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How I Got My Literary Agent: Karen Katchur

Karen Katchur, author of 2015 novel THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD, writes about how she landed her literary agent, Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency.

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Karen Katchur, author of THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD. 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.

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Column by Karen Katchur, author of debut novel THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD
(August 2015, Thomas Dunne Books). Her novel received a starred review from the
Library Journal. Katchur lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.
She enjoys running and tennis and playing with her flat coat retriever puppy, Tucker and
her cat, Carly. Connect with Karen on Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter.

False Starts

I was derailed from a writing career before I ever got started. I’d entered college in the fall of 1987 as an English major knowing I wanted to do something related to writing. During the second semester of my freshman year, I took my first creative writing class. My assignment was to write an essay on a stereotype. I wrote my piece and then shared it with a friend who happened to be struggling with the same assignment. When I turned in my final copy to my professor, he loved my essay so much he photocopied it (no email or Internet yet!) and passed it around to the other professors in the English Department. Unbeknownst to me, my friend had copied my paper and turned it in as their original work too. Two weeks later I was standing in front of those same professors having to defend the essay was in fact written by me. I prevailed, but I was so humiliated and utterly devastated that I stopped writing. I quickly changed majors and ended up graduating with a B.S. in Criminal Justice.

(Writing a synopsis for your novel? Here are 5 tips.)

It’s Never Too Late

Fast forward seventeen years later after two very different careers, graduate school, marriage, and two toddlers at home, I re-discovered the joy of reading. I read every book I could get my hands on, stealing those precious minutes during the day to read while my kids napped. One day after finishing a great book (While I Was Gone by Sue Miller), I knew I wanted to write again. I’d never really stopped wanting to write. It was just that I was afraid after that awful experience in college of putting something “out there.” But I shook off my fear and during the evenings when the house was quiet and the kids were asleep, I started working on my first novel. It wasn’t always easy finding the time to write with two active little girls running around, but I did what I could even if it was only writing for a few minutes a day.

Eventually I joined a local writing group, purchased books on craft, subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine, attended workshops and conferences. And I kept writing. I made every newbie mistake you could make. I queried too early before my books were ready. The rejections piled up. I’d received so many rejections that I couldn’t stand the word anymore, so I started calling them “R’s.” I’d tell my husband and friends, "I got another R today." Somehow saying, "R," and not the word took some of the sting out of it. And I kept writing.

Eight years later (eight!), I started getting requests for my fourth manuscript. The R’s tumbled back again, but some of those responses contained constructive feedback. I began to see a pattern in the feedback about what was and wasn’t working. I stopped querying and went back to my manuscript and worked on revisions. I revised for the next five months. When I finished, I felt the manuscript was so much better than it was originally, and I was ready to query again.

Hard Work Pays Off

As fate would have it, I happened to get my copy of Writer’s Digest Magazine in the mail that very day. P.S. Literary Agency was already on my radar when I opened the magazine and saw Carly Watters featured in the Agent Spotlight. She represented the kinds of books I was writing so I polished my query letter and sent it off. From there everything happened quickly. She requested the first three chapters, then the full manuscript, and then we set up that long awaited phone call. She offered representation and I said yes!

While Carly was busy pitching my book to editors, I got busy writing my next one. But guess what? My first book wasn’t selling. And then the one I was writing fell apart. I went through a couple of rounds of edits before I fell out of love with it. I couldn’t work on it anymore. After some discussion with Carly, we decided it was time I put it aside and start something new. I was starting all over again. It wasn’t easy, but I kept writing.

It wasn’t until two years later after first signing with Carly that my third book sold. All my hard work had finally paid off! And it only took seventeen years to find the courage to write again, eight years to land an agent, two years to sign a book contract, a whopping total of twenty-seven years.

And I wouldn’t change a day of it—the derailment, the R’s, the aches and pains and joys along the way have made me the kind of writer I am today.

I learned it’s never too late to start working toward your dream. All you have to do is keep writing.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

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