It’s a question I get a lot. Not from people who actually want to know how I got published, but from people who want to know how they can get published.
I get that. It’s pretty understandable. If I were them I’d want to know how I could get published too.
Well do I remember how incomprehensible the whole New York publishing world looked when I was not “inside” it. It is a dark planet, emitting little detectable radiation on any wavelength. There isn’t much reliable information about its diabolical inhabitants. Accounts by travelers to that cursed orb rarely agree.
I can only give you mine. It’s not pretty.
Chapter 1. In which I don’t get published (1989-1993)
I saw short stories as the natural entry point. In college and shortly thereafter I wrote a lot of them. I would ballpark the number of my unpublished short stories at around 150. I stopped when I realized that a) I have no gift or real love for the short story as a form, and b) the market for short stories is a difficult and complicated and relatively conservative one. It helps to know people, and to have an MFA-type writing style. I didn’t.
Chapter 2. In which I write a novel (1993-1996)
It’s unlikely that, as a first-time novelist, you’ll be able to sell a project based on a partial manuscript. You will need a total manuscript. I wrote a novel in the early 1990’s, in the years right after I graduated college. I did this without an agent or connections or any particular encouragement. I was rejected from all the MFA programs, grant programs and writer’s colonies I applied to. But it’s the first thing I did right.