How Not To Get Published


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If someone had told me in 2000 that I'd publish four books in 2001, I'd have called him an eejit.

The last time I'd been published was 1989, and that doesn't count because I paid someone to do it. I'd long since given up on getting published again. In fact, I doubted I'd ever write again.

By now you may wonder how I made it from Point A to Point B. Or for that matter, why I stopped writing.

The second part is simple. I was chasing money, becoming a high-powered businessman and losing myself. The first part is a little more difficult to explain.

In December 1999, I flew to Hong Kong for a vacation. The first vacation in my life, really. I intended to stay for a month. Instead, I married an Australian who taught English there. I quit my job in North Carolina by email.

I found myself unable to legally work in Hong Kong. So what was I to do with my time? I dusted off a childhood dream and resumed writing.

I had a slush pile full of old short stories, and I ran them through the on-line writing workshops. There are two parts to writing-story and style. I wasn't changing my stories-they came from me and were what I wanted to write-but my style was pathetic. Style is also the part that can be learned. So I did.

Then came something that amazed me. New stories. Mixing with the “writing culture" got my creative juices flowing again. After all those years. Better than ever, in fact.

Next, I published them. Between March and December 2000, I published twenty stories in twenty different e-zines. I only made $6, but I was building my resume. I believed that I had a short story anthology in me, and I'd decided to try publishing it. I felt I needed a “track record, " so I got one.

I also had a novel in my slush pile. A gripping imaginative story, badly told. But I'd finally learned about the craft, the structure, and the hard work that comes after that original flash of inspiration.

You see where I'm leading by now. I wrote two new novels, and signed contracts to publish all three novels plus the new short story collection in 2001.

It's a common sight among new writers, and really it's a bit sad. People who have the story-the part that can't be learned-but tell it badly. They rush in on the adrenaline high that authors know so well, then get rejected and give up.

What defines a great story? That depends on which reader you ask. If you're writing a story that moves you, someone somewhere with similar tastes will like it. Some stories will be more popular than others, but almost every story will be considered great by someone. But if it's badly written, the reader will simply put the book down and read something else.

As a teenaged author, gathering up enough rejection slips to wallpaper the room, I didn't give up. I just got arrogant and decided “You don't understand me, ya eejit. " That's no solution. Nor is paying to be published.

Nope, if you want to get published, learn how to tell your story. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, pacing, dialogue. . . all that stuff you may have slept through in high school will become second nature with enough practice.

I did quite well in high school English, by the way, but it's not like they taught pacing and dialogue and real story- telling there. To learn those, you've gotta read. But that's no problem for an author. If you don't enjoy reading, you can't write something that others will enjoy reading.

Also, you must listen to the criticisms. Accept some and reject others, but always listen. I believe the Internet makes it much easier to get those criticisms.

I work as an editor now, and one of my authors told me that he sees movies inside his head. It shows in his writing! I don't write that way, unfortunately, but I still know how he feels. When “the Muse" pays me a visit, I've gotta write it down as fast as it comes to me. That's the one part that can't be packaged, taught or mass-produced. That part comes from you, the author, and no one else can do it the way that you do.

Kurt Vonnegut, whose works I greatly admire, writes one sentence at a time, and makes each one perfect before he begins the next. But I don't write like that, nor do most of the authors I know. We just let it fly, then go back and fix it later.

But if you don't want to get published, don't go back and fix it. Pass that raw copy around to your friends and family and let them tell you how wonderful it is for fear of hurting your feelings. Then send it to the publishers and collect the rejection letters. That's what I did in my younger days, and I wasn't published.

It took me twenty years to learn my lesson. It would genuinely make me feel good to hear that most writers aren't taking quite so long.

Copyright 2001 Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at was chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw it out and start over again because he's insane. He teaches English at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVED MY RICE?


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