I wish I could tell you there was a secret sauce or magic words that would help you sign with an agent and lead you to publishing a novel. Truth is, it all feels that way sometimes, since there are so many roads for everyone, including authors who are seeking literary representation and a traditional, legacy publisher.
Today my friend Amy Impellizzeri shares with us what she did, and didn’t do, to become a published, agented author.
Why not share YOUR author story in the comments and welcome Amy to WFW!
What I Did (And Didn’t Do) To Become a Published, Agented Author
by Amy Impellizzeri
Exactly 7 years ago this month, I did something so crazy, so unreasonable, so wonderful. I walked away from my 13+ corporate law career and became a writer.
What I didn’t do: Walk away from my day job with no plan in place. Also something I didn’t do: Ever again replace my corporate law salary.
What I did: Something so much better.
When I left corporate law, I had some savings and I hustled for freelance writing for a full year. I worked and researched (and volunteered!) for a prominent advocacy group, which led to an invitation to write a piece that was picked up by The Huffington Post. I also started an online column in New York, wrote for various journals, and freelanced for a virtual magazine, Hybrid Mom (later re-named Hybrid Her.) My expanding writing portfolio helped bolster my confidence and my platform.
The freelance work for Hybrid Her turned into a full-time executive position within a year or so and I turned my attention away from freelance writing to working in earnest on a novel . I wrote that novel alongside my day job and my other gig as mother of three for several years.
In 2013, I finally finished my novel – LEMONGRASS HOPE – and decided to pursue publication.
What I didn’t do: Send it off to every agent I could think of.
What I did: Learned about the business of publishing and worked on polishing my manuscript.
Around the time I was finishing an early draft of my LEMONGRASS HOPE manuscript, I went to a writing workshop in Washington D.C. led by author, Sarah Pekkanen. I learned a great deal about the business of publishing at that time, including from Sarah herself who later read an excerpt of my novel and pushed me to pursue publication. “You are an amazing writer,” she wrote. Swoon.
I worked for months with a developmental editor who said something a little less swoon-y. “Your novel starts in the wrong place.” Thud. But she was right. I pulled the book apart, re-worked the beginning, and revised several more times before starting the submission process in late 2013.
What I didn’t do: Spend years waiting out rejection after rejection until my book got picked up.
What I did: Sent my manuscript directly to a reputable indie press that I had researched thoroughly.
2013 was a pivotal point in my writing career. While I was editing my LEMONGRASS HOPE manuscript in the local coffee shop, I received a call from an agent who worked extensively with the American Bar Association’s publishing arm. She had discovered my legal writing and other non-fiction pieces from my previous freelance career. “I want you to help me pitch a book to the ABA called LAWYER INTERRUPTED,” she said. I looked down at my pile of edits and said: “Sure! There’s just one little thing I need to finish first.”
The ABA actually green-lighted LAWYER INTERRUPTED in the fall of 2013, and with a deadline to finish a non-fiction book on contract, I was incentivized to get the novel I had been working on for years into print sooner rather than later. I knew all the stories of debut authors waiting years to get noticed. I knew the average number of query letters sent by an unknown author was approximately one million. Give or take. I started researching indie presses who accepted submissions without agent representation which led me to Nancy Cleary, founder of award-winning indie press, Wyatt-MacKenzie. A dear friend, and former NYC magazine editor had known Nancy for years, and recommended her highly. I had read several titles published as Wyatt-MacKenzie books or imprints and was impressed with Nancy’s reputation even though I knew her roster was largely filled with non-fiction authors, and very few debuts.
I sent a partial manuscript of my novel to Nancy and she asked for a phone call. She reminded me about her roster of largely non-fiction and very few debuts. I was pushy. I said “Would you mind – just read the whole thing?”
She relented. “Ok. We’ll talk next week.” By the next week I had a publishing contract for LAWYER INTERRUPTED AND LEMONGRASS HOPE. I looked at my prepared list of agents – the ones I was about to send the manuscript to before I met Nancy – and threw it away. I negotiated my own contract and I took a leap of faith. One that I never regretted. Wyatt-MacKenzie did a beautiful job with my debut novel, and together we got LEMONGRASS HOPE in some wonderful hands. Kirkus gave a great review, as did Forewords Magazine. There were awards and recognition and respectable debut sales numbers. While promoting LEMONGRASS HOPE, I finished my non-fiction book, Lawyer Interrupted – which was later released in 2015 – and immediately started work on a new novel.
What I didn’t do: Stop writing.
What I did: Submitted my second novel to a host of Women’s Fiction agents.
In late 2015, my second novel, SECRETS OF WORRY DOLLS was ready for submission. I started sending SECRETS out to agents along with a summary of the success of LEMONGRASS HOPE and LAWYER INTERRUPTED, hoping I would be harder to ignore than I would have been as a debut author. I received several immediate requests for partials and fulls, and while I was tempted to wait those out, a writer friend gave me some good advice – “leverage your success and the interest your manuscript is getting.” Every time I received a manuscript request, I sent out more queries, not less.
At one point, my manuscript was being reviewed by 10 different prominent agents, including Bob Diforio, my dream agent. When Bob told me he had “read enough to know that I want to represent you,” I advised the other agents reviewing my manuscript that I had found my match. I signed with Bob in late 2015, and we officially went out on submission with my newest manuscript a few months ago. I am headfirst into my third novel now – which actually incorporates some courtroom/legal scenes for the first time. I guess you’d call that a full circle moment in my writing career.
So here we are. It’s June 2016 and I am so grateful to be working on my third novel (my fourth book!) less than three years after selling LEMONGRASS HOPE to Wyatt-MacKenzie. I am doubly grateful to have a fabulous agent now working on my behalf. In 2013, I could have made the decision to spend the next three years (or more!) pitching and waiting for my first novel to be discovered by an agent and later an editor. Or maybe the next agent I sent it to would have been the “One.” I’ll never know. I’m ok with that. I wrote my own next chapter. And now I’m writing my next.
I love a good story with some twists and turns and a little suspense along the way – don’t you?
Amy is a reformed corporate litigator, founder of SHORTCUTS Magazine, and award-winning author. Amy’s first novel, Lemongrass Hope (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2014) , was a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Winner and a National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist. A favorite with bloggers and book clubs, Lemongrass Hope was named the #1 reviewed book in 2014 by blogger, The Literary Connoisseur, and topped several bloggers’ “Best of” Lists in 2015. Amy is also the author of the non-fiction book, Lawyer Interrupted (ABA Publishing 2015), and is a Tall Poppy Writer and President of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Amy currently lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and one energetic weimaraner, where she keeps up on all of the latest research confirming that caffeine is, in fact, good for you.