QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Story Behind The Success: Lisa Amowitz

Query Tracker is a site devoted to helping writers who seek agent representation. In addition to the huge database of agent listings, Query Tracker also has a lively forum, full of writers and authors, each on their own journey toward publication.

There's also a section reserved for success stories.  Each writer who signs with an agent is welcome to share his/her success story. The interviews are quite informative but sometimes they don't quite reflect the emotional details novice writers crave.

Success stories are about success. For many writers, however, the journey is discouraging and writers often feel alone in their struggles. Those stories can be cold comfort to a writer who feels passed over.

Lisa Amowitz was one such writer. She shares her story today because she knows, all too well, how important perseverance is when choosing the path of publication.

From Clueless Wannabe to Soon-to-be Published Author--The Eight-Year Saga of Lisa Amowitz

I got into serious writing pretty late in life. Though I’d always dabbled, I’m an artist and graphic designer by trade. But after reading the first three Harry Potter books to my daughter (in a very tacky British accent—yes—three entire books) something got under my skin.
I think it was a story.

So I wrote that story, hiding my activities like a CIA operative. It was two years before I admitted my now-overwhelming compulsion to write. My characters spoke to me at random moments—I was obsessed with writing that story.

But guess what? That first book was horrible. It has its fans but, plot-wise and premise-wise, it was unsalvageable. Subsequently, I joined an online critique group who really helped me to clean up my writing. But I still couldn’t plot to save my life.Heidi Ayarbe , Lindsay Eland, Christine Johnson and Kate Milford and a bunch of other up and coming writing stars of the future.), and I joined the Query Tracker forum (aka JustWrite—or JW as I became known), which at the time had about twelve members, including Leah Clifford (aka gypsy gurl).

We all became quite close, chatting day and night. I am still very good friends with a few of the originals (Michelle McLean (eknutswife) and Colleen Kosinski (Coll)—two very smart and determined ladies). The next wave, as QT grew brought in people like Jessica Verday, Elana JohnsonBethany Wiggins, and Mary Lindsey.

I’m dropping names here, because you should note that these ladies are all published. We all started together, whining, grasping at straws, dragging each other along. A number of them got lucky early on.
It’s not really luck—it’s just timing. Their time had come. And then, back in 2008, it seemed like my time had finally come, too.

I signed with a big agent for my third book. I thought I had arrived and would soon be ascending the steps to Writer Nirvana. Game over.

Was I wrong. The agent and I did not see eye-to-eye. She hated my revisions but didn’t really seem to know how to explain what she wanted from me. Her vision of my writing did not seem to mesh with the vision I had for myself. She liked my realistic style and characters but hated my fantasy. I started another book (my fourth book), which was not the one she wanted me to write. She preferred my other proposal, which, ironically became the book I eventually sold, my fifth book, BREAKING GLASS.

Yeah, yeah. She actually was right. But that isn’t the point—the point is that she tried to tell me who I was—she imposed her own wishes on me, which totally shut down my muse. I couldn’t write a word.
When she suggested we part in March of 2009, I was actually relieved.  But by summer, I was DESTROYED. Devastated. My QT buddies were signing with agents and landing great deals, one by one—and I'd gone nowhere. I’d hit rock bottom. A shameful has-been.

It was hard. I was depressed and truly discouraged. With the help of my QT buddies and my crit groups, I just kept at it. Kept writing. In the winter of 2010, I submitted the first 150 words of my fourth book, LIFE AND BETH, to a Writer’s Digest contest and forgot about it until I won runner-up for second place out of 400 entries. Best of all, the contest judge--another very well-known but more down-to-earth agent—really liked my book.

However, I had a revelation. A very major revelation. I had to stop writing for others. I had to stop judging my worth as a writer by my outside success.

I had to write for me.

There it was: February 2010, the moment I came into my own.

I started to submit LIFE AND BETH. I got help from the esteemed Elana Johnson to perfect the best query ever (I designed her blog header in return—best barter I ever made!). And I broke ALL the query rules. You see, I didn’t care—I was going to write, and write, and write—and work on my craft. And NO ONE—no agent, editor, no arbiter of good taste was going to stop me.

I sent out NINETY queries over the span of five days. Yes—I knew my manuscript was polished to the best of my ability. Yes—my query was spot-on.

But 90? All at once? I got a request rate of about 27%.

Then came the phone calls from agents wanting to talk about revisions. At one point I had about fifteen manuscripts out for review. I was getting closer—I could feel it. All because I didn’t care. I was going to write my brains out, even if every agent in North America rejected me. The world of publishing was changing—you could smell it in the air. Indie publishing was growing in popularity and offered a new, attractive option.

During the summer, I got a phone call from the agent who had judged the Writers Digest contest. She gave me amazing tips on what I needed to do to make my book better. I began a major revision in hopes she might sign me.

But that never happened. In July 2010 I got an email from Victoria Marini, who'd requested my manuscript. She had about a hundred pages left to read of my ms and planned to finish the WHOLE thing that night. She did—and emailed requesting a phone call. I was expecting another revision song and dance.

Nope. She offered.

I asked for two weeks to consider the wisdom of signing with an untested novice. After contacting the bazillion other agents who had my full, they all stepped aside, including the contest agent (who was moving at the time and couldn’t read my revision that quickly.)

It took a lot of deliberation (Victoria was young, new—completely unknown) but my gut was screaming: YOU LIKE HER. SHE GETS YOU. SIGN WITH HER. I decided that Victoria, who would inspire me to WRITE and stand by me and cheer me on, was preferable to an agent who just didn’t get me, who made me question my skill as a writer.

Fast forward another year to 2011—Victoria went on to submit LIFE AND BETH with gusto. However, times were hard and it just never gained any traction. We both still love that book and have plans for it.

But here is the most important lesson to be learned: I DIDN’T CARE. I'd found my muse. I had an agent who passionately loved my writing, believed in me, and was going to sell my next book, or the one after that. My time would come.

In record time, I wrote BREAKING GLASS. It was almost a year after signing with Victoria, who in that year built her list and skyrocketed from unknown to a name brand. She’d made a good amount of sales and had networked her brains out. The woman is charming beyond belief and I felt so proud knowing that she was the one who would represent me.

We got very close to a huge deal with BREAKING GLASS. Then came an offer from Spencer Hill Press. They were small. I was skeptical. It felt like a repeat of my agent experience. But that had turned out okay. Better than okay.

So we went with Spencer Hill and I am thrilled with them. Now, not only do I have an agent who believes in me—I have a whole team. They even let me design my own book and trailer and gave me all the help I needed. From the incredible Kate Kaynak who has creative ideas streaming from her pores, to my supportive fellow writers like Kimberly Ann Miller, (TRIANGLES, 2013) to my editor, Vikki Claffone—they rock. They are not a publishing house---they are a family!

Am I rich? No. Will I get rich? Who knows. Do I care? Not at all. Money is not the reason I started writing in the first place. I started writing because I want people to read and love the stories in my head.
Thanks to my supporters, I’m going to write, and write, and write until the bones in my fingers crumble from overuse.

And that, dear people, is what it is all about. Love your craft. Don’t judge yourself against the successes of others. Persevere. Take advice. Understand the marketplace. Change, Grow, be fearless. Be a warrior. Love yourself and someone will eventually love you back.

You will get somewhere. Maybe not where you expected—but remember, it’s not the destination that matters—it’s the journey.

Check out Lisa Amowitz on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog. And check out Breaking Glass on Goodreads and YouTube.


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her newly released urban fantasy "Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde" (Pink Narcissus Press 2012).


Kim said...

What a great story! Lisa is the sweetest ever. I'm so flattered she mentioned me! We both love Spencer Hill Press and their wonderful team. I think we are both lucky to have such a great start in the publishing world! Best of luck to us both, Lisa! :)

Rusty Fairbanks said...

Thank you, Lisa. What you have written is exactly what I needed to read. I am going to "save" this to read whenever I feel like giving up.

Is that online writers group still operating? Can others (me!) join? I belong to a local writers group but none of them write mysteries/police procedurals and finding a group more in tune with what I write would be beneficial.

I agree with the process/decision you made re: choice of agent and publisher. It is so much better to have a team that make you feel as though they are on your side even when they disagree.

Thank you again. You made my week.

Christine Fonseca said...

Lisa - you ROCK! I remember walking some of that journey with you, and you...you are just amazing. Such great things in your future. I just KNOW it!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lisa. You have made my day. Congrats on your success. :)

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Lisa...I'm glad you're here to inspire other writers to persevere!

Looking forward to your book. :)

E. Arroyo said...

What a great story. I'm hanging this on my wall. Congrats!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Woo hoo! I knew a lot of Lisa's story (and won an awesome partial read from her agent, which turned into a full rquest! Woot!) but i didn't know the whole thing. What a journey!!

Derek and Laura Lofgreen said...

I love hearing stories like this. I think I finally jumped from writing for others to writing for myself. I finished my first novel three years ago and am almost done with novel #2 and #3. I can't wait to read you book.

Claire Merle said...

Congrats on signing with Spencer Hill Press! They are awesome! (I met Jennifer L. Armentrout through Query Tracker.) I agree -- love your craft, be fearless and don't judge yourself against the successes of others. These points are crucial, and it's an excellent place to get to because it applies more than ever once you're published!

Michelle McLean said...

awesome as always :) And I'm with you - at some point, I just stopped caring so much about everyone else and started caring about what I wanted to write. It's amazing how that frees you :)

Love ya darlin :) ~Michelle aka elknutswife aka elky :D

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone (Hi, my fearless Christine--my new pal Sarah and my SHP sister, Kim). And to Rusty--the group is closed, but my suggestion is to start your own. That's more or less how mine formed. (It is actually a combo of two groups). But in both groups we "auditioned" people for personality and writing style. It worked amazingly well. Try it! You can start a group on yahoo or google groups or even Facebook (we are on both yahoo and FB now).

Oh--and thanks so much for having me, Ash!

Unknown said...

Oh and there's another sister of mine, one who was there right along with me and has also had an amazing year! Hi Michelle!

Kristal Shaff said...

My fellow dinosaur, YOU ROCK!! No one deserves this more than you.


Unknown said...

Except maybe you, mama dino---but you have your own success story, dontcha?

Mart Ramirez said...

What. A. Story!! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!!! Congrats!

Bethany Wiggins said...

Wow, what a story. Lisa, your life is better than fiction! Thanks for the shout out. :) I can't wait to get my hands on your book.

Unknown said...

woohoo! Thanks, Wiggy!

G. B. Miller said...

Very good post about successfully landing an agent.

Question: at any point, did you ever feel the need to approach it from the other direction, as in, trying to land a publisher first?

Leslie S. Rose said...

Holy cow. What a ride. I'm so jazzed someone finally found your glass slipper. Thanks for sharing your story.