BY AMY SHOJAI
I used to call myself the “accidental writer.” My background is music and theater performance, but Broadway was a bit of a commute so I took a job as a veterinary technician. That artistic itch didn’t go away, though, so I wrote nonfiction articles for the “pet press” and several awful novels.
More than one publisher contacted me after reading my articles—who needed an agent? My first book was published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell. I’d published half a dozen nonfiction pet books by 1996 when I queried yet another agent about my fiction.
She was more interested in pet books, I signed with her, and she sold three nonfiction books in major deals for me within five months. We sold another dozen nonfiction titles over the years. I became a spokesperson for high-profile pet products companies and toured the country. I stopped writing articles and put fiction-ing dreams on hold.
Pet Books DOA
Pet books died. Sales declined. Advances shrunk in direct proportion to Google’s growth. Internet content was free—why buy a book?
I joined ITW and attended my first Thrillerfest where I met my second agent—equally high powered. But she gave up on pet books after six months. It wasn’t me, or the agents. Publishing had changed.
But bills must be paid so a “real job” teaching high school choir became my new life for a semester. I cried. A lot.
Amy Takes Charge
I quit the “real job” because, dammit, I’m a writer. This old cat just needed new stripes. First, the attitude had to change. My life, my books, my choices—Amy took charge. Fiction took a front seat.
Internet articles paid the rent—it ain’t so evil when they pay you! “Ask Amy” videos on the blog helped build the “Amy” brand. I’d met authors Bob Mayer and Jen Talty at Thrillerfest, and they invited me to resurrect my backlist titles through Who Dares Wins (now Cool Gus Publishing). Soon my “dead” pet books became part of my retirement plan.
LOST AND FOUND was completed, the “dog viewpoint” thriller I’d always wanted to read. Agents might run screaming at the concept, but my audience told me what they wanted. I didn’t want to wait any longer, and planned to self-publish.
I hired an editor, invited beta readers, started to publish—and instead ask Jen and Bob if they’d consider publishing the book, hoping new eyes would garner valuable feedback. And they said yes!
LOST AND FOUND was submitted February 2012, accepted in March and published September 2012. Small publishers are nimble and flexible. Cool Gus Publishing offered me control on cover design. And as authors who appreciate equitable royalties, they offered very competitive contracts better than what my former agents ever managed with my previous New York publishers.
Reinvented At Last!
When LOST AND FOUND was accepted into the ITW Debut Thriller Program, I knew I’d come full circle. I’d reinvented myself as a thriller author! Two of my thriller author heroes Doug Lyle and James Rollins offered blush-worthy cover quotes.
For authors dismayed at the state of publishing, REINVENT YOURSELF! DO IT! Be brave. Be fearless. Or rather, do it despite the fear. Publishing changes so quickly these days that current and future authors must be prepared to move quickly and ride the wave–or risk drowning in the might-have-beens.
LOST AND FOUND (Synopsis)
An autism cure will kill millions unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing child . . . in 24 hours. Animal behaviorist September Day has lost everything—husband murdered, career in ruins, confidence shot—and flees to Texas with her cat Macy to recover. She’s forced out of hibernation when her nephew Steven and his autism service dog Shadow disappear in a freak blizzard. When her sister trusts a maverick researcher’s promise to help Steven, September has 24 hours to rescue them from a devastating medical experiment impacting millions of children, a deadly secret others will kill to protect. As September races the clock, the body count swells. Shadow does his good-dog duty but can’t protect his boy. Finally September and Shadow forge a stormy partnership to rescue the missing and stop the nightmare cure. But can they also find the lost parts of themselves?
Amy Shojai has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 26 best-selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity.
She is the Puppies Guide at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, and writer conferences keynotes/seminars. LOST AND FOUND is her fiction debut. Learn more about Amy and her THRILLERS WITH BITE! at her Bling, Bitches &Blood Blog.
"This old cat just needed new stripes." Love that line, Amy. Congrats on earning those new stripes.
Sure, we've all been aware of the brick and mortar bookstores demise, but who has really thought about what it's done for many non-fiction authors?
I've always been a firm believer in the glass half-full, not empty. Sounds like you think the same thing. Kudos to you for not giving up and forging a path ahead.
Thank you Pat. Still "spiffing" up the tabby swirls.
Robin, the change in publishing has brought both bad AND good for us all. I got tired of the head-banging pain (and ran out of Advil) so the optimist in me came to the rescue. *s*
Thank you both for your kind words and encouragement.
Great article and an inspiration to all who are being forced to reinvent themselves! Like you, I was forced to recreate what I has become known for and make the move from nonfiction to fiction. Last year, Shepherds Moon was published (also an animal-related thriller) and book two is on the way in a few months. There are so many opportunities if you're willing to expand horizons. Your novel is excellent and I know it will be a hit - should have my review up on it very soon. Congratulations on your new career in fiction!
I love the accidental writer! So glad you were able to reconvene like that. Sometimes the right road is the second...or third...
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