Hey…kid. That’s right: you with the laptop under your arm and the aura of destiny upon you. Come over here. Come closer. Share your lunch with me so you’re following the rules of narrative causality and giving me an excuse to help you. Is that a pastrami sandwich? It is, isn’t it?
I hear you’ve started out on the perilous Journey to Publication and are wondering how it’s supposed to go. I can tell you, of course. I know the secret. There’s only one correct path, and I’ll tell you what it is if you stop hiding those pickles behind your back. I can smell the pickles, kid. I wasn’t born yesterday.
That’s better. Okay, here we go. If you follow these exact steps, you will be able to complete the Journey. If you skip even one, you won’t. Listen closely. Take notes. Why haven’t you opened your laptop? Kids these days. Sheesh.
The steps are:
1) When you are eighteen, write a book. It doesn’t have to be good. It should probably be in longhand. It should also be four hundred pages long, single spaced. The benefit of this is that when you painstakingly type it all up, you will become an astoundingly good touch-typist.
2) Do not send the book out to publishers. It isn’t a good book. Edit it for a year, then put it away and never look at it again.
3) Write another book. You’re probably twenty by this point. It’s a slightly better book, but not by much.
4) Send it out to one Canadian publisher you find in one of those books everybody used to buy: the ones in which inaccurate, outdated information about Canadian publishers was listed.
5) Get rejected. Put the book away forever.
6) Keep writing books. Do not write any short stories. Books are more exciting. Show all the books to your sister and force her to read them. Years later, consider sending your sister a gift basket as an apology.
7) Do not send the books you are writing out. You know they’re not good enough and will be rejected.
8) Build up resentment about how everyone else is getting published, but you’re not.
9) Blame your lack of publishing credits not on the fact that you never send any books out but on the publishing industry’s lack of interest in children’s fantasy.
10) The Harry Potter books exist now! Blame your lack of publishing credits not on the fact that you never send any books out but on the fact that if you did, everyone would accuse you of being a J. K. Rowling copycat.
11) Finish your PhD. Continue to write books and not send them out.
12) Join a writing group. Wonder why you are not sending any of your books out.
13) Start writing and performing nerdy music about Beowulf and Batman. Make a couple of albums.
14) Tentatively, fearfully, with bated breath, write a book and send it out.
15) Get rejected by publishers.
16) Get ignored by agents.
17) Wash out of an Amazon contest that is basically American Idol for books.
18) Get rejected some more.
19) Get discouraged about the book. Maybe the book is not right. Maybe all that practice was for nothing. Maybe you will never be published. Maybe you are doomed to send books out forever and hear nothing in return.
20) Receive an e-mail from a friend who used to be in your writing group and is now a published author with awards and acclaim and so on. She was just in England, winning an award. While she was there, she talked to an editor from a big publishing company, and they somehow started talking about you. He had bought your CD from a table at a convention you were not even attending, and he’d liked it. Your friend said to him, “Do you know she writes novels too?” The editor said, “She should send me one.”
21) Get the editor’s e-mail from your friend and reach out, though your heart is in your throat.
22) A month later, the editor writes back and asks for a manuscript. Ask, in your capacity as someone eminently used to slush piles, “Do you want a synopsis and sample chapters?” “I don’t read synopses,” he says. “Send me the whole thing. I may not get to it for about a month.”
23) Send your manuscript to the editor.
24) Hear nothing for a year.
25) Receive a ten-word e-mail reading, “I like the book. Let me see about publishing it.”
26) Hear nothing for six months.
27) Get a phone call from the editor, who wants to buy the book.
That’s it. That’s how you get published.
No, of course I’m not kidding. That’s the only way. I swear it on these pickles, which are rather good, by the way. There’s only one path down the Journey to Publication. I mean, that’s what you believe, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve always been sure of. You’ve always had the feeling, deep inside, that there has to be some sort of mysterious key that will open the way to the Land of Publication, which is full of unicorns and space cats and parental approval. Why are you even listening to me if that’s not what you believe?
Imagine it wasn’t true. Imagine the Journey to Publication was different for everyone. Imagine there was no mysterious key, no One True Way, no secret to be heard from a lurking helper figure with a thing for pickles. Imagine every path was different. Imagine luck and connections sometimes helped, but not always, and imagine hard work and determination sometimes helped, but not always, and imagine a writer could be someone who did nothing but write or who did a variety of creative things or who succeeded at eighteen or who succeeded at sixty-three or who self-published or who never self-published or who stewed in self-pity for fifteen years or who didn’t know the meaning of the term “self-pity” or who practised a lot or who never practised at all and was awesome the first time out the gate or who was a social media god or who didn’t even have a Twitter account or who accidentally left a manuscript in a bathroom where it was found by a big-name editor or who sent out a manuscript over and over again for seven years and had it plucked from a slush pile or who found a great agent or who found a terrible agent or who never found an agent or who became an agent out of desperation. Imagine there were a million possible paths, and none of them could be predicted ahead of time.
Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? No. There is one path, and I know what it is. I hope you were listening carefully. Your Journey depends on it. Have fun at the next crossroads, and watch out for wolves.
I can see you have questions. Try not to worry about them. You should clearly know exactly what you’re doing by now.
Goodbye, kid. Enjoy the Journey.
And next time I see you, make sure you’ve got more of those pickles.
Kari Maaren is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and academic who has no spare time. Her first novel, the Andre Norton-nominated Weave a Circle Round, was published by Tor Books in 2017. She has a completed webcomic, West of Bathurst, and an active one, It Never Rains, and she has produced two CDs, Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off and Everybody Hates Elves. She is fond of time travel and titles that begin with “W.”