How to get ahead (by really trying):

An interview with debut novelist K.J. Micciche

By Stuart Phillips

This strikes me as a painfully believable story.

That was the first line of my critique of K.J. Micciche’s first manuscript from her first workshop at the Fairfield University MFA program. Our group had exchanged excerpts, and we were plowing through in an effort to help fellow nascent authors with our (hopefully) keen insight. K.J.’s stood out to me because it was unabashedly “genre.” No illusions or allusions, just honest writing about things people could relate to.

Three years and four manuscripts later, K.J. published The Book Proposal, a rom-com about an author with writer’s block who finds romance. The “witty banter and a clever, self-aware plot” garnered a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named a Library Journal Debut of the Month.

I was intrigued by K.J.’s path. MFA programs are geared towards producing literary writers (think sad eyes and big feels). Since “should I MFA” is a question many writers have, I wondered why she chose to pursue one, and whether she felt it benefited her.  

SP: Let’s start with the most basic question. Why write?

KJM: I grew up a reader. I was literally the kid who would use a flashlight under the covers so I could stay up late and finish a book. And books were . . . special. A lot of members of my family are dyslexic, so seeing them struggle to read just drove home what a gift it was to be able to move through pages, and to use those pages to stimulate my imagination.

SP: So, being an author was a goal?

KJM: Always. I thought authors were like magicians because they did something that was so unique and seemed impossible. To me, wanting to write was like a kid wanting to be a singer or an actress.

SP: But it went on the back burner.

KJM: Until my 40s, and what I call my mid-life crisis. That’s when I decided to turn my dream into reality. Doing an MFA program was part of that.

SP: You did four complete manuscripts during your program, with a real turn on the last one. Why did you change? 

KJM: I started out thinking I wanted to write in what I’d call the “women’s fiction” space, heavy on family drama and personal relationships. Looking back, my first three manuscripts were a therapeutic way of working through some of my own family issues. However, finding representation for them was challenging, both because I saw an already-saturated market and because I felt that the rise of the pandemic meant “heavy” topics weren’t being acquired as much, so I pivoted to writing something fun and funny. And that got the agent and the deal.

SP: But, the first three served a purpose?

KJM: Definitely. They basically taught me how to tell a story, but now I could tell a story I enjoyed. And I do enjoy writing rom-com. I’ll bust out laughing at my own jokes.

SP: On a technical level, did an MFA help you write a romcom?

KJM: The real essence of an MFA is three things: reading, writing, and mentoring. I found MFA reading intimidating. Obviously, from the classes to the workshops I was reading hundreds of pages of incredibly elevated writing, from Chekhov to Richard Rodriguez’ “Late Victorians.” I realized immediately that what I was trying to do was very different–nothing we were reading was “commercial.” However, it became so much easier once I understood it wasn’t about WHAT they put together, but HOW they put it together. By breaking it down like that, I saw that everything was an opportunity to learn.

Then, I sat down and read heavily in the genre, mapping out all the formulaic parts that are essentially required by the reader. Add to that all the craft books that I would never have even known about if I wasn’t being guided by experienced writers—those added a whole new dimension to the reading and helped me elevate the quality of my writing. In particular, Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft was invaluable.

SP: And the writing itself?

KJM: Just being in an MFA forces you to put your ass in a chair and do the thing. There’s no excuses.

SP: I know you worked a lot with Al Davis (former editor at New Rivers Press).

KJM: I worked with Al for the whole program. I like him, and respect him, and felt like he really “got” what I was aiming for. He didn’t make me feel small or push me to be literary—he just gave a mixture of encouragement and criticism that propelled me forward. And when I was thinking about moving to rom-com, he told me to write what speaks to my soul, and to bring out the best of whatever that was. And that really freed me to write something I enjoyed doing, which means I can keep doing it!

SP: And “keep doing it” is a lot of work.

KJM: And rejection. Obviously, getting an agent is an exercise in rejection. But then you get “no” from editors. Even after you get to “yes,” you have to deal with edits, which are a form of no. And then, if you have another book in you (I have a three-book deal), you have to pitch those to your editor. Mine did not like my idea for the second book, so I had to go back and rethink it. Finally, I came up with the idea for A Storybook Wedding (coming May 14, 2024, shameless self-promotion).

SP: No, that’s a great point – if you want your books to get out into the world, you can’t just write them and walk away. You have put in a lot of effort to make sure people actually read your work.

KJM: You have to. Even if you have a publicity team, it’s your career, and your treasure. So, I tried to use what I had. I love books, and I bounce between Long Island and Cape Cod—two places with an insane amount of independent booksellers. So, I screwed up my courage and made a list of every store and event I wanted to get into, found out who the decision-maker was, and went and introduced myself–basically sold them as much on me as on the book. It was important to establish my bona fides—“My daughters are batkids for this Cape League baseball team” or “I volunteer at such and such every summer” so they knew that they were helping a local author, not just someone trying to sell a book. Although, sometimes, you have to do that, as well. It is easier, though, if you can make it feel organic. People don’t react well to contrived.

Also, grace plays a role. I met one of my idols, Kristin Higgins at one of her signings, and she liked my book enough to blurb it. Plus, we hit it off, so she’s invited me to do three events with her, which has increased my visibility to her fans. I appreciated her doing that for a debut author. Seeing that publishing isn’t a zero-sum game says a lot about her.

SP: Any words of wisdom?

KJM: Write in a space you enjoy. It’s so much easier to return to the page every day if you actually like what you’re writing.  

You can read more about KJ Micciche at her site

The Book Proposal is available everywhere.

K.J. Micciche

K.J. Micciche is a novelist who writes (mostly) romantic comedy.  She hails from Queens, New York, where she spent countless hours curled up under the covers, reading The Babysitters Club as a kid by flashlight way past her bedtime.  Now all grown up, K.J. runs a non-profit organization that teaches kids with dyslexia how to read, and she pens her own stories as well.  Proud mom of two little girls, she and her family live on Long Island and summer in Cape Cod.

author Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips is an expatriate Mississippian, former Army officer, and recovering lawyer who now lives and writes in the Mohawk Valley of New York. A graduate of Ole Miss, Pepperdine (JD) and Fairfield University (MFA), Stuart is slowly driving himself mad with revisions on The Great Southern Novel. You can follow his descent at or on Instagram @deltawriter12