It’s time to meet another debut author and learn from their successful publishing journey. Today we meet Nancy Grossman, author of the 2012 young adult debut, A WORLD AWAY (Disney-Hyperion, out in paperback in 2013), a story about an Amish girl who visits the outside world.
After meeting an Amish teenager during a trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, author Nancy Grossman imagined what it would be like to take the girl home with her. Eventually those imaginings became her first novel, A World Away, which was named to Kirkus Reviews’ list of the Best Teen Books of 2012. She earned BSW and MSW degrees from the University of Illinois, and had a short-lived career as a social worker before completing an MA in the Teaching of Writing at Columbia College. At DePaul University she holds the position of Associate Director of the University Honors Program and teaches courses in Creative Writing, Community Service Studies, and Young Adult Fiction. She is currently working on a middle grade novel.
A sixteen-year-old Amish girl gets a nanny job far from home, experiences technology and forbidden love, and has to decide which world she belongs in.
Where do you write from?
I live in a Chicago suburb and usually write on my laptop, curled on the living room couch.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
Before this story found me I was a writing instructor at DePaul University in Chicago, with no body of work of my own. During a trip to Lancaster with two girlfriends we had dinner at an Amish family’s home, and I spent some time chatting with the teenage daughter who helped serve us. After that trip, I couldn’t get the image of that teenage girl in apron and bonnet – helping her mom in a house lit by lanterns – out of my head. I kept
imagining what it would be like to take her home with me and show her our world. Eventually, those imaginings became my first novel.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
This is the hardest question to answer, but one that I am always asked! I started writing the book when my daughter was four, and it was published when she was 21. But a lot happened in between. In the early days of
writing, I had two children aged 4 and 7, and my teaching job at DePaul, so writing was a luxury. And I admit that I was not dedicated to the project for the first few years, so the writing came slowly. After ten years of writing on and off, I got discouraged and put the manuscript aside for almost two years. Then I had the good fortune to get a residency at Ragdale Artists Colony, where I moved in for two weeks and became a writer. The 190 raggedy pages I came in with grew to 300, and the characters came to life for me. That’s when I knew I would finish the book. By that point, I was working full-time at DePaul as the assistant director of the Honors Program, so there were more excuses not to write. But I had the momentum, and after one more Ragdale residency, (where I converted 331 manuscript pages from third person to first person!) I was ready to send it off.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?
A writer friend I met at Ragdale referred me to an agent who showed some initial interest, but ultimately passed on the manuscript. Though I was wild with disappointment, I did get him to stay on the phone long enough to talk me through the process of querying agents, and to give me the names of a few agents to contact. One of those agents, Holly Root of Waxman Leavell, asked to see the first three chapters, and then asked for the whole manuscript. Then one magical day, she called me at work and said, “I loved your book!”
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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
As a writing instructor, I was knowledgeable about revision, and had put my manuscript through extensive revisions before submitting it. Then I revised it further with my agent. So I was a bit surprised that what I had thought was a fairly polished manuscript had to go through several more rounds of wide-reaching revisions once it was in the hands of an editor. At one point when I was in the depths of rewriting, my sister asked, “Is she still Amish?” While I was surprised that the manuscript required so much revision, I was eventually grateful that my editor was so meticulous. And I gained an appreciation for writing as a truly collaborative process. I was also surprised at how long it takes to get a book to market. I signed with my agent in August of 2010; we made the deal with Disney-Hyperion the following October; and the book was released in July of 2012.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Timing is everything: I think it was the right time for the YA genre and the Amish plotline. There had been a lot of “bonnet fiction” in adult books, but not yet in the YA market, so there was some interest in the story. Also, it was helpful that I was, after my initial surprise, onboard with the level of revision that was requested of me.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I think I would have tried to make writing more of a priority in my life.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I have a website and a facebook page. I’ve also spoken at bookstores, schools, libraries, and book clubs.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Read widely in the genre you’re writing in. And go easy on yourself. Everyone has their own pace. Persistence is as important as productivity.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Before my teaching and writing careers I was a social worker.
I’m working on a middle grade novel.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?
- Read a Query That Worked and Snagged an Agent.
- “How I Got My Agent,” by Novelist Carsen Morton.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Literary Agent Interview: Peter McGuigan of Foundry Literary.
- See a List of Writers Conferences and Events.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
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