Amy Willoughby-Burle: Women's Fiction/ Sweet Romance

publishing jounrey

The long road home… well, for my book that is. Today I want to share the publishing journey of how The Lemonade Year found it’s home. It’s the story of letting go and letting God do His thing.

First things first. You need to know a little about me.  I’m that sort of person who is independent to a fault.

Anyone about anything: “Do you need help with that?”

Me: “No, I got this.” (Then I proceed to “get” whatever “this” is on my own. You would think that repeated failure to handle things alone would teach me lesson.)

The second thing you need to know about me: I’m stubborn. I refer to it as my best and worst quality.       Best: Tenacious.    Worst: Stubborn.

Failure does not slow me down. Then again, failure does not slow me down.

Until now. Well, until around May of 2015. I have dreamed of being a writer since I was about 12 years old. (I’ll write a funny post about the day I realized where books came from, later. It was a life changing moment–albeit silly.) Over the course of then til now, I have published about a dozen short stories in various lit mags and anthologies and even have a collection of my own out.

Still, the published novel remained elusive. I would send queries to about fifteen agents, get varied feedback (no offers) and then say, “Fine, no one likes that book, I’ll just write another one.”  I did that about five times until I got tired of starting over. These were good books (well, a few of them) and I was determined not to stop looking until I found an agent.

I was also getting a little desperate. Truth of the matter here: I wasn’t where I wanted to be in the time scheme of things. I was ready to be published already and darn it, I was going to do it in my time, through my effort, and … well, enter the stubborn “me” of it all.

As 2015 began, I got serious about researching agents and sending queries and not changing course when I got some bites (and I got quite a few) that ultimately became “no thank yous.” Yep, you’re reading into this correctly–I got Stubborn (notice that capital S.)

Don’t get my wrong, it’s not like I wasn’t talking to God about the whole process. I was listening when He suggested that change my search. I could hear God tell me I was looking in the wrong places. I don’t write what would be categorized and shelved as Christian fiction, but I do acknowledge Christ and his divinity in my work. It had not occurred to me to seek an agent who represented Christian fiction, but that’s where I started looking.

I found several and sent letters. One of the agents I querier was Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency. I knew she was the one. I just knew it. I sent a query in April of 2015 and in just over a week she wrote back and requested the fully manuscript. I was right! At the time, I still had the book on the desks of a couple of other agents from my previous searches and I found myself hoping they would say no, because I really wanted to work with Julie and I was so certain she would offer representation.

Well, they all said no just like I had hoped, but I didn’t hear anything from Julie. No repsonse to the book at all. I supposed I was wrong, but I could still hear that little voice saying…


In late May of 2015, I was at a home schooling convention in which Jon Erwin a Christian filmmaker was presenting several sessions on creativity and “living the dream” so to speak. I attended one of his sessions where he asked the question that changed everything for me.

“What are you doing this for anyway?” (This creative whatever it is that you spend time doing.)

Here’s why that question changed my course. I had already talked to God about my writing, and what I planned to do, and how I wanted to serve him and how I hoped to use the books I wrote to glorify Him….pop quiz: What word appears 5 times in that run-on sentence?

Correct: I

If I really wanted to serve and glorify Him, why was I trying to run His show? I was listening when he asked me to turn my writing back towards Him. I heard the suggestion to look for Christians agents. But I was still expecting this whole gig to go down like I wanted it to.

So what was the answer to Mr. Erwin’s question?

To use the gift that God gave me in order to glorify Him. If that was really true, there was still something I needed to do.

So, there I was walking down the street from my hotel room on the way to another session at the conference, and I just said out loud (yes, on a busy street) “Alright, God. It’s yours. I’ll stop pushing. Do it or don’t do it on your time and in your way. I give my writing to you. 

Notice the “or don’t do it.” I also had to accept that giving it up to God, might mean giving it up. I thought turning it over would be a hard thing to do, but it actually lifted this anxious, knotty weight that I had on my shoulders, and it was liberating. God was in control, and I needn’t worry over it. That also meant that I couldn’t keep trying to make it work like I wanted it to. If I said it was His, I needed to act like it was. I needed to…


Months passed since I sent the book the Julie and in the meantime, I had done a revision on the novel that I actually liked quite a bit and wished I had been able to send that one out instead.

Then in late June, I got another message from Julie: I didn’t get your manuscript and I would still love to see it. 

What? A re-request. It’s hard enough to get a request at all. Somehow (gee I wonder) the first email containing the older version of the novel never got to her. So I sent out the new one with renewed belief that I was indeed right–Julie Gwinn would be my agent.

More months went by—nothing. OK, I’m wrong after all. But God, I really feel like you’re telling me it’s her. I mean like, really feel it. What’s the deal?


Then in late December 2015, I got up and went to the computer to check emails, (long having given up that anticipation that “today I’ll get the email offering me a contract”) and there was an email from Julie: She was offering representation and wanted to talk if I was still interested.

Uh, you bet!

I signed with her in January of 2016 and began the journey. I figured the wait was over. I’d gotten to know a few of her other authors and some of them had found homes for their books right away. Some of them even more than one book. Not me. For me it was…


Julie sent the book (A Soft and Thunderous Noise) around a time or three, but it just wasn’t finding its place. Soon it was 2017 and I was still waiting.

“What else do you have?” Julie asked. “Any other books finished we could pitch?”

Sure: I sent her The Lemonade Year and I went back to waiting. I knew I had the agent God wanted for me and, I knew that if He wanted it to, something would happen.

I was good at waiting by then. That kind of waiting that doesn’t seem like waiting–I was just going on about the business of life. Julie would send me updates on the novels and send encouraging messages when an editor asked to read something or had something positive to say.

And while I waited, I got to meet Julie in person at the ACFW conference in Nashville. I already knew she was an amazing agent, but she turned out to be an amazing person as well. I have loved getting to know her better. She is the just the best. I also wrote another book called If You Knew, because that’s what I do, I write books. And I waited….

In early March of 2017, Julie sent me word that an editor was reading The Lemonade Year and had sent a wonderful compliment. She said that of course, a compliment wasn’t a contract, but that it was nice to hear. I looked at the name on the email that contained that compliment, looked up the editor and the publishing house (writer becomes detective) and again… I felt like I knew. Shadow Mountain Publishing would the one, but…you guessed it.


Then in May of 2017 (two years after I turned it over to God) Julie called. Hmm, this could be something. She doesn’t usually call me out of the blue. Shadow Mountain Publishing was offering a contract.

I signed in August of 2017 and began working with Lisa Mangum, who took my book and made it so much better. I had never worked with an actual, real life editor before and I was excited and a little sick to my stomach. This was REAL now.

Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. She suggested all the right things in all the right places with the most encouraging words all through the process.

The Lemonade Year releases April 3, 2018–three years after I first queried Julie about an entirely different book.

I let God do what He does. I waited and Julie did a lot of work and spent a lot of time finding a place for my novel (thank you for not giving up on me, best agent ever!) I love my agent, and I love my editor and publishing house and once again, God knows best.


“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:14

I made this at a Bible study in which we were asked what verse meant something to you at the moment. I posted this on Facebook not long after. The date was January 5, 2016. I had already waited and there was still waiting to come.

It was worth ever minute of it!









2 thoughts on “Writer’s World Wednesday

  1. Love this. So proud of you!

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