T.J. Newman on Why Writing in Secret Led to a Seven Figure Book Deal
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to T.J. Newman about their new novel, Drowning.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: After coming home to Arizona after not succeeding in New York in theater, you said you started writing in private and no one else knew you were doing this, so the risk was low. When did that risk change? When did you know that you were ready to show someone else the pages? Was there something in the work? What had you written through to get to that point?
T.J. Newman: I only got to that point after I finished the first draft of my first book Falling. I wrote that book entirely in secret. I didn’t tell anybody that I was doing that, not even my family. My family didn’t even know I was working on that book. And I essentially only told them because they were close to staging an intervention, because they were like, why doesn’t T.J. ever leave her house? On her days off she’s constantly saying, no, she can’t go out. And she just stays in, what’s going on?
So, I basically had to tell them, I’m writing, I’m editing, this is what I’m working on. I’m pursuing this. But I only told them at the last minute. Once I had a first draft of that book, I gave it to three people, my two best friends and my mom. And I played it very, very close to the vest all the way up to the point that we announced that I had a book deal. I remember when we did go public and say, you know, former flight attendant now has a seven figure two book deal. And all of a sudden, it was everywhere, and it blew up.
And all of my friends and family were writing me and calling me and saying, oh my god, congratulations, this is so exciting. You wrote a book? Nobody knew I was doing this. Nobody knew this was something I was pursuing. And certainly not at that level. So, it was a funny trip to see that, to just suddenly step into the light, right, because everything had been done in private, because that’s how I made the deal with myself each step along the way, I just convinced myself, okay, write it for yourself. Then once I had it written, it was like, okay, make it better for yourself.
And then once I had it written as far as I could take it on my own after drafts and drafts and drafts, then I said, you know, well, I need an agent, because that’s what you have to have, right? So, I started sending it out after that. But every step along the way, it was just sort of like on a need-to-know basis of who needed to know that I was doing this. And that was the only way that I could get past that fear. I believed in this story. And I knew that if I could find the way to tell it correctly, and if I could find someone who believed in me, and believed in what this story could be, then I knew it could really be something. But I did not declare that out loud, publicly.
That was a very internal message to myself as motivation and to keep going. Because when I went to go get an agent to try to find somebody to represent me, it did not go well. It did not go well at all. I submitted my manuscript to 41 different literary agents, and all of them rejected me. And it was my 42nd agent that I submitted my work to that was my one and only yes.
T.J. Newman is a former bookseller and flight attendant whose first novel, Falling, became a publishing sensation and debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list. The book was named a best book of the year by USA Today, Esquire, and Amazon, among many others, and has been published in more than thirty countries. The book will soon be a major motion picture from Universal Pictures. T.J. lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Drowning is her second novel.