So. My first publication.
It was for a short story called ‘Magic Show’ that I wrote about…hang on, let me check the date mark…holy fuck, almost five years ago. Whoa. Didn’t see that coming. Anyway. I wrote the first draft of it on a six-hour bus ride from Halifax to Cape Breton. I always end up getting lots of writing done in places from which I can’t escape.*
It was also the first short story I’d written since about the seventh grade, so I was kind of unsure about it. But I knew there was an upcoming anthology, Undercurrents, that seemed to be a fit theme-wise, so I wrote up my cover letter, double-checked the manuscript and the letter for embarrassing spelling errors, and sent it in. Here’s the stages it went through:
The Letter: Eventually, a letter came, which told me my story had been accepted and that a contract and edits would follow.
I immediately turned it over just in case someone had scrawled LOL JK NOPE on the back, but they had not. I proceeded to squeal and get high-fives from everyone nearby.
The Contract: This was pretty simple, simple enough that even I, with my limited legal knowledge, could figure it out easily. This details things like payment, rights, all that good stuff. Every short story contract I’ve ever seen has been dead fucking simple. But if you’re unsure, there’s no shame in getting a friend fluent in Legal Speak to look it over, or checking it out via some stuff online. You should know what you’re getting into instead of just signing on the dotted line. Read that shit. You’re a writer, you should respect the power of words.
The Edits: The editors of the anthology sent me a marked-up version of my story with changes they’d like to see. I made the changes and sent it back. That’s it.
Admittedly, most of my edits have been simple, single-pass stuff: spelling errors, tense agreement, accidental slips of the keys that turn ‘shot’ into ‘shit’.** I’ve never had anyone ask me for a different ending, or a complete rewrite, so I can’t comment on how that goes.
However, one point I will make is that the editor is not usually asking. These are the changes they want, and if you choose not to make them, you’d best have a damn good reason. And “I just like it better this way” is not a reason. You’ll have to make a compelling case, or face the possibility of your story getting dropped. Ask yourself if the changes are that big a deal first.
The Book Launch (Optional): I was lucky enough that the first anthology I was published in was launched where I live, so I got to go to the launch. I also did a reading, which was fun. If someone asks you to do one, you should. If you don’t, then, again, have a really damn good reason, because they can really help sell the book, which helps you. (Those of you who are terrified, strap on your adult pants and check out this post on overcoming it.)
Also featured at the book launch was a signing. All us authors had little name-tags, so in the space between the readings, people who had a copy of the book would come up to us and ask for a John Hancock***. Also fun. Make sure you bring a good pen with you, one that won’t crap out. And smile and be pleasant. After all, these people just paid money—real money, that they worked for—for a piece of your writing. Wasn’t that nice of them? Hitch a smile on your face and be nice in return.
The Money: Ah, the part everyone’s waiting for. Sometimes you get this before the launch, sometimes after. I got this particular cheque after because our pay was based on a portion of sales. That’s another thing: sometimes you get a flat fee, sometimes you get a share or royalties or profits or earnings or whatever. Did you read the contract like I told you? It was in there.
That first cheque was pretty sweet. I remember taking it out of the envelope, looking at it and thinking, My first writing pay cheque. I should frame this.
Then I came to my senses and used it to buy beer. Because, dude: money. From writing. How fucking sweet is that?
*Except by the power of imagination.
**I never stop making this mistake.
***That sounds like a sex act when I write it that way.