The Fabulous Amy Atwell

I first met Amy at the Silken Sands RWA Conference sponsored by my Chapter- the Gulf Coast Chapter.  While I didn’t get to talk to her much, she seemed to be our kind of girl and I got to know her a little more on the PRO-Org loop of the RWA.  She just recently inked her first deal with Carina Press and I also found out that her agent is my dream agent.  She is one cool chica and I think you’ll like her.  She also offers critiques of synopses among other things and will even write your author bio for you. Check out her website:

Welcome Amy!

Amy Atwell:  The Ten Year Trek to Published

Thanks to the ladies here at Southern Sizzle Romance.  It’s such a joy to pop by and formally announce the sale of my first book.  LYING EYES will be released by Carina Press in November, 2010.  Here’s the quickie blurb:

In LYING EYES, a Las Vegas costume jewelry designer discovers her illusions of a satisfying life can’t hold a candle to true love when she forges a dangerous alliance with a hot thief to try and rescue her aging father Cosmo, a tricky magician who’s disappeared and left behind nothing but a mystery of stolen gems, a carload of Russian relatives, an overfed rabbit, a hired gunman, and two sisters she never knew she had.

The Sizzlers asked me to share my trek to the contract.  What a l-o-n-g trek it was!  I started writing with an eye to publication in 2000.  I joined RWA, which was instrumental in connecting me with other authors.  No longer was I that “weird girl who likes to write stories.”  Hell no.  Now I was an aspiring author. 

But it was a lengthy trek from wanting to write to mastering my craft.  My first ever editor submission went to Alicia Condon at Dorchester in 2001.  Turns out my mom knew Alicia’s dad (I know, what are the chances, right?).  Here’s the opening sentence of my first submission letter:

Dear Ms. Condon:  It appears that my mother struck up a conversation with your father outside the Deer Isle post office, resulting in this manuscript landing on your desk.  Frightened?  Believe me, so am I.

Yes, seriously, I wrote that.  To her credit, she actually agreed to meet me a few years later.  Well, after she’d had her then-assistant Kate Seaver reject the book, of course.  The 130,000 word Georgian-Regency saga.  Oy….

From there, I moved on to write contemporary single title romance.  After four tries, I finally earned a finalist spot in the Golden Heart contest in 2008.  That led to signing with an agent.  That led to marketing the much revised (and significantly shorter) historical—which didn’t sell.  I also finished writing Lying Eyes in 2008, and though we had some editor interest, we couldn’t quite get past the marketing problem. 

Frankly, the book has too much comedy to be marketed as a straight romantic suspense.  But it has too much suspense to be marketed as a romantic comedy.  After the book didn’t sell in 2008, it wound up under the bed until earlier this year.  You see, I love the book.  Fortunately, my agent loves the book.  So we brainstormed fresh ways of bringing it to market.  And we sent it to Carina Press.   

Three weeks later, I had an offer.  A month after that, I had a contract (and yes, they really DO come from Switzerland!).  Two days after that, I had revisions from my editor.  Two weeks later, I was wearing a First Sale ribbon at National. (Go ahead.  Squee.  I did.)

Bottom line here is don’t give up your dreams.  Trust your gut and write the book you love.   

So here’s my question: how many of you have written a book you feel will be hard to sell?  Why did you ignore the difficulties and write it anyway?


39 Responses

  1. HEY Amy! I love the post as I already told you. AND yes, I wrote a book that someone told me would never sell. It is a 1920 historical regarding the Irish Republican Army. Surprisingly, I have had interest in it whenever I discuss it with editors. I’ve submitted it once and also got a request for it at National- so I have hope – I wrote it because the hero came to me fully formed, name included, and said, “I’m Liam Cormac and you’re going to tell my story” – who could say no to that?

  2. SFCatty–that’s precisely the reason to write a book. When the character shows up and demands that YOU tell the story, it’s impossible to say no. And I bet you got some interest! Recently, I’m hearing more and more sales of early 20th century set historicals. Best wishes on your submissions!!

    • Thanks Amy- Lindsay Faber told me at Silken Sands that the 1920s was a new area of interest. So, I am very hopeful that the person who told me I’d never sell it is wrong.

      • Don’t ever let any one person rain on your parade. People told Stephen King he wouldn’t sell. They told J.K. Rowling she wouldn’t sell. Plenty of people told me my story was cliched and unoriginal. If you believe in the story, you keep sending it out.

  3. Amy,

    You’re an true inspiration to so many writers. My journey too has been long,..years long. When one writes about a certain era they love, it reflects in each word displayed. Each scene in the story is layered with an invisible passion that can only be birthed by a love for what one writes. I agree: Stay true. Hold firm. And just like you….sooner or later that dream will come true. It just takes that one agent or editor who also believes enough. Thanks for sharing your story with us…it encourages others to hang in there a tad bit longer.

    Your Pixie pal,

    Cindy Nord

    • Cindy,

      I’m all about hanging in there. And I believe the changing landscape of publishing is going to allow more debut authors to sell the books they love. Congrats on your Ignite the Flame win, btw! Write your passion. One day, I predict, the industry will come to YOU.

  4. amy. major congrats on the carina sell. My brain always seems to glom genres together–for better or worse. 😉 I will be looking for Lying Eyes, and wish it to be the first sale of many many.
    ronna rae

    • Thanks, Ronna. Alex Sokoloff spoke at the ScriptScene retreat at National, and she encouraged writers to make up their own subgenres. Find a way to describe the book that really suits the tone of the book. I describe my story as a dark comedy romantic suspense. Of course, it’s also a mystery, an adventure, a family saga, and in a way, pure fantasy. I’m girding my loins because I know not everyone will love it, but I hope many will find it an enjoyable escape.

  5. OMG, Amy! My books don’t seem to fall into any category. They all have romance, but it’s not completely about romance. They have humor, but not one chuckle after another. More of a sardonic humor that gives a smile. They have paranormal elements, mystery and angst, but not enough to be a full-blown paranormal, mystery or suspense. If there’s a crack, my books fall through it. But this is what comes out of me when I write, so it’s what I do.

    And I loved your intro lines to Alicia Condon! I can’t wait for your book to be out. I’ll be one of your first buyers.

  6. Edie,
    Isn’t it a pain when our stories and characters defy the barriers imposed by practical people? I can see why people want nice orderly systems of this is paranormal and this suspense and this is mystery and this is romantic comedy, but where’s the joy of discovery in reading the same ol’, same ol’? Despite the cracks, keep writing.

  7. Amy,
    Congrats on the contract, and never worry about writing stories that defy the parameters of “the market.” The market is in such a constant state of flux that it’s barely definable. 🙂

  8. What a motivating story! Thanks so much for sharing, Amy. RitaVF

  9. Amy, congratulations again on your Lying Eyes contract with Carina! And the length of the journey means nothing except that we have a passion for story. My first book, stored under the bed where most first books belong, written & rejected by IM, wasn’t bad for a first book.

    But my second book is the story of my heart. I flopped back and forth between ST Women’s fiction and Superromance, while learning craft (and writing the darned thing 4 times). Unfortunately, I didn’t stick to my belief in what the story is – and now I’ve got 4 versions, somewhere between a weak ST Women’s Fiction and a rejected Super that’s a good story, but not all about the romance.

    One of these days, I’ll rewrite that sucker as a strong ST Women’s Fiction and find a home for it. But until then, I’m writing stories that don’t require me cut open a vein and bleed into the computer when I get to the black moment. 🙂

    • Jo Anne,

      Thanks for joining. You’re so right that the problem with submitting (whether to editors or contests) is that we get feedback that often encourages us to rethink our story. And rethink it. And rethink it. I have one manuscript where I have–I kid you not–NINE drafts on the computer. And I won’t send it out again until I write Draft 10. Like you, I feel the need to re-envision the story.

      Best wishes on your story–bleeding vein and all. It may be that book that launches your career to a whole new level.

  10. Amy, again congratulations! I love that we had our first sale at the same time. My book Tempting Adam is moving along the process at TWRP. I think it was meant to take awhile to sell, don’t know about you, but I appreciate it so much more than if it had been easy or faster.

    • Jill–

      Yeah, quick and easy might have been nice, but the journey has been worthwhile, don’t you think? Not only do we appreciate it, but we’ve had time to settle into our routines as writers, to figure out the web communities, to improve our craft. Can’t wait to see Tempting Adam!

  11. Amy,

    I have a book that garnered a lot of interest in 2000, but everyone declined it because they didn’t know how to market it. It’s the book of my heart, and I intend to drag it out this fall to start revisions.

    Congratulations on Lying Eyes. You know I’ll be buying it. Smile. It took me twice as long as you to get published. We’re doing good. Hang in there, and we’ll eventually get to where we want to be.

    • Sandy,

      I didn’t realize how long your publishing journey had been–congrats on sticking to it until you achieved success! Yes, I quietly admit that selling “digital-first” wasn’t my original publishing goal ten years ago. But technology is changing this industry so quickly, I sometimes wish I’d looked at digital options two or three years ago. Here’s to both of us building our careers!

  12. What an inspirational story, Amy–both yours and LYING EYES’ road to publication. I so love your moxie, your don’t-give-up-attitude. And the letter you sent to Alicia Condon with that opening line is priceless. It took a lot of cajones to query the daughter of a guy your mom ran into at the post office. I know you’re cringing now, but I think it’s awesome! I love brave people who don’t give up, who keep trying to better themselves, who know that one day their dreams will come true if they just don’t quit. I’m so thrilled for you!

    • Thanks, Laurie!

      I got up the nerve to write to Alicia Condon because my mom swore to me that she was expecting the manuscript. I thought if I *didn’t* send it, I’d look like a wimp.

      And this business really is all about tenacity. That and a willingness to learn and adapt. I quit writing a few times during the past ten years, but that’s when I knew it was just my fears getting to me. You can’t fail if you don’t try. Then again, you can’t succeed.

      Here’s to everyone succeeding!

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It seems like all too often we hear the over-night success stories. Like Rita, I feel motivated. Got to get home and work on my editing so I can get ready to make that first submission. I have a plan and a goal though soooo. Great post.

    • Darlene,

      I love being an inspiration, so thanks! May your journey take less time than mine, although I learned a lot along the way. Plus I made scads of friends. There are some bonuses to taking the “scenic route” to publication. Best wishes on your goal. First submission–excellent!!

  14. Congrats, Amy! I’m so very happy for you!

  15. Hi there, Amy,

    Congrats on your sale! You are an inspiration. I couldn’t help but think as I read your great post that ALL sales are tough sales these days, no? I think it’s most important to LOVE your book. I veered off course for a little while and tried to write something more commercial and I think anyone who reads it can tell I didn’t L-O-V-E it. Here’s to not chasing trends!


    • Valerie–

      Good to see you. I’m wishing you all the best on your upcoming submission!

      And you hit it on the head. Chasing trends only works if you connect with the trend and can make it your own. This business is hard enough without taking time to write stuff we don’t absolutely love. Didn’t we all become writers because of the joy we believed it would bring us? (Please, tell me there isn’t anyone here who thought it was a get rich quick scheme…)

      Glad you’re back on course, and here’s to more books we love!

  16. […] I first met Amy at the Silken Sands RWA Conference sponsored by my Chapter- the Gulf Coast Chapter.  While I didn't get to talk to her much, she seemed to be our kind of girl and I got to know her a little more on the PRO-Org loop of the RWA.  She just recently inked her first deal with Carina Press and I also found out that her agent is my dream agent.  She is one cool chica and I think you'll like her.  She also offers critiques of synopses amo … Read More […]

  17. Hi Amy, I’m so glad your here sharing your story. You sent goosebumbs down my spine when you said the character enlightened you on how you were going to tell his story. This just happened to me with a short story. With limited time to write my story burned up the pages till it’s end on Wednesday night. I’m just waiting for the day when I finally receive a contract!
    Squeal…on your behalf for reaching a goal we all wish for, how so exciting.
    Paula Hardin

    • Glad to meet you, Paula!

      I do believe that every story is organic, and every character has his/her own voice. Guess it comes naturally after 15 years of working in theater. It’s why I tend to write in 3rd person POV–and a lot of POVs. There are 10 different POV characters in Lying Eyes. Probably one more reason why many publishers couldn’t categorize it comfortably as a romance.

      But don’t you love it when the characters grab you and dictate the story so fast you can barely keep up? So happy for you experiencing it. Here’s to a speedy sale!

  18. Congratulations, Amy! That first sale ribbon looked beautiful on your badge. Thanks for sharing your story. I love horses and books with any mention of horses, and I’m sticking with them. Your tenacity proves it can be done!

    So happy for you. You give so generously to the writing community. Big thanks for everything and looking forward to reading Lying Eyes in the fall. WOW, that’s not too far away:)

    • Thanks, Bev–good seeing you in Orlando. I wish you all the best with your stories. I’m a big horsey girl (as you know), and I know there are some editors out there who love them, too.

  19. A huge thank you for blogging with us! And congratulations! Sharing your contract with Carina makes it even more special! You give us all that extra incentive to keep going–and writing true to what we love.

    Looking forward to LYING EYES. And you’ve proven your personal strength of character to me by ending on a question that involves those around you. That alone tells me you’re a first class lady! (Not to mention Sherry speaks pretty highly of you, too! lol)

    • It was a pleasure, Runere–thanks for inviting me! While I’m excited about my book release, I talk to so many writers who hear my story and they take heart from it. Ten years to make that first sale? That helps put their journey in perspective. A story that straddles markets? I’m amazed at the number of writers who share that experience.

      We may feel like we’re alone in what we do, but we share the creative experience with so many others like us. Thanks for inviting me to be part of Southern Sizzle Romance for the day!

  20. Hi Amy. Chiming in late here. So sorry! I am writing a “genre straddler” right now. The way I see it is I didn’t have much choice but to write this book. The characters just wouldn’t leave me alone! The story kept calling me back to the keyboard.

    Congratulations on Lying Eyes. You so deserve it!

    • Thanks for stopping in, Adrienne! Yes, when the characters command it’s in our best interests to listen. It may be a harder manuscript to sell, but it will be all the sweeter when you do. Best wishes!

  21. Amy, congratulations on the publication of Lying Eyes! Your success is so well-deserved. I’m looking forward to reading it and wish you many, many sales 🙂

  22. I know this is long after the fact, but after reading this great post from a woman I know and admire and owe a lot to, I had to add a comment. Hopefully better late than never. Because I didn’t write a book that would be hard to sell, I wrote a totally unsellable book. And I knew it from the first word.

    I wrote Damaged Goods because I felt I had to, not because I ever thought it would sell. It breaks too many rules, everything from a heroine who is a former prostitute and a hero who believes himself a killer, and is unrepentant. As an extra wrinkle, its an interracial romance, he’s black and she’s white. Oh, and her mother is a sociopath and my villain. Can you say – no spot on any bookshelf in any bookstore on the face of this earth?

    But selling it wasn’t the reason for writing Damaged Goods. It was the true book of my heart, and a labor of love. Readers like it, and that counts for a lot – it finalled in several contests, including Finally a Bride and the Golden Heart. I’ll never regret writing it, and don’t need the acceptance of an agent or editor to tell me I did good.

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