Tips for Publishing in 2021: Interview with Former Literary Agent Turned Editor, Amy Tipton
Many writers are grabbing at straws when it comes to book publishing. What is a book synopsis? How do I write a query letter? Do I really need my manuscript professionally edited? These are questions that writers may struggle with.
The industry can feel like an elite club that only lets in a chosen few good writers. For the writers who took their dreams into their own hands, self publishing has been the way to go. But if you’re planning to go the traditional route and you haven’t networked your way into a book deal, you’re going to need some pointers from those who have been on the inside. For this reason, I interviewed former literary agent turned editor, Amy Tipton a few weeks back.
Amy is the founder of Feral Girl Books. Amy offers various services for writers including query letters and manuscript editing. Want to get ahead in 2021 with book publishing? Check out the tips Amy gives to writers seeking publishing.
D: Amy, what is your background in publishing?
A: I graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received my MFA from New College of California in Writing. I have been working in the publishing industry for years and started freelance editing in 2018.
Prior to starting Feral Girl Books, I was a literary agent at Signature Literary Agency since 2009. (I first stepped into the role of literary agent at Peter Rubie Literary Agency, now FinePrint Literary Management, in 2007.) I started out as an assistant and office manager — I feel I worked for/with everyone! ha! — including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates; I even worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc., and as a freelance editor for Lauren Weisberger (author of The Devil Wears Prada).
I really got going though once I started representing authors such as Edgar-Award winner Courtney Summers, Stonewall Prize winner Kirstin Cronn-Mills, as well as prolific authors Amy Reed, K. Ancrum, and many others. (Not just YA authors either — I’ve worked on adult mysteries/thrillers and fun rom-coms and a few series — both adult and MG…)
D: How do you think the publishing industry has changed over the years?
A: I gotta tell you a lot has changed! I mean, even how a book gets sent — before, there were stacks upon stacks of physical copies — paper everywhere! — which is how the slush pile got its name… I was using the copier daily to send responses to authors (authors had to mail SASEs if they wanted a reply) and agents were on the phone all day to pitch their books to editors!
I remember binding a full ms./query to a piece of cardboard with a rubber band and searching for an acceptable envelope to reuse (a lot of offices just recycled those padded envelopes — picking off stamps, scratching out old addresses, etc.) and I remember standing in line at the post office. Thank goodness for email! (I feel it was just starting to be normalized when I came in — it was a big game changer!)
Publishing has changed in so many ways, but technology is a big one …
Also, there has been/is a rise in self publishing. (And now, with everyone working from home, book events being postponed/cancelled or moved online because of this virus, self publishing is a very attractive option … Plus, there are many experienced people out there — professionals from the traditional pub world [like myself!] — that writers can hire and that helps to level the playing field. [Which is really why Feral Girl Books exists — I don’t want anyone to feel excluded…I want the publishing industry to rep us — all of us. I don’t want these stories erased. Representation does matter.])
D: What do writers need to know about navigating the publishing industry now?
A: Nobody tells you this, but *leans in/whispers* you will need to be an extrovert. Well, in publishing, not life. (I know, I know, a lot of writers are introverts but engaging with your readers requires you to talk about yourself, your book; you need to sign books and go to conferences and sit on panels, you will have to repeat your story over and over — remaining upbeat, charming, friendly. In some cases, you will have to promote yourself more and write less. I’m sorry — I know that stinks — but better to know now, right?)
I get Publishers Marketplace/Publishers Lunch and sometimes they share cute quotes from authors and this always stuck out in my mind:
There’s a simple advertising maxim that applies to publishing:
‘Tell people over and over that a book exists — and many of them will buy it.’
-Steve Berry NYT bestseller
How true is that???
D: How does a writer know if they have a quality book worth publishing?
A: It’s hard to detect if you have a quality book or not. I mean, there is no magic combo or outline to follow to guarantee you have something worth publishing. But! Aha! Surely, you’ve heard that writers need to read (and read a lot)? The same is true reversed. Writers need readers — beta readers, CPs, etc. (And not just your mom or partner, not someone who is close to you and thinks you’re great so your book is also great. You need honest feedback.)
D: What can writers do to get their novel or nonfiction manuscript in the best shape possible for submissions and how do your current services help writers?
A: I feel it’s kinda what Tyra Banks said about America’s Next Top Model: This competition [ANTM] is getting your foot in the back door of an industry that is usually closed tight. I honestly want to help you put your best book forward. I know it’s scary but trust me! I am taking all of my publishing knowledge/experience and using it here to help you. While I like challenges and take risks, I also know the rules; I have your best interests in mind and can guide you. (That goes for indie authors as well as those who go the traditional route.) I am honored to work with you and I know together we can do it!
I say if you’re looking for an agent, I’d love to help you before (to minimize rejections) but I am helpful at any stage of the sub process, really. If you get an RR (revise/rewrite & resubmit) — from an agent or editor (and you find your agent is not as editorial or busy and/or you feel neglected), I am available! (Yes, I work — and am — right now — working — with writers who have agents… Even “pros” know they need a good editor — writers [of their own work] do not make good editors! Also, I’ve had ex clients contact me for help! — how #blessed, is that, huh??? hahaha!)
Even if you’re self pubbing, you still need to bring your A game! That’s where I come in — your book should be properly edited, proofread, copyedited maybe even typeset and the cover needs a good design as well as a publicity/marketer and distributor. I know that sounds overwhelming and expensive (and you can pick/choose where/how to spend your time/money), but you want your book to be as professional as possible…right?
I want to help shape the literary landscape and I like to think I have a keen eye for potential and that my hands-on style ensures authors that they have a good foundation to launch long, successful careers — both traditional and indie. My years of experience gives me confidence I can help.
D: What tips can you provide for writers who’ve experienced frustration and setbacks due to repeated rejections over the years?
A: You need to have patience with yourself. (I feel I am always saying this to my husband — he’s a photographer, so different art form, but he’s a creative and a perfectionist and, like any writer, he expects to nail it every time but he doesn’t and this is normal… I repeat, this is normal.)
There is no such thing as an overnight success! That “overnight” thing was years of hard work! That “overnight success” was probably not their first book nor their first agent.
Not everyone is going to like you — and that’s ok. Also, READ THE ROOM! (Considering the social climate/what’s happening in the world is not 100% necessary but that knowledge is useful in discerning what is being bought… Idris Elba offers his take on diversity in the modern world, saying it “is more than just skin color — it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and — most important of it — diversity of thought.” And, you know what? He is so right [in my opinion] because if you have diversity of thought, no one is left out — and that is reading a room.)
Don’t give up! (Albert Einstein said genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.) And don’t be afraid! Remember it requires risk to try something new. I fall 7 times a day so I just get up 8.
Bottomline: All that matters is what you think of yourself and your work; the only way others will believe in you is if you believe in yourself. Diane Von Furstenberg said something similar — “You know who’s gonna give you everything? Yourself.” And yeah.
D: What are some resources that every writer needs?
A: If you’re serious about writing, you should follow/listen to Jane Friedman. And of course, PW (or BookLife — PW’s site for self published authors.) The Authors Guild also has a lot of info and is a good source. (And there are many blogs and organizations dedicated to specific genres like thrillers, crime, horror, SF/fantasy, romance…) Writers should also scour Goodreads for helpful info on books!
D: Where can we follow you and network with you?
A: I am extremely easy to find! I am accessible through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (I would say Tumblr but I haven’t been on that since March). You can find me at my website amy-tipton.com too! I am friendly, communicative, I’ve been told I’m funny — come find me!