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How I Got My Agent: Rachel Coker

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring RACHEL COKER, author of the novel INTERRUPTED. 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: Rachel 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: sarahgene618 won.)

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring RACHEL COKER, author of the novel INTERRUPTED. 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: Rachel 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: sarahgene618 won.)

interruoted-coker-novel-cover
rachel-coker-author-writer

Rachel Coker resides in Virginia with her parents, who’ve homeschooled
her since she was a child, and two sisters. She has a passion for great books,
and has been surrounded by them all her life. Rachel also has a deep love for
classical music and old black-and-white movies. Her first novel is INTERRUPTED
(Zondervan, March 2012). See the book trailer here, or connect with Rachel on her vlog.

When I was sixteen years old, my first book, Interrupted: Life Beyond Words, was published by Zondervan. It was hardcover, 256 pages, and I wrote it when I was fourteen. Since I first started sharing my story with others, I’ve encountered a boatload of questions—How did you get published so early? How did you land an agent/publisher? What is your "secret"?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can share what I do know with you.

IT ALL GOES BACK TO SIXTH GRADE

It all goes back to 2006, when I was in sixth grade. I was a homeschooled student, and my mom required me to write a short story for a writing assignment. I wrote a few pages and, if I recall correctly, it was extremely melodramatic, but my mom liked it. I’d never written fiction before and I guess neither of us knew that I could.

A few weeks later, my mom found an ad for a fiction writing coach. She sent him my story and we signed up for a year of writing lessons. I wrote dozens of short stories and even a novella. It was an amazing experience.

I never really thought I’d do anything with my writing. To me, it wasn’t a career aspiration or goal. I wrote because I loved it, and it came easily, and because it enabled me to have a sense of freedom. Although I viewed it as a nice idea, I never gave much serious thought to being a published author.

But that changed in the spring of 2010. I’d been working on my first full-length novel, which I’d started after my fourteenth birthday. When I finished it that spring, all I knew was that I loved the book and figured it would be a waste to not even try to publish it. On a whim, I checked out an “idiot’s guide” to publishing from the library. Before then, I didn’t know a thing about getting published! Flipping through the pages of the self-help guide, I realized that it was much more complicated than I had realized.

(How many markets should you send your novel out to?)

EVERY AGENT REJECTED ME ... EXCEPT ONE

Nonetheless, I am a girl who loves a challenge so I figured I’d give it a shot. The first step the book suggested was to write a query letter to agents explaining your book and asking if they’d like to look at it. That seemed easy enough. I Googled “Christian literary agents” and sent my cover letter to fifteen people who popped up in the search results. Every single one rejected me (or didn’t respond at all!) ...

... except for one. Bill Jensen [of the William K Jensen Literary Agency], a very well recognized agent in the Christian market.

Even Bill didn’t turn any somersaults after reading my letter. I remember he was very brief and terse. He told me it was too short for publishers to pick up, but to send it to him anyway just so he could look at it. I did, and we heard nothing for several weeks.

One afternoon, while getting ready to go out, the phone rang and my mom locked herself in her room for over an hour. The rest of us were more than a little confused. Who was she talking to? She was laughing, seemingly elated, and she kept mentioning me and books. To be honest, I had almost completely forgotten about sending my book to Bill, and didn’t realize it was him on the phone. So when Mom hung up and told me what was going on, I about had a heart attack.

Apparently, Bill had read the first three chapters of my book and was beyond excited about it. I’m not sure why, but he seemed to think it had a good chance of getting published. The next few weeks flew by as Bill finished reading, had me do a few edits, and then finally signed the contract to be my literary agent.

(See a large list of writers conferences in the U.S.)

QUIET ... AND THEN ZONDERVAN

After that, it was quiet for a while. There was nothing I could do or say or write to make anyone want my book, and that was very intimidating to me. For once, I was not in control at all. The next few months were full of prayer. To me, my future seemed very uncertain and scary.

Bill called us one afternoon in December and finally ended our misery. The people at Zondervan had gotten the book and were very interested in publishing it. Needless to say, we were over the moon. We jumped around and squealed and probably said a million times, “I don’t believe it!”

Within a few weeks, they sent us a contract for my book. We signed it, sent it back, and it was official. After a long year of marketing and waiting, my book, Interrupted: Life Beyond Words was released in March 2012. It’s been an amazing journey, and one that I hope isn’t finished yet!

GIVEAWAY: Rachel 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: sarahgene618 won.)

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