Amanda Filippelli, Publisher, Editor, and Book Coach
Your titles include editor, writer, and book coach. Can you tell us a bit more about each of those avenues? Which do you identify with most?
The best way I can put it is that I’ve always been a writer, I learned to be an editor, and I evolved into a book coach. I’ve been writing my entire life, and started publishing as a child. There’s just never been a time when I haven’t self-identified as a writer, and creative writing is my true passion in life.
I discovered my love for editing in college. Believe it or not, I was using commas wrong until I was about twenty-three. But studying literature and writing in college instilled in me an even deeper love and appreciation for language, and I went on to work as an associate editor in the traditional publishing world in Chicago before starting my own business.
A book coach is a professional editor with the knowledge and expertise to help a writer not only write and shape their book project, but who can also mentor them throughout the publishing process and beyond, whether they choose traditional or self-publishing. When I moved back to Pittsburgh, I worked as a freelance writer and editor for some time before One Idea Press, and I realized there were a lot of people out there selling services as “book coaches” who didn’t have the experience or the qualifications necessary. I saw a lot of writers getting burned that way. So, I started a book coach certification program that properly trains editors and book coaches!
All three of these titles are so deeply entwined that I’m not sure how to decide which one I identify most with, but at the core of it all, I’m a writer (with a keen eye for structure and grammar).
Recently you launched a stage production of your book Blue Rooms. Can you tell us more about the book, as well as what went into turning it into a stage production?
Blue Rooms, the book, had been brewing in me for some time. I’d been writing that book for years, in snippets on the back of receipts, in notes in my phone, in scribbles in my journal. I just didn’t know what it was meant to be for a long time. But then, last September, a culmination of personal things boiled over for me and I returned to therapy. After doing some tough self-work, I took the month of December off and wrote Blue Rooms, which was the most healing and therapeutic thing I could do for myself.
After publishing the book, though I was so proud of it, it also felt weird to just let it go; to be done with it. And over at One Idea Press, we’re always talking about how to create experiences--how to turn what’s written on the page into some physical interpretation, and it all just hit me one day.
I had this huge (probably crazy) idea about a stage production unlike anything else--one that would be performed entirely through spoken word--and there are only two reasons I was able to pull that off: I vehemently believed in and loved it. Still do. And because I have the most supportive husband and the most supportive and talented friends. Everyone really jumped in when I called, and we created the stage production of Blue Rooms in six months. I handmade all of the costuming, my best friend and co-director, Kiera, flew in once a month from Chicago to help me find, cast, and rehearse our actors. Vaughn composed all of the music from scratch, and Theresa built us the most magnificent set. I couldn’t be more grateful for that time in my life.
In the beginning stages, we pitched the idea to a lot of Pittsburgh theaters, but because we didn’t have proof of concept and because we weren’t native to the industry, many of those theaters showed interest in the concept but didn’t want to profit share with us. That put a bad taste in my mouth. It was disappointing at first, because it was hard to imagine how we could pull off something of that scale without a production company behind us, but I couldn’t stand for having our Art be co-opted and profited off of, especially within the Art community. So we did it ourselves.
Creating, building, and executing that production was a true labor of love, because it was incredibly taxing. It was a round-the-clock, full-time job that engulfed my life. It was emotionally taxing, physically challenging, and required that we all learn a lot of new skill sets. But we never stopped loving it or believing in it, and the end result was pure magic.
The majority of the women in our H&L Writes program dream of publishing a book. Can you share what steps they need to follow to make their dreams a reality?
Write the book. That’s the simplest yet the most difficult advice I can give anyone who wants to publish a book. So many writers get tripped up in their heads with doubt before the book has even been written or finished, and doing this creates hurdles and obstacles that make publishing seem much more difficult than it really is. Put all of that aside--everything in your mind that is questioning the process--and just write the book. Get it on paper. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, how it sounds--all of those things are for editors to worry about later.
As for technical advice about the process: If you wish to traditionally publish your book, you need to first secure a literary agent. The big five publishing houses and their imprints do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Conversely, if you want to self-publish, you should invest in yourself and in your Art and hire professionals that can help you with what you’ll need. Those people might include an editor and/or a book coach, and a graphic designer to help you lay out the interior of your book and design your book cover. There is a third option, and that is publishing with an independent press. You don’t normally need a literary agent to submit your manuscript to these presses for consideration.
It’s always good to be prepared. Are there typical obstacles that writers face in getting their books published?
Sure! And I think there are some obstacles that differ between fiction and nonfiction writers, and some that are the same. I’ll speak to the most common ones I see:
Fiction: Fiction writers, understandably, have a tough time during the editing process. It’s difficult to submit to, or sometimes even see, the necessity for both big and small changes in your work, but it’s incredibly important to be open to and participate in the editing process.
I also often see fiction writers struggle with traditionally pitching their books more than nonfiction writers. The querying process can be a long and arduous road, and rejection is tough to deal with. Plus, whether your book gets picked up or not can sometimes have a lot to do with market trends, and that can be a hard thing to navigate. I think writers just get burnt out before they’ve queried enough to really give their book a chance.
Nonfiction: If you’re writing a memoir or an autobiographical work, the emotional attachment that comes with your project can create hiccups. Authors need to take care of themselves, but also understand that these kinds of books often require you to bend timelines a bit or to embellish some, so that your book still carries a plot structure with dynamic characters.
If you’re writing nonfiction other than memoir or autobiography, the toughest struggle I see writers and published authors in this space tackle is how to position and pitch themselves and their book. It’s really a matter of PR, of branding, so that can be a challenge.
Can you explain the pros and cons of self-publishing a book?
I like to think of the choice of whether or not to self-publish as something that’s decided based on your goals and your circumstances. There’s a lot of stigma still out there about self-publishing your book, but the reality is that self-publishing, when done right, can be a great way to launch your career as an author. In fact, modern self-publishing has really had an effect on the way the traditional publishing world functions.
The major difference is cost. When you self-publish a book, all of your cost is up front--editing, graphic design, a book launch, PR, etc.--and you have to set yourself up to make up that loss through sales on the back end. However, self-publishing can be very profitable and rewarding if you position yourself well!
I think a lot of people have this misconception that if you traditionally publish that they will take over completely marketing your book for you, and this is not the case. No matter how you publish, you’ll need to have a marketing strategy in place, and your ability to market and sell books is part of what determines whether a publishing house will pick up your next idea or not.
The last thing that’s important to speak to is creative control. When self-publishing, you have complete creative control over your book, and that isn’t always as great a thing as it seems. Self-publishing is a great option for people that are open to professional opinions and help, just as traditional publishing requires you to be open to these things as well. But if you’re self-publishing so that you can singularly execute your exact vision, make sure that the fulfillment of doing that is worth what that might cost you in sales and distribution.
There is a lot of talk online about writers needing to have a large online presence and influence in order to get their books published. Do you feel that is true and does it factor at all into your decision to publish a book?
This is not entirely true, and we do a lot of work to educate writers about this very topic. I’ll start by saying this: yes, it’s easier for celebrities and people with large followings to get book deals because they will clearly be able to sell a lot of books.
But that doesn’t mean that you need a large platform to get your book published, no matter what genre you’re writing in. I have seen writers from all over the spectrum of influence get picked up for book deals, because, at the end of the day, a good idea is a good idea. Agents and publishers don’t necessarily need you to have a large platform, but they do want to know that you’re motivated--that you’re willing to do what it takes to grow and to get your book in front of people. I’ve seen people who don’t even have social media pitch a marketing strategy for their book that helps them get picked up. It’s all about motivation, drive, and creativity. That’s not to say, though, that some literary agents prefer (mostly nonfiction) writers to have a large platform depending on what type of book they’re pitching, but it’s certainly not an industry standard that you need to show up with a platform to get picked up!
All that being said, you should always be working on your platform if you aspire to be an author. Nonfiction writers should be working on growing their lists and numbers and pitching to the media, while fiction writers should be submitting to literary magazines and seeking out some space in the literary community. But don’t let platform ever get in your way of pitching your book!
Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into the publishing industry, Amanda! Learn more about Amanda and her services by checking out her website.