(Steps In Reverse Order)
Step 5 – You are going to need a lot of people to purchase your novel—and I do mean a lot! Like, more than you can even imagine. Yes, your father will buy copies for all of his business associates; your mother will tell (in great detail) every single person who comes within a twenty-foot radius all there is to know about you and your work; you will even be contacted by the caretakers of your late grandfather, and they will say he proudly pitched your novel to every doctor and nurse he saw until his last dying breath; your siblings and friends will do everything they can to support you, making signed copies of your movie tie-in edition the standard go-to birthday and holiday gift; but all of this will never be enough—even if your family is enormous and you have impossibly generous friends. You will need complete strangers to buy your work, to fall in love with your words and encourage others to do the same. Sometimes these strangers will write beautiful e-mails that make you ache and believe that maybe you really are on your way, but mostly these strangers will never ever contact you, as you pretend you’re not obsessively checking Amazon numbers and Goodreads reviews. You will have woefully minimal control over the millions of potential book-buyers in the world, even if you tour around; give many TV, radio, and print interviews; speak often; and maintain a healthy web presence. (Even if you miss spending your birthday with your wife for the first time since 1993 so that you can promote the film and MTI.) It’s like trying to control the weather with your hopes and dreams.
Step 4 – Of course, you will need Hollywood-types to adapt your novel and make a movie. There’s a lot more to this than you would think. First, you will probably be surprised when you learn your literary agent has an agreement with a film agent at CAA. In fact, if you are anything like me, you will be shocked when you get the call from LA and a stranger says you have a movie deal. (“I have a film agent?” was the first thing I said.) Then, for the next four or five years, you will wonder just what it was that Hollywood saw in your work—what made your book jump out from the thousands and thousands on the shelves? It helps tremendously if you can manage to land an Oscar-nominated director, like David O. Russell, and a star-studded A-list ensemble cast. It’s very helpful to have the extremely recognizable (and beautiful) faces of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper on the cover of your MTI. Names like Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker don’t hurt a bit. When you are sent out by The Weinstein Company to promote the movie, you will learn that the subject matter of your book, mainly mental health awareness, is extremely important to David O. Russell. He had never done a book-to-film adaptation before. The source material spoke to him. It also spoke—on a deeply personal level—to many others involved with the film, all of whom fought passionately to bring The Silver Linings Playbook to the screen. You didn’t know who your art would touch when you were creating it. And now that it’s in the world, you realize that it’s taken on a life of its own—over which you have little control.
Step 3 – You’ll need an editor. And if you can land a famous editor who has her own imprint, even better! Sarah Crichton is my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I probably didn’t have to tell you that, because The Silver Linings Playbook is a Sarah Crichton Book, after all. It says so on the spine. How did I end up with Sarah? During one of our first meetings, she told me about a meal she had with a handsome Italian editor in a beautiful suit. She asked what was good on the market, and he told her he had just lost a bidding war in Italy. Then he raved about the novel he had failed to acquire; it was called The Silver Linings Playbook. Sarah contacted my agent the next day and purchased the book soon after. A very happy accident! Once you sign with an agent, you really have no control whatsoever; you can only trust your agent. Before you are partnered up with your editor, no matter how much good work your agent puts into your career, you will worry at home and ceaselessly annoy your significant other with unanswerable questions, like, “Do you really think my book will sell or am I a delusional hack?” And your significant other—if you are truly in love—will drip-feed you the verbal reassurance you need every thirty seconds or so, whenever you are not sleeping or adequately self-medicated. Cross your fingers, if you need something to do. (I also recommend crossing toes.)
Step 2 – Secure a literary agent who believes passionately in your work—an ally who will weather the ups and downs of your career without changing his mind about your potential. Douglas Stewart is my agent, and he’s amazing. He gets my work. He gets me. During my agent search, I did months’ worth of research and tried my best to secure referrals. None of that helped. The research led to rejections. The referrals went nowhere. I used to coach high school basketball with a tall man who—if my memory is correct—once played for the Washington Generals, the team that is supposed to lose to The Globetrotters. His name: Doug Stewart. After being rejected by dozens of literary agents, I queried Doug Stewart (the agent)—knowing nothing about him—mostly because the same-name coincidence made me laugh. (I am easily amused.) The universe was amused too. My manuscript was plucked from the slush. Almost immediately, my new agent made incredible things happen for my career. And I have since learned that Doug Stewart the lit agent and I are a perfect match. Another happy accident! You will have minimal control over the agent search. You will do research and send out carefully written query letters, but fate plays the largest role.
Step 1 – You must write a book that is authentically you—a novel in which you believe unequivocally. This is the rally flag you will hoist high in hopes that the right sort of opportunity makers will see it and move closer. It is the hand you extend into the darkness, trusting there will be another to shake; the leap you take off the cliff, believing the proverbial net will appear. The writing should take you to new adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding states of mind; force you to reveal a hidden part of your identity—it’s a coming out, if you will!—keep you up at night; and make you break out into the occasional sweat. For me, good scotch is necessary to make it through the writing process. If your loved ones are worried about your mental health, this is a fantastic sign—historically, you are in impressive company! Knowing that there will be critics, friends, and family even, who will make you feel ridiculous for birthing these words, who will make you feel as though expressing yourself honestly is the equivalent of doing a striptease in the middle of your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, you do it anyway, because there is no other choice. In many ways, this step is completely irrational, but if it’s in you to do, do it you will! You must. Think of all that may happen! And here’s the most beautifully stunning part: at this point in the process, over the words on the page, you have 100% control. It’s just you. You.
Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook and two novels for young adults, Sorta Like a Rock Star and Boy21. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the novelist Alicia Besette. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, visit: MatthewQuickWriter.com.