This piece originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 14, Issue 1
I KNOW NOTHING
PIGS, every now and then I get asked that perennial author question, how can I get published. The assumption being that because I have been published a little I have some secret voodoo spell you can recite that will result in thousands of your books clogging the mercantile arteries of bookstores everywhere. This assumption is pretty spurious, since most authors, myself included, are drunk when they sell their books and can’t possibly explain what happened; their stories usually devolve into strange tales of magical unicorns and wizards who cast publishing spells.
Still, I get asked. Every time the question comes up, my agent appears in a flash of purple flames and sulphur and slaps me across the face, commanding me to never answer. This is not because it’s some sort of masonic secret, but rather because everyone’s experience is different and most probably unreproducible. I mean, if you sold your book because you sacrificed a chicken and danced the Macarena outside the publisher’s offices, the chances that such tactics will work for someone else are pretty minimal.
In other words, authors in general are idiots. I am no exception.
Still, the urge to talk about your publishing adventures can be overwhelming. For most writers, after all, being published is the only actual accomplishment we have that impresses anyone. You can win all the awards you like, and none of your nonliterary friends care. You can have all the artistic breakthroughs you want and no one will understand. But when you have an actual check in your hands, suddenly people are interested in your little hobby. So we all have an urge to just bloviate on and on for days about How We Got Published.
Part of this is because writing has transformed from a way to make a living into a lifestyle choice. It’s damned hard to actually make a living wage from your writing work these days, but it has become an artistic sort of hobby—after all, in today’s day and age, anyone can be a writer in the sense of having a printed book in your hands, so it’s become a choice of applied resources instead of a vocation. As a result, people who in past lives wouldn’t have bothered aspiring to being an author fancy they could do it—and why not? It’s not something they’re doing to earn money, or because undeniable artistic urges, otherwise known as Them Voices in Your Head, demand that they do so. They’re writing books because it’s a genteel sort of activity—like painting a sunset, or knitting a scarf.
I have no wisdom, really. My publishing adventures have been a mixture of pure chance, lucky incompetence, and inexplicable coincidence. People are always looking for rules to follow—the proper query letter format, the right way to approach an agent, whether or not to put your work on the Internet—but I am here to tell you folks that there are no rules. It’s Thunderdome out there.