January 10, 2012

Made It Moment: Nancy Bilyeau

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:50 am
Contest Update: Congratulations to reader SavvyBlue who won a signed, hardcover copy of Nancy’s debut novel THE CROWN! Thank you all for entering, and here’s to many more giveaways to come!

The Crown

There’s little I like better than a release day, and I am so glad Nancy Bilyeau decided to celebrate hers here. For one thing, Nancy’s debut novel is a historical mystery, and I know from your emails and comments that there are many fans of the genre. For another, I will be at Nancy’s first ever book signing at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side Thursday night. If you live in the area, and would like to come out, it’s a chance to say hello to a Made It Moment-er! But if you can’t come, don’t despair. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Nancy’s new historical thriller. Good luck to all, and congratulations, Nancy, on this exciting day!

Nancy Bilyeau

When I opened the padded envelope sent by my editor and pulled from it my hardcover book, that was a moment. I ran my hands across the smooth cover, awestruck that this ravishing gold-and-burgundy book had MY name on it.

My journey to publishing a novel is a long one, though I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old. My third grade teacher liked a report I wrote on our field trip so much that she made a sign saying, “Have you heard of Nancy Bilyeau, the famous writer?” and hung it on the wall. I was a rabid bookworm, with a special love for historical fiction and mysteries. I even announced to a high school teacher that I wanted to write novels.

But at the University of Michigan I swerved toward journalism. I became a reporter and then managing editor of The Michigan Daily newspaper. I took classes in English Literature, but reading—and admiring—F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Elliott didn’t make me think I was on the path of becoming a novelist myself. Fiction aspirations moved into a past tense love, like horses.

Out of college I took a job at a tiny Florida newspaper, editing obits and tide charts and “Neighbor of the Week.” After I moved north, I plunged into the magazine business. All my energy went into moving up the ranks at places like Rolling Stone and Good Housekeeping. I worked long hours—and New York City was so expensive, I took freelance work on the side to help pay the rent. After I married and had two children there wasn’t a moment to breathe, much less create fiction.

But encouraged by my husband, I climbed the stairs to the apartment of a writer named Rosemarie Santini who led a fiction workshop every Monday night. I announced I loved English history and wanted to write something set in the 16th century—a mystery perhaps. My first pages were not good. But I kept at it. Later I took online classes at Gotham Writers Workshop. I decided to make my story a thriller, and loved nothing more than losing myself in research.

Time was the problem. I used vacations to work on my book; on weekends I stole a couple of hours here and there and toted my laptop to Starbucks. It wasn’t enough, though, and I began getting up at 5 a.m. and writing until I had to wake up the kids at 7 a.m. By this time I’d been working on my novel for five years. I was desperate to finish it, but didn’t have any idea if I could get an agent or sell my book. I also felt torn. My son has special needs and I worried that the last thing I should be doing was devoting energy to my own creative pursuits. What kind of mother stumbled around with her head in Tudor England?

I’d gone so far, and my dreams of being published were so fierce, I determined I just had to finish this book. I decided to set my birthday, June 16, 2010, as the deadline. I told my husband, “I won’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I don’t do this.” I was really scared that it would all be for nothing. I kept reminding myself, “Nobody asked you to write this!”

The first two agents I queried said no. But the third said yes. He loved my manuscript—historical thrillers are his thing, with Tudor England a favorite setting—and sold it in an auction to Touchstone/Simon&Schuster.

Eighteen months later, The Crown has gone on sale. Sometimes I can’t believe it, that all the doubts in my head turned out to be wrong. It definitely makes all those dark 5 a.m. writing sessions very much worth it!

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Most recently she served as deputy editor at InStyle magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage with Page International Screenwriting Awards and Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown is her first novel.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.


  1. This is one of my favorite moments ever! Congratulations, Nancy!
    PS:The cover is fabulous!

    Comment by Judy — January 10, 2012 @ 9:23 am

  2. You were smart to not do it alone. Going to workshops and getting feedback from other authors can get a writer going in the right direction. Seeing your work from other perspectives is important. There aren’t too many writers out there who can be as discerning as to tell what they’re doing wrong without any help.

    Morgan Mandel

    Comment by Morgan Mandel — January 10, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  3. What a wonderful thing your third grade teacher did for you! Congratulations on the book and the very best of luck to you.

    Comment by Sandy Wolters — January 10, 2012 @ 9:29 am

  4. Hi Nancy congratulations on your book. It looks great. I think the deadline as your birthday was a great idea and great motivator. I hope we will have more books down the road :).

    Comment by Barbara Hightower — January 10, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  5. Congratulations Nancy. Great story.


    Comment by Arthur Levine — January 10, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  6. What an awesome debut. Truly…..congratulations.

    Comment by Jody — January 10, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  7. Congratulations, Nancy. I’m glad your handwork has been paid off.

    Comment by Lisa wharton — January 10, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  8. Looks fabulous! Congratulations!

    Comment by SavvyBlue — January 10, 2012 @ 11:50 am

  9. Congratulations!

    Comment by Donna McBroom-Theriot — January 10, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

  10. Congratuations Jenny on another great Made it Moment! Congratulations to you Nancy B for your first novel and knowing what you wanted to do with your life since you were small and stuck with it. That is just awesome!! I love the cover by the way.

    Comment by Kellie — January 10, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  11. I love this, way to go!
    I am now following you, please follow me too!
    Have a great day, Lisa Johnson

    Comment by Lisa Johnson — January 10, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  12. Congratulations. Have spent the last year reading historicals from an earlier period for relaxation. Will put you on my TBR list.
    Have been collecting information for eons on early New Amsterdam as my first ancestor arrived in 1640 (Dutch). Started when I was eight running my finger down pages of church records for a mention of his name.
    Nash Black

    Comment by Nash Black — January 10, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  13. Nancy, I’m sure there are a lot of writers who can identify with your journey. It took me 10 years to publish my first book, so I can really appreciate your five am(s) and stops and starts. I love historical mysteries and, as a former East Coaster, look forward to reading The Crown. Thanks to you and Jenny for sharing your made it moment.

    Comment by Eloise Hill — January 10, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

  14. What a beautiful moment. There’s just nothing like holding that book in your hands for the first time. And what a gorgeous book it is! I’m so glad you persevered and made it Nancy. Your book is definitely on my wish list.

    Thanks Jenny, for spotlighting another great author.

    Comment by mountainmama — January 10, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  15. Congratulations Nancy! Love your story.

    Comment by Nadja — January 10, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

  16. A wonderful success story, Nancy. Best of luck with the book.

    Comment by Anita Page — January 10, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

  17. Congratulations, Nancy, from a fellow Michigan alum (Go Blue!). ^_^ I’m definitely adding your book to my TBR list. It’s so nice to read your moment and to resonate with the journey you’ve taken (I also write historical fiction, and I also moved into a different career path–history–and kept the writing as a pipe dream for a number of years). It’s so encouraging to know that publishers are still interested in great historical fiction, and that your book sold in an auction! How fabulous to hear that, amid all of the dire predictions about the uncertain future of publishing.

    Best of luck with your release, and I’ll look for your book on the shelves the next time I hit Powell’s. Love the background about your ancestor, too–I recently learned that we have some ancestors who came here in the 17th century, to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It’s an astonishing discovery, especially since I grew up thinking of my family as mostly recent immigrants (as in the past one hundred and twenty-five years). It made me rethink things a bit when I learned that one branch of the family has been here that long. Wow.

    Comment by Becca — January 10, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  18. Newbie visiting from Ellis Vidler’s. It’s wonderful to hear about [sorry, read about] other people’s struggles and successes. I find it inspirational to know that if you keep going there’s always hope. Thank you.

    Comment by Maddy — January 10, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  19. Congratulations Nancy on your book’s release!

    Comment by Bean — January 10, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  20. Thanks so much for all your kind comments!! I appreciate it. There were many moments when I thought I’d never finish my book or no one would want it. I am deeply grateful that I was able to push through the worries. Thank you Jenny for providing this place to talk about writing.

    Comment by Nancy Bilyeau — January 11, 2012 @ 12:24 am

  21. Great Made it Moment! Can’t wait to read your book Nancy. And BTW – I think my ancestors immigrated to New Amsterdam during that same time period. They might have been neighbors. :) Best of luck on the book and congrats on all your hard work!

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — January 11, 2012 @ 3:34 am

  22. A request by the third agent queried! Has to be a great read and I salute you on your success (after so much hard work). Historical fiction from any age can be fascinating. Best of luck!

    Comment by J W Nelson — January 11, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  23. So glad you kept going.

    boots9k at wowway dot com

    Comment by shirley nienkark — January 11, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  24. Shows where passion and determination can take you. Well done Nancy, I look forward to reading your book!

    Comment by Ainsley — January 12, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  25. WOW! That was amazing! Thanks for the giveaway too:)

    Comment by Atheena Anthony — January 15, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

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