There's nothing like being surrounded by aspiring novelists and memoirists to think about how first-timers have written their debut books and survived the debut publishing process. What follows are my notes on how Fitzgerald did it, and what ingredients--romance, ambition, a little luck, a willingness to revise, and more--went into his early success. Publishing has changed, but I think those ingredients still go a long way.
|A young and not-yet-famous F. Scott Fitzgerald, just out of college, in the army, and writing every moment|
potpourri,” he admitted, “The Romantic Egoist” was a “picaresque ramble of one Stephen Palms from the San Francisco fire, thru school, Princeton to the end where at twenty one he writes his autobiography at the Princeton Aviation school. …. I really believe that no one else could have written so searchingly the story of our generation.” (The full manuscript has not survived.) Biographer and Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli calls this work a “working draft” for the later debut novel Fitzgerald would publish, This Side of Paradise. But not without radical revisions.
In a much later essay, Fitzgerald recalled telling all friends and acquaintances, paying off debts, buying a new suit, and reveling in his metamorphosis from “amateur into professional.” Waiting for the novel to come out, he published many commercial short stories (dividing himself, as he would over a lifetime, between the life of a literary novelist and the life of a harried freelancer trying to make a buck). This Side of Paradise was published March 26, 1920 with ads reading “A Novel About Flappers Written For Philosophers.” It sold the 3,000 copy first printing in three days. Fitzgerald was famous overnight, if not wealthy. (Five years later, the ultimately more enduring Gatsby would not sell as well in its first year.) By the end of 1921, This Side of Paradise sold 49,075 copies—very impressive, thought not enough to get him on the year’s top-ten bestsellers’ list. By comparison, Lewis Sinclair’s Main Street sold 295,000 copies in 1921.