a thousand words forgotten
June 13, 2005 6:57 AM   Subscribe

How did you first get published?

The question is aimed at the motivation and the mechanism by which you achieved publication, as I am on the precipice, and very nervous.
posted by a thousand writers drunk at the keyboard to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is something I read the other day which outlines the story for one fellow in UK.
posted by peacay at 7:03 AM on June 13, 2005

A Thousand Writers,

The old-fashioned way: sent out waves of submissions, received a ton of rejections, had a few pieces picked up, got introduced to an editor, got interviewed at just the right moment and presto: a publisher took a chance. My question to you is: what are you nervous about?
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 7:10 AM on June 13, 2005

Started my own 'zine. Then used things I had written to pretend to have more experience than I did. Then wrote hard for the folks who took a chance on me.
posted by klangklangston at 7:18 AM on June 13, 2005

Was riding my bike, and had a sudden cluster of thoughts about holes in the old G.I. Joe cartoon. Got to work, typed them out, and sent a really informal submission email to McSweeney's. They took it. I must've caught them on a good day. Having that clip opened up some doors afterwards.

The two lessons I drew were: 1. it's best to be yourself in query/submission emails, and 2. it's ok to be lucky sometimes.
posted by COBRA! at 7:25 AM on June 13, 2005

What have you written, A Thousand Writers? There are very different procedures for different kinds of writing.

The academic route: Sent a publisher in my field a prospectus of my book (using a form on the publisher's website), they invited me to send the manuscript, two anonymous peer reviewers gave it a thumbs it, I got a contract. Then said publisher priced the book so only academic libraries can afford the damn thing! Ah well...
posted by LarryC at 7:29 AM on June 13, 2005

My co-editor met up with the president of a publishing house at some library conference soiree and pitched our idea to him. He said "send me a proposal" and we did, complete with table of contents, agreements from some writers in the field who said they'd write for us, and part of a sample chapter and some sample content. They sent us a contract, we sent it to a lawyer friend, changed a few things and got the thing published. We had to do most of the promotion ourselves once it was published and I have mixed feelings about the whole process since I felt that we retained very few rights to our work and received very little in the way of support -- both editorial or otherwise -- from our publisher even though they were and are very nice people. They are a fairly small press so they had high prices and iffy quality in terms of layout/design. I'm not sure what bargaining power you have as a first time writer/author/editor, but I know that I'll do it differently if I decide to do it a second time.
posted by jessamyn at 7:57 AM on June 13, 2005

FICTION: Shortly after I graduated college, I sent a short-short story that I had written while in college to The North American Review. As it happened, they were in the process of putting together an issue with several short-shorts, and they accepted mine. I think it was the first story I had ever sent out, and of course its speedy acceptance convinced me that I was a genius on the road to regular publication. That was 10 years ago, and despite repeated efforts, I never got another short story published. (I gave up on short fiction about 5 years ago.) My conclusion was that publication isn't just about having the right work; it's about the right work reaching the right editor at the right time.

NON-FICTION: I got an internship at Washingtonian Magazine in Washington, DC. One of the great things about the magazine was that they make an effort to have every one of their interns publish at least one article during their tenure there. Mine was on luxury condos, a subject about which I knew nothing, and it was heavily edited by an editor who knew much more than I did and who saved me considerable embarassment. I ended up staying for a year at Washingtonian as a contributing editor, and writing various articles for them.

BOOKS: After that year, I left DC for LA and ultimately ended up being a TV comedy writer for a well-respected TV show, which in itself led to some contacts that led to me becoming a contributor to The Onion. The combination of the TV and Onion credits helped me get a book agent and sell a humor book (co-written with a friend), which will be coming out in the fall. Our agent tells me that, in today's publishing market, it really helps to have a "platform", which, if I understand it, is some sort of credit or attention-getting device that helps you stand out, above and beyond the merits of your work.
posted by yankeefog at 8:01 AM on June 13, 2005

I made fun of Paris Hilton on my blog. Took less than 15 minutes to write. A week later, a person with no specific ambitions or interest in writing professionally has a contract with Warner Books.

That either says a lot of Paris Hilton, or very little of the publishing industry.
posted by dong_resin at 8:29 AM on June 13, 2005

Cobra! what did you write? Was it the diary of a cobra recruit?
posted by drezdn at 8:42 AM on June 13, 2005

I got a teaching job, and then my employer started getting involved with large conferences, using his teachers as conference speakers.

So I started speaking at big, international conferences. Which is where publishing companies send scouts. One of them saw me speak, came up to me after my talk, and asked me if I wanted to write a book.

And before I knew it, I had a two-book contract.
posted by grumblebee at 8:49 AM on June 13, 2005

Cobra! what did you write? Was it the diary of a cobra recruit?

Yep, that's me. My username is sort of out of gratitude for how much that story helped me along.
posted by COBRA! at 8:56 AM on June 13, 2005

I wrote up a tutorial on making Linux work with a PalmPilot (back when they were PalmPilots and everybody had to be told where to find a "COM port" on a Linux box). That started a cascade of freelance assignments, an eventual editorship, then a book contract.

Writing a book wasn't a particular ambition of mine, but a friend connected me with an acquisitions editor as a Linux nerd with a sense of humor, we had a chat, and she asked if I thought I could produce a proposal and an outline. I had a contract a few weeks later, and we brought my friend in as a co-author to do the half I was less enthused about (it was a sort of hybrid essay/technical advice book, and I just didn't want to do the technical bits).

Some parts of the experience were very hard, because I expected the audience would be pretty tough. One particularly savage reader review on Amazon made me feel kind of bad for a day or two until a few of my friends read it and made a game out of the guy's rage.

I won't try to play off what doing that book meant to me once it was over. I didn't get rich or famous, and with the exception of watching it slowly disappear from the shelves at Powell's Technical (never to be replaced, the publisher got absorbed by Random House) I never had a real sense that more than a Slashdot reviewer and eight people on Amazon read it. What I did get out of it was a very personal sense of satisfaction that I did it, and I got over some serious fears. Definitely a better thing to be done with than to be doing, but if I ever had a notion for another one, I'd be happy to repeat the experience.
posted by mph at 8:59 AM on June 13, 2005

Just realized that I didn't answer the motivation question. It's actually a much harder question. I'm not sure I can answer it, except that I like writing stuff, and (a) if you want to make a living writing stuff, you have to sell it, and (b) the writing part of the process is only half the fun. The other half is knowing that your words are causing other people to experience the same things in their heads that were going on in yours when you wrote it.
posted by yankeefog at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2005

For academic papers (since everyone else seems to be discussing books): chose a journal based on where our references were published, looked up styleguides etc, wrote revised revised revised revised, sent it in to the editor and miraculously it was accepted without revision or comment. Our motivation was fundamentally "Publish or Perish," although I suppose it could also be attributed to the fact that my research group either had to publish a 7 page journal article or a 60 pg technical memo.
posted by muddgirl at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2005

I did some widely acclaimed amateur modding for a popular computer game, and a publisher contacted me to ask me to contribute some chapters for a book they were making about amateur modding for that computer game :-)

/Probably not helpful
posted by -harlequin- at 1:56 PM on June 13, 2005

I sent some stuff to McSweeney's (online) and they rejected it. Then I wrote something on a bored workday and sent it to them and they accepted it and there it went.

And then more like that: sent stories to various online sites (Monkeybicycle, Pindeldyboz, The 2nd Hand) and got things online.

Then I received an email one day asking to reprint my McSweeney's thing in a book of stage monologues due out this fall.

But of course, in between all of that, and even now, lots and lots of rejections. I think the key in getting published is accepting rejection. That probably helps in all aspects of life, though.

I still have yet to get anything published in a print journal, but of course I'm sure my preternatural genius will carry me through eventually.

Bottom line: Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it.
posted by xmutex at 4:11 PM on June 13, 2005

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