Nell Zink describes herself as a secret writer, too shy to pen even a coherent query letter, and she says that after finishing The Wallcreeper (Oct.) in about a year, she “forgot all about it, because I was doing other stuff.” She first became acquainted with Jonathan Franzen through their mutual interest in bird conservation. “I sent him my novel, and he wrote back, ‘Twee!’ So I knew he liked it. ‘Twee’ is what the wallcreeper says. It’s a bird, so its vocabulary is minimal.”

Zink says that Franzen discovered her, but admits that working with him wasn’t always a smooth ride. “We’re both complicated people. First he tried to be my agent himself.” Franzen didn’t succeed in selling The Wallcreeper—though his agent, Susan Golomb, has now signed Zink and sold her second novel, Mislaid, to Ecco Press. Zink found a publisher for The Wallcreeper through another friend, who encouraged her to contact Dorothy, a Publishing Project, a small independent press in St. Louis that takes on just two titles per year (both by women).

“Nell’s book came in unsolicited,” says editor Danielle Dutton. “The time between my getting Nell’s manuscript and my decision to take it on was only a few weeks. It usually takes much, much longer to get to an unsolicited manuscript, but even the writing in Nell’s email impressed me.” The Wallcreeper follows a young couple’s years of ambivalence in Europe and has a lot of writing about birds, and it was blurbed by Franzen (of course) and Keith Gessen, whose quote takes the place of jacket copy and includes a memorable line comparing Zink to a young Don DeLillo. “In her initial email, Nell described herself as an ‘obscure writer of truly stunning obscurity.’ It stuck out to me, as a pitch. And after the first few pages I was just so taken. I was like, who is this person? How has she not published anything at all?”

Zink couldn’t be happier with the way Dorothy, a Publishing Project has handled The Wallcreeper. “Danielle’s edits were very minor. The marketing effort has been absolutely amazing. The book looks great and reads great and everybody who reads it likes it, to judge by the nice reviews.” Zink’s writing is hardly a secret anymore.