Chloé Caldwell

On Finding the Right Agent, Listening to the Writing, and the Reissue Process for Her Novella,’Women’

Cover of Chloé Caldwell: On Finding the Right Agent, Listening to the Writing, and the Reissue Process for Her Novella,’Women’

“Over the last decade, Women has become a book universally known by those who need it, often discovered when needed most,” Katie Heaney writes in the foreword of the reissue of Chloé Caldwell’s Women (Harper Perennial, 2024; originally published by Short Flight/Long Drive, 2014). While it took me nine years in the queer community to find it, Women came to me at the moment I needed it most. When I first read Women this winter, I had recently started dating someone. It was slow, steady and sweet, utterly lacking in any of the chaos I’d gotten used to in my romantic life. My second reread came in the spring, a few weeks after I’d been broken up with. I was shattered in a way I never thought possible. 

Women tells the story of an unnamed protagonist recovering from her first relationship with a woman, an older butch named Finn who already has a girlfriend. It is a breakup book, but it is also a book about the women the protagonist is surrounded by as she works to heal the wound Finn left behind.

Over the years, Women has become part of the canon of queer literature, with fans such as Lena Dunham, Emily Ratajkowski and Kristen Stewart. I came out the year after Women was first published. Living alongside Caldwell’s protagonist made me feel nostalgia and sympathy for the person I once was—also searching for labels and boxes, trying to make sense of my past, rewriting the history of every man I’d ever had a crush on. There is something timeless about the obsession the protagonist has with Finn—the lust so akin to what teenagers experience, the confusion a part of the queer community’s delayed adolescence.

Heartbreak never gets easier. It’s shocking to realize every time. Women is an ode to heartbreak, an allowance to seep in the pain.

I recently sat down with Chloé to discuss revisiting old work, the reissue process, and how language around identity has changed over the past decade.


Kim Narby: Can you walk me through how this reissue came about? What has the process been like for you?

Chloé Caldwell: I don’t know the exact date that Women went out of print, to be honest. I’m going to assume 2018 or so. It was out of print for a bit, and it didn’t really bother me or anything. It’s not my only book. It was on a micro press. It was okay with me. I didn’t really ever think about it, but over those years I did get DMs or emails from people who couldn’t find the book and really wanted to get it for someone. I’d tell them, there’s the UK version and you can order that. It was carried everywhere, in the UK you could get it on Amazon, Bookshop, whatever. And then people would say, I want the original cover. 

But the years went by and I sort of have a weird backstory with agents where I didn’t use them for all of my books. I was about to sell a book without an agent to my editor Yuka, who had been at Soft Skull, and had moved to Graywolf. I followed her and was about to sell her my next book. It was Yuka who said to me, I know you don’t like agents, but if you do want an agent to help you with this contract, this is a good opportunity. It’s sort of like a love story. This agent—her name is Rebecca Gradinger, she’s at United Talent Agency—had reached out to me in 2016 about Women. I looked at my emails to her, which were psycho. They were like, sorry, I don’t like agents, I’m not working with you. She said, I respect that, that’s cool. She had seen me in conversation with Lena Dunham, and she read Women and over the years she would check in with me. I did end up trying to work with her for my book, The Red Zone, and that time she actually said, this isn’t for me. So we went back and forth. I called her up when I was about to sell the book Trying to Graywolf, and I said, I’m about to sell this book. Would you want to represent me? She said, of course I wanna represent you. So our connection was Women. I signed with her, we did the Graywolf deal, and then during one of our first conversations, I said to her, one thing I would like to do now that I have an agent is to get Women back in print. I’ve been getting a lot of messages lately. She was really passionate about it because, again, she had reached out to me seven years earlier about the book. So Rebecca was a big part of this. I am so grateful to her. 

At first we were actually going to go to an indie and I was super excited about that. And then Rebecca said to me, what if we try the bigger publishers and just give this the biggest shot that we can? I started to reflect on the past media and press that Women had gotten. I put together a media packet of all the people who had posted it and all the lists it was on over the years. I gave that to Rebecca and Rebecca sent it out to all of the big publishers. There was interest from three or four, which was thrilling; I’ve never had that before. I had meetings with all of them and their entire teams and they told me why they wanted to do the book. It was a dream come true. I went with Ezra Kupor at Harper Perennial because there was just so much passion and interest and [I loved] the way they were thinking about the book. It was a no-brainer for me.

KN: How has your experience been now working with a big publisher versus working with indies and micro presses?

CC: I did women in 2014 with a micro press. It was organic publicity and marketing. The internet was so different back then. There wasn’t TikTok, there weren’t bookstagrammers, there weren’t influencers, there weren’t ads on Instagram, there weren’t reels, there wasn’t music. There wasn’t any of that. Your book comes out, you post one photo and that’s it. People have been asking me, is it so boring to revisit this book? I didn’t do any interviews for this book. I did an interview for Buzzfeed and then one other interview at something called Girl On Girl. There was really not that much. I got press, but I wasn’t going on podcasts. I don’t think I went on one podcast about Women

What I think is really interesting is seeing how Women had its long life just being passed around organically. What is so interesting about working with Harper Perennial now is the strategizing and the team behind it and the spreadsheets and the list of tons of people to send it to. I have the old galley list for Women. We did do galleys and we probably sent it to 10 people, and now they’re influencers and musicians and celebrities. It’s really fun and it’s really interesting and I’m really curious to see the lifecycle and the press cycle. Is it better when forced or was it better when it was just word of mouth?

I don’t really believe in, hey, let’s give this to a celebrity, tell them what to say, tell them what to post. The whole special thing about Women was that nobody ever did that. People were actually posting it authentically. A lot of that is not micro press vs. big publisher. A lot of that is that it’s been a decade of how the internet [has changed]. If I were putting a book out with a micro press now, we have access to all of this. We have access to people’s addresses and to send to influencers and we can DM people. It’s just a different time. So I don’t think it’s totally micro press vs. big publisher. It’s definitely partially having the resources and having an entire team, but [also] that a decade has gone by and the way we do things is totally different.

KN: What has the transition to working with an agent been like?

CC: I actually did work with two agents, but I didn’t have the best experience, so they didn’t end up selling my books. It’s complicated. One sold my book, but I actually sold it because it was to an indie press. A lot of writers are on their third agent. I teach my year-long class and I have writers visit every week. They tell us their trajectory and so many people have gone through or are on their third agent. I don’t know if third time’s a charm. I‘m really glad I took my long break from agents. I think they’re great if you know what you want them for and if you really want to be on a big publisher. Otherwise, I don’t feel that you need one.

Right now, since I do have a backlist of books and I am at a different point [in my career], and I am 38 years old, it makes sense for me to have one. I think after all of my bad karma with agents, I finally turned a corner. Rebecca is incredible. She always has really fun ideas. She’s really supportive, she’s really engaged, she’s communicative. It’s a lot like dating.

KN: I know a lot of writers find revisiting old work difficult, maybe even a little cringey. How was that with Women? Did you make any changes to the text for the reissue?

CC: I don’t really buy into the cringiness. I really stand by [my work]. Of course things are going to be different. Of course things are going to be dated. Of course things are of a different time period. Isn’t that the point of writing? So that we can look back and read about the forties, fifties, sixties, nineties, early 2000s? Why would everything be updated for today? Then we’re all reading about 2024? It makes no sense. I don’t think something being older is cringey or negative at all. 

Revisiting it, we kept the changes really minimal to reflect this 2012 era, which I think is important to the text. We made some minimal updates to the language. There was a line [that said] “my bisexual friend” and “my transgender friend.” And now we talk more in abbreviations and slang and you wouldn’t say that. We did some of that so that the flow sounded better. Some scenes had been deleted for no reason, just because I did a billion drafts of this book with my editor. I would randomly slash things. Those were cut for no reason. I compiled all the ones I really liked into a document and had Ezra look at them and we chose maybe four or five to add in. That was fun. I feel like people don’t get to do that a lot. I feel very lucky. There were one or two lines that have irked me forever. So to be able to cut one and fix the other was really fun.

One interesting thing about Women is it has two different endings. The UK version and the American version have two different endings because the UK editor had asked me if they could end it on the paragraph above. I’m not precious about my work. I thought it was interesting to have two different endings, so I said yes. The real end is “we all keep going.” The UK one ended with “I have a broken wing.” They thought the ending that was here might have been cheesy or cliché. I’m just so casual that I told them, go ahead. I don’t care. Now having an agent and editor, they’re like, you are crazy. I don’t even remember doing it. I learned about this on Goodreads because someone asked me a question and they were like, “Hey, I’m studying this book in my class, and we noticed there’s two different endings. Was that intentional?” The UK one ending with “I have a broken wing”, I understand it, but I also think it makes the book so victimy. Like, so you’re broken. That was a big decision [with the rerelease] because I was like, do we want them the same and should we just leave it? I think Ezra and everybody thought we were overthinking. I [wondered if I] should do a whole different ending. God bless Ezra. Ezra said, let’s keep the original ending and give the UK ending this ending as well.

Also on page 119 there’s a paragraph about being bruised, exhausted and fluttering back to earth. I always thought about ending it there too. I thought, I have another chance, what if I move this to the end? That’s when Ezra cut me off. I think that was a solid choice. But to your question, that was probably the most conflicted I was about [changes]. I also was very tempted to add more epigraphs or change the epigraph. But that too, we ended up keeping as is.

KN: Has your writing process evolved at all since women was first published? Do you have a different writing process for fiction versus nonfiction?

CC: No, I think my writing process is the same. It’s disorganized, it’s with music in the morning. I treat it exactly the same. I wish it had gotten more organized but I do remember writing this book with my headphones on listening to The National writing fragments. And I honestly still do the same thing. If it works, it works. I don’t listen to The National anymore, but other than that it’s pretty similar. I wrote [Women] because I was in so much pain. I don’t have a rigid writing schedule. When I have a project I’m working on and excited about, I like working on it so I try to make it the first thing I touch or do in the morning. But other than that, I trust that even if I’m not writing at a certain point, I will always write again, whether that’s in a week or in nine months.

KN: You have talked in past interviews about being a little bit uncomfortable writing fiction. Do you still feel that way? What feels more comfortable about nonfiction for you?

CC: I think I’m just less experienced in it. I feel more comfortable [with fiction] now. I definitely felt comfortable in it when I was writing Women, but that was really early in my writing career. I had come from a place of being really obsessed with essays. I really loved an essay. I like the formula, the thinking on the page. I really enjoyed that and felt like it was a skillset I had. And, you know, they’re shorter. Some people have that for a novel. They have this formula and they work off of it and I am completely not there. It’s more daunting. Each project or piece of writing that we do, we have to listen to what our instinct is, what we want it to be. I’m pretty good at doing that and knowing.

KN: You said in your afterward that a lot of people were upset when they learned that Women isn’t nonfiction. There is an implication that the book being nonfiction would give it more legitimacy. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the question of identity in conjunction with the fiction vs. nonfiction question. When you were initially doing press for this book, you said you were constantly dodging the question of your identity. When pressed you’d say you were bisexual. Ten years later, the community has changed quite a bit. Queerness is a lot more mainstream. I’m wondering if you are still getting those similar questions, the similar pressure to identify yourself and how important you think that is when writing a book that’s adjacent to or about a marginalized community?

CC: I didn’t really ever notice this before, but returning to the book it is ambiguous at the end. There isn’t a conversation [that says], “I’m gay.” What’s cool about the book is how it has affected readers. Back then, the reviews that would come out would say: this person is dipping in a toe. I think that was really confusing for me because I didn’t know [my own identity] just like the book.

What’s interesting in what you’re asking—is this fiction or nonfiction, is this person gay or not gay—is everyone brings to that their own projections. It was important that this narrator didn’t have a hard line on their identity. To what you’re saying, the word queer was not being used so liberally and if it were the book would say, this is easy, I’m queer. It just wouldn’t even exist in the same way. But we had to use the word bisexual, I guess.

I actually needed those 10 years to be comfortable in my own identity. Putting out a book like this before you do feel confident in your identity is sort of a strange experience. In some ways, I think I hid behind the book. Obviously I’m something, but I don’t know what. But again, it’s so interesting how language works because if I had had these words like pan I think I would’ve probably latched onto them. But even in interviews people would be like, so are you bi? I didn’t know. And it just felt like a really big commitment. But like I say in the afterward, I do think a lot of it was internalized shame and homophobia.

KN: What do you like most about your writing?

CC: Probably that it’s untrained. It takes on whatever it’s going to be. I might have benefited from more writing groups or classes or programs. But in other ways I might have dodged a bullet because it let me not have other people tell me which parts of my writing are good or bad or should be developed or not. Because of that I had to develop my own intuition and make my own decisions. I really value that now. I used to feel more self-conscious than I do now about it. I probably do try to write like other people that I admire, but I don’t have voices in my head from workshop and teachers. Some people want that and work better that way. But for me, it has let me be a bit more unfettered in my writing. The funniest Goodreads review of Women said, this is good for the MFA variety. They’re saying I got an MFA and then wrote it like an MFA. It just shows that you can write one way and people think it sounds like you got an MFA, you write another way and [people will say], you should have gotten an MFA. So yeah, I think [my writing] is a bit more untrained.



CHLOÉ CALDWELL is the author of four books: the essay collection I’ll Tell You in Person, the critically  acclaimed novella, Women, Legs Get Led Astray, and The Red Zone: A Love Story.  Chloe’s next book, TRYING, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2025. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, New York Magazine’s The Cut, The Strategist, Romper, Buzzfeed, Longreads, Vice, Nylon, Salon, Medium, The Rumpus, Hobart, The Sun, Men’s Health, and half a dozen anthologies including Goodbye To All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving NYC and Without A Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, and the forthcoming, Sluts. Her essay “Hungry Ghost” was listed as Notable in Best American Nonrequired Reading. She never went to college and doesn’t have an MFA.

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