An Inside Look into Finding an Agent and Publisher: Terry Helwig's Story

Terry Helwig signing her memoir Moonlight on Linoleum

Remember the wonderful interview with Terry Helwig in which she shared her book marketing strategies? Well, thanks to the gentle nudging of one of that post’s most engaged readers, Linda Gartz, Terry is back. Here’s how she found her agent and publisher, in her own words. I suggest you go to her site to learn even more. The link will take you directly to a set of great writing tips.

I like how Terry takes the process of writing, editing, and publishing seriously and herself lightly. I hope you’ll enjoy and learn a lot.

From Terry to Linda (and all of us):

Linda, in addition to the writing/publishing tips on my website (open tab on writing tips), I strongly suggest authors go into a bookstore and leaf through books similar to the type of book they want to publish.  Oftentimes agents, editors and publishers will be mentioned in the acknowledgments which means these people and publishing houses likely have an interest in your genre.  I have been writing off and on for thirty years.  It wasn’t until I wrote Moonlight on Linoleum that I sought out an agent.  When my manuscript was finally read, I was told that I had a diamond in the rough; but in order for the agency to represent my manuscript, they suggested I hire a NYC editor to help me polish “my diamond” to make it more marketable.  I was told that publishers now prefer complete, edited manuscripts ready for publication because so many places are short-staffed and feeling the economic crunch.   The truth is, the cost of hiring a reputable editor gave me great pause—the cost was thousands of dollars, plus there was absolutely no guarantee that my manuscript would be accepted anywhere.  It was a gamble to be sure.  In the end, I decided to take the risk and, after undergoing the editing process, I was lucky enough to get an advance that more than covered the cost of the editing. I am well aware the ending could have turned out very differently.  I certainly don’t recommend this path for everyone, but it worked for me.

Do you have your own publishing story? What else do you want to know from Terry? Isn’t she generous to share so many ideas with us? Please thank her. And if you are interested in family history, check out Linda Gartz’s fascinating website also.


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Shirley Showalter


  1. Gutsy Living on December 12, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for all these informative links which I shall look at in detail tomorrow, when I spend some time in Palm Desert. Terry, I can see how taking your writing and promotional skills seriously, has paid off. Shirley, I am publishing Richard Potter’s “My Gutsy Story” today, and thank you for mentioning my contest on your blog and for putting Richard in touch with me.

  2. shirleyhs on December 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I think Terry’s experience may be relevant to yours, also, Sonia. I know there’s an agent and a publisher in your future. Gutsy Living will help take you there!

  3. Angela Foster on December 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I loved this article and immediately purchased the Terry’s book (which I loved). I am a memoir writer myself and have been considering hiring a professional book doctor to work on my memoir. Would it be possible to get the name of Terry’s editor? Thanks! I love your blog.

  4. shirleyhs on December 12, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks, Angela. I will send an email to Terry to see if she’s willing to share. Sometimes you can locate this info in the acknowledgment section of the book, also. A good place to sleuth and learn.

  5. Terry Helwig on December 12, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for comments Sonia and Angela. Angela, I loved my editor but she wishes to remain anonymous as she works for another publishing house. She only moonlights on one manuscript a year outside of her job. Sorry I can’t be more helpful on that front.

    • Dolores on May 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      I’ve just finished reading Terry’s book and I still can’t believe all she went through growing up and is not even bitter about what her mother put her through. Terry is the woman I wish I were and I feel so selfish and self-centered compared to her.

      If it was mentioned, I must have missed it but was Carola Jean diagnosed as bi-polar in the end?

      What a saint Davy (Daddy) was and I’m so happy that Terry let us know that he finally met a nice woman and found happiness. And it seems like he was the girl’s saviour as it sounds like they take after him.

      Thank you Terry for a wonderful story and I’m so happy that you now have a good life too as you so deserve it. Your husband and daughter are very lucky people!

      Dolores Kathleen

  6. Grace on December 12, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Congrats to Terry for landing an agent and publisher. I’ve been chronicling the process on my blog. [] If I’ve learned on thing it’s that the process isn’t instant.

    • shirleyhs on December 13, 2011 at 12:01 am

      You’re absolutely right, Grace. One thing I try to remember is that everything worth while takes time. And as long as I’m learning, I’m happy. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot also.

  7. Linda Gartz on December 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Shirley and Terry,
    I have been remiss in my blog followings this past week, and I am so thrilled that Terry addressed my question on finding agents. Checking out the acknowledgments in books similar to the one we’re writing is excellent advice. I’ll also hope to read Terry’s memoir soon (I have about six memoirs and 5 books on how to write memoir out of the library right now). Consistent and sensible advice from just about everyone is to read as many memoirs as possible to get a feel for what sells; what voice works for a certain story. Also, Jan., 2012 The Writer Magazine has an article on page 44 (Agent to Author) “How to make your memoir stand out. which reiterates the “read, read, read” mantra. Thanks again, Terry, for reaching out to me on Twitter––and to Shirley for mentioning my blog. I hope visitors who may be trying to write about family might find some ideas for sharing short essays or snippets about family members, which may then eventually lead to considering how to include in a memoir.

  8. shirleyhs on December 13, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Glad you found us, Linda. You have a great blog, and I’m hoping readers here are finding it, especially if their type of memoir is family history. And thanks for offering another resource in The Writer. Read. Read. Read. 🙂 I’m signing off to take your advice. 🙂

  9. Madeline Sharples on December 13, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Hi, Shirley. As always you are so generous with your information for the writers in your midst.
    As is Marla Miller who just posted my publishing story on her website.
    I hope you and your readers will take a look.
    All best, Madeline

  10. Terry Helwig on May 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Hi Dolores,

    Thanks for commenting on your experience of reading “Moonlight on Linoleum” on Shirley’s blog. I very much appreciate your sentiments and I suspect you are NOT selfish.

    You asked about my mom’s diagnosis. She was diagnosed with depression, but I have had several psychiatrists and therapists tell me, from my description of my mother, that they think she fits the DSM-4 description for a bi-polar diagnosis.

    Thanks again for writing. (And thanks to all who have commented.)


  11. shirleyhs on May 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Delores, I too want to thank you for this comment and Terry for following up.

    I also suspect that you are much more generous than you give yourself credit for being. May you use the courage you found here to move forward with strength and joy.

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