As a self-published author, convincing people to buy your book is no easy feat. It’s hard to get noticed by anyone, let alone by an agent or a producer in Hollywood. But with a stroke of random luck, that’s exactly what happened to me.
I published Jay the Great (my modern retelling of The Great Gatsby) in January of 2021, to coincide with the original novel’s release into the public domain. Several other writers had the same idea as me, and it seemed my book was destined to be quickly forgotten. Over the next three months, I sold less than 10 copies and lost the will to do any sort of marketing.
Then one day, I woke up to an email from a New York agency asking me if the film and television rights for my book were still available. I thought I was being catfished or scammed at first, but the sender’s email address looked legitimate. I figured it couldn’t hurt to send a reply back, so I wrote and said that yes, for the moment, the screen rights were still available (as if there might be a bidding war soon).
After a few more emails back and forth, the agency said they were eager to pursue an on-screen adaptation on my behalf. I was flattered, though still confused about how they had even stumbled upon Jay the Great. It started to make more sense a month later, when I was told that a Warner Brothers production company had made an offer to buy the rights to my book. Evidently they had been scouring the internet for Gatsby source material and fell in love with my retelling of the classic novel.
Soon I received a check for selling them the exclusive option rights. It wasn’t a life-changing amount of money by any stretch, but still a lot more than I had ever made selling my own books on Amazon. I got to meet with the producers over Zoom (if you are a fan of the show Supernatural, you’d be jealous) and talk to them about how the book came to be. They were upfront about wanting to hire professional screenwriters to work on the project, and honestly I was relieved to hear that, since I had never tried to write a TV pilot myself. All I asked was to be kept in the loop about how the project was progressing, and the producers were kind enough to do so.
For a full year, I couldn’t tell anyone about this exciting news. Warner Brothers seemed eager to get started on the project, but I learned quickly that things move slowly in Hollywood. The producers introduced me to the pair of writers they found to work on the pilot and I had the chance to review their outline for the first season of a Gatsby TV show. I gave them some notes and then went back to the waiting game.
By the summer of 2022, I was told that the writers were ready to make their pitch to some of the top streaming services in Hollywood — a list which included Netflix, Amazon, and HBO. I started checking my inbox compulsively, eager to hear how the meetings had gone. Then finally I got an update, but not the one I was hoping for.
The head of the production company wrote and said that the pitches went well, the studios loved the premise of my book, and yet none of them had made an offer to buy the show. Just like that, my option deal expired and the project was officially dead. Everyone involved was moving on.
Looking back on the whole experience, I obviously would have wished for a different outcome. Maybe it was just bad timing. Or maybe my streak of good luck was bound to run out. Either way, it was still encouraging to know that my writing had potential. Because as a self-published author, it’s rare to feel validation from something you wrote. And you never know when that feeling will come or go.
Benjamin Frost was born and raised in New England and graduated from Boston University with a degree in communications. Since then, he’s lived all across the globe, including a stint in Melbourne, Australia. He is the co-creator of bookdigits.com, a book review website, and has self-published several novels including JAY THE GREAT, a modern retelling of The Great Gatsby. His new book is NUMBER ONE IS GONE, a mystery set in the tennis world.
Ellen Whitfield is senior publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.