Persistence pays off as Penguin Random House publishes Novi author’s novel

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published June 8, 2023

 Novi native Amanda Woody is the author of “They Hate Each Other,” which Penguin Random House published last month.

Novi native Amanda Woody is the author of “They Hate Each Other,” which Penguin Random House published last month.

Photo by Charity Meier

NOVI — A Novi native and now published author has proven that dreams do come true with a lot of determination and perseverance.

Amanda Woody’s debut novel, “They Hate Each Other,” a young adult queer rom-com published by Penguin Random House, was released May 9. The book tells the story of two gay men who are seemingly opposites and who pretend to date each other to prove to friends they are incompatible, but learn that opposites do attract.

Woody’s best friend, Ashley Sawaya, who is also a Novi native, described the book as being “a lot of fun,” but said it does have some serious stuff as well. She said the serious parts help to give the characters more depth than just an ordinary comedy.

While many queer books concentrate on issues around coming out, Woody said, “They Hate Each Other” doesn’t deal with issues of homophobia and hence provides a safe space for LGBTQI+ youth.

“I want my books to be sort of like a safe space for kids who may be questioning (their sexuality) and if they don’t know how their parents will react, because it doesn’t deal with that,” Woody said. “It’s not an issue in the book. People are not cruel to the main characters because they identify as bi or whatever. I really want readers to know that they are safe from these struggles in these pages, because a lot of them are not safe from these struggles in real life. A lot of them are in situations where it’s not safe for them to be out. It’s not safe for them to explore these kinds of things. … You are safe here (in Woody’s books) and you don’t have to worry about that here.”

Woody, who uses they/them pronouns but also accepts she/her pronouns, grew up in Novi and graduated from Novi High School in 2013. Woody earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Central Michigan University. They currently work as a secretary in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Wayne State University.   

“I have been, basically, writing since I could pick up a pen,” said Woody. “I have always wanted to be an author, like, from the get-go. All I knew was how to write. Like, since I was in first grade, that was the only thing I was good at, was reading and writing.”

They recalled writing their first story in first or second grade and said it was a bit violent for their age, with a character pushing her stepsisters into a volcano.

“It was great,” they said with a laugh.

Woody’s mom, Andrea, said that as a teacher, she made her daughter write a lot, because  she knew it was an area in which many children struggle.

“I think she’s just been inundated with writing and how important it is,” said Andrea Woody. “In high school, she was voted something like most likely to become a writer when she was a senior. So a lot of people recognized the fact that she was very interested in writing. … It’s been years in the making.”

In 2013, at the age of 17, Amanda Woody said, they learned about literary agents and the publishing process. They began sending query letters to agents, but it didn’t go very well.

Woody went through many rejections over seven years before deciding to switch to writing a queer romantic comedy. The rejections, Woody said, really negatively impacted their perception of their self-worth. Then in 2020, they decided to just write something for fun.

“I decided I’m just going to write a book for fun. I’m just going to write something that will make myself and the people around me smile. So I decided to start dabbling in queer rom-coms, because I had determined at that point that maybe I wasn’t connecting to my books as much because I was writing straight characters, and I was not straight myself,” said Woody, who identifies as queer.

Woody loved the escapism of queer rom-coms. They wrote the book in a brisk two months. Woody said that by writing a queer rom-com, they found their niche and received eight offers of representation from agents. They said it was amazing after seven years of rejection.

“One thing that she’s always been is just persistent with her writing. … Her persistence on continuing to write many, many books, that’s, like, what’s gotten her here today, and I’ve just seen her grow as a writer,” Sawaya said.

Andrea Woody said that her daughter writes many stories from a male perspective and that she believes Woody is open to all ideas and relationships and is not judgmental of other people.

“I think she just kind of sensed that this area was kind of an important area with all the book banning that’s going on and people judging other people for their beliefs, and she’s kind of the opposite of that; she just thinks that everybody should do their own thing and be their own person,” said Andrea Woody.

Amanda Woody said their favorite book series of all time is the Percy Jackson series, and they love writing young adult fiction, as it is their comfort zone. Woody was inspired to write “They Hate Each Other” after reading Casey McQuiston’s book “ Red, White & Royal Blue.” Another author who they take inspiration from is Sarah Rees Brennan, who wrote “In Other Lands.”

“They just gave me these really fun, voicey, really turbulent stories where I just got so invested in the characters and in the world,” Woody said of McQuiston’s and Brennan’s work. “I really just had so much fun reading them, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to try this for myself.’”

Woody’s sister, Jenna Woody, said that her sister’s writing does the same for her.

“When I’m reading my sister’s writing, I always forget that it’s them that wrote it (if that makes sense),” said Jenna Woody via email. “I get so encapsulated with the characters and their voices, that I tend to forget that I’m reading something my sister wrote, which is so wild to me. I may be slightly biased, but their writing is some of the best I’ve read!”

Amanda Woody has been told that the book is a lot deeper and a lot darker than other rom-coms and that is what draws people to the book. They said it involves topics such as alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse.

Sawaya, who now resides in Wyandotte, said she and Woody met in high school and recalled that even back then, Woody was writing books.

“I’ve been reading Amanda Woody originals forever,” Sawaya said.

Sawaya and their mutual friends back then would sneak into Woody’s laptop to read Woody’s manuscripts. Sawaya recalled how eventually Woody would just print the manuscripts for them to look over and how they would provide feedback to them in the margins. She said that Woody eventually went to websites that allowed them to put their work out there and get feedback from others. Sawaya said the positive feedback and encouragement from the web, along with friends and family, really helped Woody.

Sawaya said one of Woody’s greatest characteristics is humor.

“Something I just, like, love about Amanda is that she has such a voice — like, just such a sense of humor. So her book has so much voice and it is so much stuff that makes you laugh. That’s probably my favorite part of the book, is just all of the humor that is woven in and out of it,” Sawaya said.

Shortly after the book’s release, Woody had a book signing May 13 at Sidetrack Bookshop in Royal Oak. The store ended up selling out of the book.

“I think that it’s amazing to see Amanda’s dreams come true. This novel is unlike anything else they’ve ever written,” said Jenna Woody.  “I’ve read a lot of their work before this one, but there’s just something so special and different with ‘They Hate Each Other.’ Amanda has been waiting for this moment their whole life, and the fact that they’re being published by a mainstream publisher is absolutely incredible! I couldn’t be more proud of them, and it is very much well deserved.”

Woody’s advice to aspiring writers is to “just keep on going.”

“If you want to write full time, you need to just keep going,” they said. “You are going to face so much rejection, especially if you are a person of color, a queer person, a disabled person. Like, it is just so much harder for them to get published. It just is. You are going to face a lot of rejection, but you can’t take it personally; you just need to crawl through the query trenches. … The most I can do is tell people don’t let (rejection) impact their love of writing. Just keep on going and don’t let rejection overtake your sense of self-worth.”