How I sold my very first novel to Simon & Schuster

This is a guest post by Andrew Chapman

It’s a question I get asked all the time: How’d you do it? How’d you find a literary agent? How’d you get a big New York publisher to bite? How in the world did you sell a book?

I used to run through the details for people—I gave it to this person who gave it to that person—and they’d listen attentively, and I could see them thinking about whether they could apply the lessons I was telling them to their own work. But after going through the story a few times I realized I wasn’t helping them. I’ll get to why in a moment.

But first a couple of facts: I sold my book last year to Simon & Schuster. The book is a thriller called The Ascendant, and it’s scheduled to be published at Christmas of 2013. It’s my first novel, but it’s in no way my first bit of writing. I am, by trade, a screenwriter. I’ve written for film and TV for many years now, rewriting studio films and getting rewritten, creating pilots for network TV and having most of them never see the light of day.

So, given my background, I had a leg up on other aspiring novelists. I already had Hollywood agents, and they helped me get a New York literary agent. I also knew quite a few other screenwriters turned novelists, and they in turn gave me advice and guidance. But in the end, none of those things—not my experience, not my agents, and not my friends—got my novel sold. In the end, I am convinced Simon & Schuster bought my book because of one, overriding reason…

…I had absolutely no plans to ever sell it.

I sat down to write my book with one idea in mind: to amuse myself. To write something that would excite me and only me. I was sick of writing for networks and studios and getting notes and being rewritten. I wrote my book knowing that the moment it was done I was going to self-publish it on Amazon. No one could stop me, tell me it wasn’t good enough, change this, change that. I was going to format it for Kindle and Nook, then upload it, price it at $2.99, and tell as many people as I could get to listen to give it a read.

And I wasn’t lying to myself either. I wasn’t telling myself I would self-publish, but deep in my heart I wanted the book to be bought by a fancy New York house. I was sick to death of having my writing kicked to the curb by big corporations. I was set on making myself—and only myself—happy.

And that was intensely liberating. I didn’t worry about what other people thought. I didn’t contemplate the book’s commerciality. I never gave my main character’s level of sympathy a second thought. I didn’t tone down the language, or bring up the sex, or highlight gratuitous violence. I just wrote what I wanted to write, and never once did I give a shit about the consequences.

And the result was, well, me. My voice. My take on the world, and no one else’s. The book reflects my obsessions, my politics, my fetishes, unabashedly and unreservedly. The writing is full of, well, my joy in writing. I’d had that joy beaten out of me, year after year in the movie and TV business, but writing the book brought it back to life. And it showed. It came through in the novel. The joy was apparent to anyone who read it. And so…

…it sold.

Now at this point you might be screaming—you said there was no way you were going to sell the book! But you did sell it! You’re a hypocrite! Yes and no. While I was writing it, I was convinced I would self-publish, and that conviction allowed me the freedom to write something that was truly me. Once I was finished with the book, I didn’t care anymore. I’d done the work. I’d said what I wanted to say. Now all I cared about was having as many people read it as possible. I knew that I had written it exactly the way that I wanted to write it, without compromise or second-guessing. That was all the reward I needed. Everything else was icing on the cake.

So I sent it to my friends, who liked it and urged me to send it to my agents. I did, and they liked it and urged me to allow them to send it to literary agents they knew. And so on and so on—the time-honored path that a book takes to find its way to a publisher. But that part of the story is generic. Anyone reading this can accomplish that task—find a friend with a connection, have them read it, pass it along, etc., etc.

The most important part of the process had occurred months before. The most important part occurred when I detached my writing from the outcome. When I wrote because I loved writing, not because I hoped to please other people. It is a lesson I cannot forget. And it’s the only piece of truly good advice I can give aspiring writers.

Now, am I proud that S&S is publishing The Ascendant? You bet. We’ve sold it in a bunch of foreign territories, and the jacket design is awesome. But had no one bought it, and it was sitting on Amazon right now, available for $2.99 with grammar mistakes and a homemade cover, well…that would have been okay too. And how can I be so sure of that?

Because that’s exactly the attitude I’m going to take tomorrow morning, when I sit down in front of my laptop to start writing the sequel.

 

andrew chapmanAbout this post’s author:

The particulars on Andrew: Half-Jewish, half-blue blood Yankee with a little Irish Catholic thrown in for argument’s sake. Literally, for argument’s sake. Married, two kids. Lives in Seattle, but goes to LA a lot for work. Seattle is dark and rainy but a good place to hole up and write for a living. LA provides an antidote to the gray of the Northwest. His wife and children provide all the rest. Andrew has worked as a screenwriter for movies and television, and his book The Ascendant will be published by Simon & Schuster late 2013. You can learn more about Andrew and read his daily musings at www.andrewdchapman.com, or follow him on twitter @andrewdchapman.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 13 comments
Coreena McBurnie

Thank you for this. Even though I know what you are saying and totally agree with you, that writing for yourself is the best way to write, I often forget and get caught up in what other people think, how am I going to make money from this, etc.

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    Drew Chapman

    I think we all get caught up in that, Coreena. We’re human. We want to know what other people think of us and our work. It drives writers nuts, but what are you gonna do?

    Reply
Larry Nocella (@LarryNocella)

Great advice, great article. I feel similarly about having a “day job.” I’m totally free in my writing, I do the best to amuse myself, and if other people like it, that’s just an extra side of chips with an already delicious sandwich.

Congrats on your success!

Larry Nocella

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SuzanneG

I’m looking forward to reading your written-for-the-love-of-writing book. First you got to work with the freedom of being exactly who you are. And the icing on the cake – being picked up by a big publisher. All that fun will surely feed your sequel. Thanks for sharing your story, Andrew. Thanks for reminding me to write for myself first.

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    Drew Chapman

    I’ll post far and wide when the book comes out, Suzanne. Keep your eyes open for it and thanks for reading the post!

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CF Winn

Loved this post. Thank you for reminding us that at the end of the day, we are left looking at ourselves and what we’ve accomplished. Personally, I’d like to say that I was true to myself and my voice.

I am in the midst of turning one of my published short stories into a screenplay. Do you have any advice or posts in that area? I am doing it because I love the craziness of the story and want to make myself laugh the whole time my writing partner and I are creating it. But afterwards, I’d love to see it on the big screen for the full effect. That’s a little different from what you’ve presented in this post. Can you tell me where I should start once the writing is done?

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    Drew Chapman

    Well, the question of how to turn your short story into a screenplay could easily be the subject of ten — or even twenty — posts. First you’ve got to write a killer screenplay, and that can take years of practice. (I’m still working on that one.) Then there’s the whole agent thing, and finding a producer, and raising money, etc. I’ll try to come up with a good starter post on my own blog and maybe that will help.

    Reply
Patricia Lichen

I appreciate your advice about writing with joy. The thing that I see over and over again in articles about how people have gotten published is the “friend with a connection” part. And that is frustrating when you (er, I) have no friend with a connection. (Thanks for not adding that the writing must be solid, or it would not have sold–this is most certainly true, but many authors seem compelled to point this out after they mention the connected friend.) Surely there are writers who land the big 6 without such friends, but, as in finding a job, personal connection is extremely valuable.

Congratulations on your success; I’m sure it’s all the sweeter for having worked in the trenches for so long!

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    Drew Chapman

    Hey Patricia, I admit it’s not easy if you know absolutely no one “in the biz,” but maybe you know someone who knows someone? A “one step removed” kind of thing? Or maybe self-publishing will bring those on the inside directly to you! And thank you for the congrats — it is sweeter after you’ve put in the hard labor.

    Reply
Dawn, of Choosing the Better Life

Great post! Interesting, insightful. Most of all, I’m so glad you found your joy in writing again!

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    Drew Chapman

    Thanks Dawn! Without the joy, why bother writing at all? Certainly not for the money…

    Reply
Johny Santangelo

Nice information, many thanks to the author. It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance. Thanks again and good luck!

Reply

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