Publishing Her First Novel, An Interview with Maureen Lipinski

Maureen Lipinski is the author of A Bump in the Road: From Happy Hour to Baby Shower.  The story follows Clare, a mildly famous blogger and newlywed, who discovers she’s pregnant after a getaway in Vegas.  Even though I have no desire to ever get pregnant (thank you very much), this book looks like it would be great for me or anyone looking for a fun read, as Clare deals with things we all deal with in daily life, like crazy friends, crazier in-laws, and a stressful job to top it all off.

I was especially interested to get Maureen’s feedback about the publishing industry since this is her debut novel and she’s new to the whole publishing process.  Here’s the interview…


1. Writing a novel is a huge investment of time with no guarantee of any publication or payoff. What was it that made you decide to go for it and write that first book?

Writing a book has always been a life-long dream of mine. My goal was always to have my first book published while I was in my twenties. So, when I was 25, I decided it was time to get cracking! But, seriously, my motivation was the dream I had since I was a little girl of seeing my name in print.


2. You have a 2-book deal (congratulations!) and yet are still looking to work full time while you write upcoming novels.  How lucrative or non-lucrative is the novel-writing business in your opinion?

To be frank, it can take a long, long time before writing brings in enough money to be a sole source of income. Consider that the average advance for a first-time writer is between $5,000 to $10,000 per book. Of course, there are a few debut writers who hit the publishing jackpot and get huge advances, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Not to mention, advances usually get paid piecemeal, so that amount is spread out over a couple of years. And don’t forget to throw in taxes and 15% to your agent. It’s definitely nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not the kind of money where quitting a day job is usually feasible. Of course, there are royalties, but those don’t come until well after a book is published. From what I’ve heard, it usually takes a few books in print for an author to write full-time.


3. Did you submit to publishing houses yourself or did you get an agent first and how did you go about it?

After my mansucript was primped, polished and ready to be released upon the world, I started looking for an agent. I knew that agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and could open so many more doors than I could myself. I first crafted a query letter–a pitch letter of sorts–to send to agents. Then, I compiled a list of agents I wanted to contact. I found and to be invaluable in my search. I was lucky; I only queried for a couple of weeks before I found my fabulous agent, Holly Root of the Waxman Agency.


4. Can you briefly describe the process of getting your work into print once it was accepted? Did you do a lot of meetings or did you mostly handle things by phone or online? What were the steps involved?

After the obligatory champagne popping once we received an offer, my agent set to work finalizing the contracts for the books. A couple of months later, I received my first editorial letter from my editor. It outlined big picture items like theme and also line-edits, which question word choice and smaller, “detail-oriented” items. We did one more round before it went to copyedits. I have nothing but the utmost respect for copyeditors–they catch the most miniscue errors! After that, I received pass pages–the copy laid out so it looked like a real book. There was much excitement at seeing my words look like a, well, book.

For the most part, the process was handled electronically.


5. What about the business of publishing surprised you the most? Was there anything about the way it works that was totally unexpected?

Good grief, the waiting! The pace of publishing is glacial! It’s like one long chapter of Waiting for Godot.


6. Besides your editor, how many people do you work with on a regular basis in connection with publishing and publicizing your books and what are their roles?

Besides my editor, the person I work most closely with is my publicist at St. Martin’s, Katy Hershberger. She’s fantastic! She handles all of the interviews, sending review copies out, writes the press releases and makes media contacts. She’s been a dream to work with and I really consider myself very lucky to have her in my corner.


7. What advice would you give to new authors about getting their foot in the door of the publishing world?

I would let them know that they don’t have to have a huge platform to get their foot in the door, for fiction at least. I had zero contacts in the publishing world when I was querying agents. If you write a great book with a good hook and have a solid query, you will get published. It’s that simple.


8. I know you are heavily involved in online promotion. What advice would you give to authors in regards to promoting their work on the internet?

I always say to just do what you enjoy and find rewarding. Too many writers get bogged down worrying about trying to do everything–facebook, myspace, twitter, blogging, etc. It can be overwhelming at times–not to mention very distracting. Just focus on what you find to be of value.


9. What is the craziest, weirdest, or funniest thing that has happened to you as a result of your writing career?

It might not seem that crazy, weird or funny to other people, but I’ll never forget the day when the finished copies of my book arrived on my doorstep. It was so surreal to open the box and see my little book, all shiny and pretty, sitting there. It was even more surreal when my two-year-old walked over, picked up a copy of the book, looked at my picture and said, “That’s Mama!” It was awesome.


10. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about your experiences?

I would just like to remind everyone to keep pursuing your goals–dreams really DO come true! One way to guarantee you won’t get published is to quit. So don’t.


To find out more about this author, you can visit Maureen Lipinski’s homepage or read Maureen Lipinski’s blog.  Lipinski also writes for the collaborative blog, The Novel Girls, which is run by an all-female group of novelists.

Author David M. Bader on the Publishing Process

Today I add a new category to the blog – author interviews! 

David M. Bader was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his experiences with the world of writing and publishing.  Lawyer turned author, Bader has written numerous books, including Haikus for Jews: For You, a Little Wisdom, Zen Judaism: For You, A Little Enlightenment, and Haiku U: From Aristotle to Zola, 100 Great Books in 17 Syllables.  Here’s the interview…

First, thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with me and the “A Bunch of Wordz” readers.

1. You obviously had a lot of options available to you being a Harvard Law School graduate. What made you decide you wanted to get published, and do you make your income exclusively from writing now?

Well, yes, a Harvard Law Degree opens many doors. Mainly to law offices. Or government positions, teaching, or even corporate finance. As for why I wanted to write, law is a literate and learned profession, but as a practical matter it involves spending thousands of hours working on numbingly dull material.

I did anticipate problems with legal practice even in law school, but thought that when I was older and wiser, I would see it all differently. Never happened. I reached a point at which I just wanted to create one thing that was fun, original, and not ponderously long.

As for the financial question, some of my books have sold surprisingly well. Haikus for Jews has earned more than many novels and non-fiction books. Especially on a per syllable basis. As financial strategies go, though, it might have made more sense to explore the exciting opportunities in ostrich farming or telemarketing.

But I don’t practice law and feel fortunate to have escaped the golden handcuffs.


2. When you decided to publish your first book, did you get an agent first or did you approach publishing houses directly? What was that experience like?

Everyone told me to get an agent, which I did. The experience with my first couple of agents wasn’t great. Lesson 1: Never work with a literary agent whose “home office” is in her living room, near an exercise bicycle. Lesson 2: While friends may be able to introduce you to famous, successful literary agents, such agents are not always good with small, quirky books. When an agent who doesn’t know the market for your book takes it on as a favor, it’s not that big a favor.


3. What were the steps you took to find an agent?

To find a suitable agent, I looked at the “Acknowledgments” in lots of small, humorous books. Writers often thank their agents there, and I jotted down the names and looked them up. I gradually assembled a list of agents who had sold offbeat humor to respectable publishers. Some of them actually did get back to me when I sent them samples. I don’t know if this works as well for other genres.


4. Have you run into any roadblocks getting your work published since your books fill such a unique niche?

Yes, of course. One agent looked at my sample pages of Haikus for Jews and said, “Yeah, I could get about two cents for this.” She was so derisive that it took a while before I mentioned the idea again it to anyone.


5. Is there anything in your publishing career you would have done differently if you had known then what you know now?

Clearly I lost some really good years as a law student and lawyer, including many long all-nighters in the office that could have been devoted to more worthwhile activities, such as sleeping. And I would have had more time to improve as a writer. Then again, publishing involves a lot of rejection and disappointment. Had I gone straight into some form of writing, each time I had a setback I might have thought, “If only I had gone to law school.” Now I don’t have that problem.


6. What advice would you give to authors on how to go about getting their first manuscript seen and accepted?

Look for agents and editors with a track record for handling similar work. Try to extract constructive suggestions from people who reject your submissions. And if your first manuscript is rejected everywhere, take a break and start something new. You can always revive the first project later. You may sheepishly realize in a year or two that the people who rejected your first attempt spared you great public embarrassment.


7. What advice would you give to authors looking to transition from a corporate career to a career as a writer?

Don’t quit your day job? If you have children, put them up for adoption? First of all, set achievable goals. When I gave notice, I remember a lawyer confiding to me that he had always wanted to quit and write the Great American Novel. Not very realistic, coming from a guy who worked 14 hours a day on airplane leasing documents. Pick writing projects you can actually do. Give yourself plenty of time to unlearn all the bad habits you’ve acquired in the corporate world. And if someone advises you, “Go into haiku, that’s where the money is,” stop listening to that person.


8. What is the craziest, weirdest, or funniest thing that has happened to you as a result of your writing career?

Hmm… Nothing too crazy. A lot of my books have been copied or, really, plagiarized on the web or in e-mails that people forward all over the place. As a result, one person I met insisted I hadn’t written Haikus for Jews. She said, “You didn’t write that. It’s from the Internet.” She seemed unacquainted with the “book” concept and treated me like some sort of fraud.

Another person forwarded me an e-mail entitled “Jewish Zen” that consisted of passages taken from my book Zen Judaism. She wrote, “This reminds me of your work, though it’s not as funny.”