Creative Writing

The Process of Getting Published:
A Conversation with Adam Gnuse

October, 2020


Department of Creative Writing: We are so excited about your forthcoming debut novel, Girl in the Walls. This was your MFA thesis, yes?

Adam Gnuse: It was! I actually started the project in one of Nina de Gramont’s forms classes. I continued drafting in Nina’s year-long novel writing class, and then she was gracious enough to work with me as my thesis advisor. Honestly, writing the novel went relatively quickly, in no small part due to the guidance of my thesis committee (Nina, Rebecca Lee, and Philip Gerard) and the support from an exceptionally talented fiction cohort. David Gessner and others were even willing to help with title ideas on a class trip out to Masonboro Island.


DCW: Initially your book sold in good deals to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for U.S. publication rights and to 4th Estate/HarperCollins for the U.K. and Commonwealth. What a thrill! Could you tell us about that process, and talk a bit about book advances and the expectations for you after signing your contract?

AG: I defended my thesis fairly early in my final year of the MFA, and I began querying agents after those revisions. I signed with my agent Susan Armstrong of C+W, and I worked with her for several months on additional revisions to the manuscript. Through Susan, I found additional representation with Amelia Atlas of ICM for U.S. rights. That summer, Susan and Amelia submitted Girl in the Walls to editors with whom they thought the novel would be a good fit—and they found them! Helen Garnons-Williams and Helen Atsma have been wonderful to work with.

Since, I’ve been supported by the advances on the novel—essentially, money the book is expected to earn, paid early. As books tend to take years before they finally make it into the world, this system helps writers in the meantime, supporting their work on edits and other books. As for expectations: of course, revising and fine-tuning the manuscript, but also you should expect to help promote the book, through readings and by generating promotional materials, like essays and videos. COVID-19 has complicated certain things on our end, as this week I’m expecting a few thousand tip-in pages to sign and mail back to the U.K. I’ve got my pen ready!


DCW: Your editor moved to a new publishing house before publication, right? And so now your U.S. publisher is Ecco? Tell us about that, and what it’s been like to work with your editors.

AG: That’s right! Helen Atsma moved to Ecco/HarperCollins, and it’s great to continue working with her. Both editors have been so impressive to me in terms of their knowledge, professionalism, and insights—it’s been a privilege learning from them. Editing is an art and such a vital part of the path to publication. Both Helens have been great advocates of Girl in the Walls, and I’m very grateful.


DCW: What’s next for you—what book project are you currently working on?

AG: I’ve been hard at work on a second novel. My experience with publishing so far is that, while it can be a very fast-moving business, there’s certainly a lot of waiting and anticipation. As any writer knows, a good way to calm the anxiety about one project is to get invested in another. Girl in the Walls is a literary novel that toys with elements of a traditional Southern Gothic thriller. For the next project(s), I’ve been interested in having fun with other literary-genre blends.


DCW: What advice would you give budding authors in getting their manuscripts published?

AG: The most helpful thing for me and my writing has been learning to love revision. There’s so much hope in that process—of returning to a piece and believing, with enough time committed, the writing will improve, and you’ll improve as a writer because of it. I think publication requires that same hope and tenacity. It takes bravery to send a story or poem out. There’s a muscle we have to build to deal with rejection. But people want to read your writing; if you’re passionate about a project, other people will be, too. It just takes work to find them. Research which agents/publishers will be a good fit for you. Seek out people you respect, who treat writers with respect, and who will treat you with respect. In the meantime, you deserve to be writer. You deserve to write things you love. 

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Girl in the Walls releases with Ecco Books (HarperCollins) in May 2021.
Read more about Adam Gnuse at

Girl in the Walls Book Trailer