Screenwriter Nabs Near-Million-Dollar Deal for Debut Novel

Steven Rowley - H 2015
Courtesy of Subject
'Lily and the Octopus' had a very unusual journey from conception to the final deal.

Screenwriter Steven Rowley’s debut novel, Lily and the Octopus, has been acquired by Simon & Schuster.

A source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the advance was nearly $1 million. The project is now being shown to select filmmakers and international rights to the book are being sold. 

The book and the deal have an interesting backstory. S&S got an early peek at the manuscript via a recommendation from freelance editor Molly Lindley, whom Rowley had hired to help him. The publisher then bought the book during a whirlwind exclusive 48-hour negotiation.

Publishers don't usually move that quickly, but everyone at S&S who read the manuscript responded to it so positively that an offer was made with unusual speed.

The Maine-raised and Emerson College-educated Rowley, 43, has been pursuing a career as a screenwriter. He sold a romantic comedy to Corey Feldman and was developing another one with Jennifer Love Hewitt, but nothing has been put into production. He has most recently worked as a paralegal.

After his beloved dachshund Lily died, he wrote the novel to help cope with his grief. The story, said to be reminiscent of Life of Pi and the Art of Racing in the Rain (with a bit of Marley and Me thrown in), is about a man, his dog (also a dachshund named Lily) whom he thinks talks to him and an octopus that attaches itself to the dog’s head (a metaphor for the dog’s tumor).

Rowley, who had never seriously thought about writing a novel before and originally thought it would be a short story, expanded it when his boyfriend read the the beginning and told him it would make a great book.

Rowley was planning on self-publishing the book when an editor at S&S called to say they’d like to buy it and suggested he find an agent. About a week later he had a deal.

He says the reality of his accomplishment is just sinking in. When asked if he’s planning a splurge with his advance, he says he’s just thinking about saving for his retirement (and rescuing a second dog to go with the one he just adopted). He laughs that that’s “the difference between this happening in your 20s and your 40s.”

As to what’s next, a screenplay or a book, Rowley says, “publishing has been very, very kind to me.”

Rob Weisbach represented Rowley on the book deal. Matthew Snyder (CAA) is handling the film rights. Karyn Marcus acquired the book for Simon & Schuster.

4/10/2015 4:15 PM: Corrected to clarify the nature of earlier projects in development.