TODAY   |  October 18, 2013

John Grisham: I went door to door to sell my books

Author John Grisham’s new book, “Sycamore Row,” is likely to be another best-seller, but he recalls that before he became popular, he went door to door trying to sell copies “A Time to Kill” out of the trunk of his car. Now that book is a Broadway play. NBC’s Jamie Gangel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> author john grisham is making personal history with a new thriller and broadway debut .

>> jamie caught up with him for a look behind the scenes . good morning.

>> good morning. john grisham is a baseball fan. so for him, this is a double header. a new book and new play all at the same time. but for those that think success was always so easy, grisham told us he used to go door to door selling his first book.

>> reporter: john grisham is used to his books being blockbusters.

>> do you think the jury should convict carl.

>> objection.

>> turn him loose.

>> reporter: but he admits he can't believe his very first book, a time to kill , is opening on broadway.

>> i stay out of the way and let the pros do it. but it's still pretty cool to be on broadway.

>> reporter: we tacked along to watch rehearsals and meet the cast, including familiar faces. former senator fred thompson and the veteran actor.

>> it's a nice revisit of a lot of the characters.

>> i hope i do it justice.

>> reporter: it's hard to imagine now but when he wrote the book it was far from a best seller.

>> i had never written before. i didn't know when i started if i was going to finish it. i didn't know when i finished it that i would ever get it published and then i didn't know if it would ever sell.

>> it had a slow birth.

>> it was almost a death. they put in 5,000 hardback copies and i bought 1,000 copies to try to sell out of the trunk of my car.

>> literally.

>> i went to 35 libraries in mississippi for tea and cookies and at some libraries i would sell two or three copies and at some i'd sell 30. that was a big day .

>> his next book, the firm changed all of that. it's success relaunched a time to kill .

>> how many copies have sold?

>> probably close to the 12 million in 40 some odd languages.

>> wow.

>> reporter: but while he always wanted to write a sequel, grisham was looking for the right story and he also had to convince a certain someone. his wife renee.

>> renee was not too keen on a sequel because she said when you wrote a time to kill , you were that young lawyer and i'm not sure you can recapture the authenticity of what we were living through 30 years ago. and i said i hear you but i'm going to try. and she said, you know, most sequels don't work, which is true.

>> she was really encouraging.

>> she is pretty blunt. i said, okay, let me write a few chapters. i think i can convince you after a few chapters. and i did.

>> reporter: the result is sycamore row and a trial that keeps you guessing.

>> i have a bone to pick with you. you kept me up all night.

>> i love to hear that.

>> without giving too much away, it starts with a death of a man and he has a secret.

>> he made a lot of money and left everything to his housekeeper and once that explodes, the town wants to know what was really going on. that's the first two chapters and that's all i'm going to tell you.

>> you have to read.

>> yeah, you have to buy the book, okay.

>> reporter: after 32 books he is still selling and hopes his latest book is as good as his first.

>> how worried were you that it would be --

>> still were ied. i hope for all of those that are fans of a time to kill , i hope it delivers for them and it's satisfactory for them.

>> there's something reassuring that john grisham had to go door to door . inspiring for struggling young writers. if you suffer see a writer sitting in a bookstore all along, talk to them and don't buy one book, buy two books.

>> he bought 1,000 of his own books. that's crazy.

>> wow.

>> it's so interesting to hear people's angst when they get going and starting out.

>> even after 32 books. he still gets it but it's a great book and i read it and it's fabulous.

>> thank you very much. good to see you. appreciate it.