By Hillary Mantis
Have you ever thought you could be the next John Grisham? Ever sit there churning out brief after brief, while you are really yearning to write the next great American novel?
Well, maybe you can.
At least the four lawyers that I recently heard speak at “Writing on the Side: Attorneys as Fiction Writers,” held at the New York City Bar Association, have. All four have written a novel, while maintaining their full-time careers as lawyers.
Their legal careers are all very impressive, which makes it all the more remarkable. Neil Abramson, the author of Unsaid, his first novel, is a partner in the labor and employment department at Proscauer Rose, in Manhattan. Marlen Suyapa Bodden, the author of The Wedding Gift, her first novel which is due out in 2013, is a lawyer at The Legal Aid Society.
Cort Malone, who published his first novel, Chasing Hunter, in 2007, is a shareholder in the Stamford office of Anderson Kill & Olick, P.C. Helen Wan, whose first novel The Firm Outing, which will be published next summer, is Associate General Counsel at the Time Inc. division of Time Warner. The panel was moderated by Ellen Geiger, a 20 year veteran of the publishing, film and television industries, who is a partner at the Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
Their advice to other lawyers who want to write fiction? To submit a book to an agent, they recommended that you write the full novel first, not just a few chapters, as agents generally look for full submissions. Geiger mentioned writers.net, agentquery.com, and the Association of Authors’ Representatives, as good resources.
How did they all find the time to write an entire novel? It requires a lot of commitment. Giving up television and using vacation days to write, instead of travel, were among the suggestions mentioned by the panelists, as they all maintained their full-time jobs while writing their books. Taking local fiction writing courses to help you structure your novel and keep it going was also suggested.
Several of the panelists recommended trying to find an agent first, and to consider self publishing if that does not work out. However, they also mentioned the recent upswing in self-publishing. Malone’s novel, Chasing Hunter, was self-published, and has sold over 20,000 copies, including appearing for a brief period on the list of top-100 selling books in the Amazon Kindle store. If you self publish, you will have to serve as your own editor, and copywriter, as well as marketing the book, according to the panelists.
If you decide to try for an agent first, make sure the first twenty pages are terrific, according to Geiger. “They have to be dynamite, and totally hook you,” she said. She and the other panelists also recommended searching for agents who have represented books that are similar to yours. Often, authors will thank their agents in the Forward or Introduction, so you can go through books that you love, that are like yours, and make a list.
The panelists made a career which might seem like the impossible dream, not only possible, but very doable. I, for one, was very impressed, and plan on reading their novels.
Hillary Mantis is a consultant who works with law students and lawyers seeking career change, as well as with pre-law students applying to law school. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers. You can write to Hillary at email@example.com.