, I WAS HESITANT TO TRY...

For years, I crept down the path to publication so cautiously I barely moved. Like many a female writer, I heard “no” louder than any request for more; and though I published a few short stories, I hesitated to submit my work to agents, scared to stand before that final gate to publication and be told to go away forever. But something changed once I’d written Holding Silvan. With my memoir, I wanted a “yes” and I wanted it now, and fear of rejection couldn’t hold me back.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that wanting doesn’t always get us what we want. After all, I’d wanted Silvan very much. And during my pregnancy with him, I’d been filled with new confidence. I‘d even started sending out a collection of my stories. Determined to have an agent before I gave birth, I’d flooded agents’ mailboxes, braving the flurry of paper slips that returned with wishes for good luck elsewhere; and then something unimaginable happened. During labor, my baby was asphyxiated. His brain was severely damaged. Thirty-eight days later, Silvan died.

What did words matter to me then? What were characters compared to a child? I thought I’d give up writing forever. As if to seal the deal, the day after Silvan’s death, I got this last rejection from an agent: “I don’t care about your characters.”

On that day, I laughed hollowly. I thought I cared even less than this agent did.

(Find out why agents stop reading your first chapter.)

THROUGH GRIEF, I WAS ABLE TO CREATE

But I was wrong. Through my grief for Silvan, I went ahead and had two more children. Through my grief, I continued to write. A part of me did wonder if anyone would ever care, but I couldn’t give up. And then one day, a fellow writing mother pulled me aside and said, “I heard you lost a baby. I did too. Can you tell me the story?”

I did more than tell her the story. I wrote a book about it. Never had I written so fast. Not wanting to stall, I wrote to another writer who’d lost a baby and asked if she would read it. More than read it, she passed it to another writing mother who’d lost a baby. Something was happening to my writing, and to me.

Encouraged, I plunged into revision, and soon the book was ready. But would this time be different? Could I bear agents who didn’t “care?” How many years could I endure rejection?

(Do writers need MORE than one literary agent?)

THE VALUE OF A REFERRAL

This time, I had a referral. Another writing mother who loved her agent said she would refer me, but with this warning, “She’s very picky.” Well, I felt picky, too. Before submitting, I went back to my folder of rejections. With delight, I found that this same agent was the only one to have taken the time to write a real letter of praise for my short stories. Though she’d ultimately rejected me, she’d done it with such grace I could now almost hear her future “yes.”

I sent my query. An hour later, I got this email back, “Please send ASAP.”

Two weeks later, after years of dreading this step in the process, when my agent took me on saying, “Don’t get me wrong. Selling this book may be hard,” I didn’t worry. After all, she was Mary Evans. She had a reputation for success.

As it turned out, Holding Silvan took six months to sell. Those months of waiting felt miserable but, really, compared to losing a child, how hard could anything be?

So when people ask how I got my agent, I say it’s complicated. It took years of writing alone, it took the sudden help of others. It took grief and joy. It took luck and love. It took Silvan and my certainty that someone would soon care enough about our story to say, “Yes.”

GIVEAWAY: Monica is excited to give away a free copy of her book 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: PGreene34 won.)

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