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From Corporate...

From Corporate Downsize to Rock Star Novelist

Meet Karen Quinn, author of Wife in the Fast Lane and The Ivy Chronicles. Karen is a true onramp success story. After being downsized out of a major Manhattan corporate career, Karen picked up the pieces and became a highly acclaimed (and hilarious) novelist. If you’ve ever gone through the ridiculous process of applying to private school, please read The Ivy Chronicles. Need a little onramp inspiration ... read YourOnRamp’s interview with Karen ...

Q: Give us your onramp experience. Why did you leave the corporate world? How did you decide to become a writer?
A: I left the corporate world after I was downsized. It was pretty devastating as I’d been VP of Advertising at American Express for fifteen years. I decided I didn’t want to go back to a big corporate environment, so I came up with the idea of starting a business helping families get their children into NYC’s best schools. I didn’t know anything about that (other than having been a mother and gone through the process), but I did the research and figured it out. I’m a big believer that any former corporate person can do that. They give you great training in big companies.

The company was called Smart City Kids. We had lots of clients, got written up in the New York Times and Forbes, and I even appeared on 20/20 as an expert in NYC private school admissions. But in the end, I wasn’t making enough money for the amount of work I was doing so I decided to sell the business to my partner.

After that, I had to figure out something new to do. I had always had a secret desire to write, even though I’d done nothing about it—other than write an annual holiday letter that people said was funny. I thought, if I can write a great two-page holiday letter, I just have to write 150 of those and I could have a novel. I realized that I had so many wonderful and funny stories from my years with Smart City Kids. If I was ever going to pursue my writing dream, the time was now. My husband wanted me to get a job because we needed the money. I told him that I wanted to take time off to write my bestselling novel. He asked me how long that would take. I said three months (like I knew!). We agreed I could take three months to write the novel, but then I would get a real job.

I worked day and night on that novel and believe it or not, had a first draft in three months. At that point, I mentioned to my babysitter what I’d been doing. She was all excited and told me that fifteen years earlier she had cared for a boy who played with a boy whose mother was in publishing. She offered to call her for me. Why not, I thought? Well P.S. this woman turned out to be an agent. My babysitter pitched the book to her (even though she hadn’t read it). She agreed to take a look as a favor to my babysitter. Then she loved the novel so much that she agreed to represent me.

The novel was called The Ivy Chronicles. It was about a woman who was downsized from a big corporate job, then reinvented herself by starting a company helping families get their kids into NYC’s best schools. 

A month later, there was a four-way bidding war for the book. Viking acquired the novel in the end. Warner Brothers bought the movie rights. We sold over 300,000 copies around the world. I just released Wife in the Fast Lane, my second novel. I’m working on a third one right now.

Q: Did you have a support group to help you make the transition?
A: I had a close group of girlfriends that I could talk to anytime. They were very supportive as I made my transition. 

Q: How much of your book is based on personal experience?
A: Ivy is very autobiographical (except for the part where the protagonist finds her husband in the bathtub with another woman—that didn’t happen!). But seriously, as crazy as the world of private school admissions seems in the book, it’s crazier in real life. My ex-business partner read the book and could identify the real stories behind every fictionalized story in the book. Wife in the Fast Lane is also autobiographical in that it is about a woman trying to work, raise kids, be a good wife, friend, and daughter, and take care of herself all at the same time. I can certainly identify with this life and I’m sure you can too.

Q: What’s the best part about being a working mom author? How does this compare with being a corporate working mom?
A: I love working at home and setting my own hours. I probably work harder as an author than I ever did in Corporate America, but the work is much more fun and creatively challenging. I love the fact that any book I write is my own work, whereas everything I ever did in the corporation had twenty peoples’ fingerprints on it. 

I also think it is vital that I’m around now that my children are teenagers. You’ve got to pay attention to them very closely at this time in their lives. I honestly believe it’s more important to be home now than when they were little. 

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