The Secret to Surviving First Publication (Plus, Get Your Fiction in WD!)

There it sits: everything you’ve wanted, in one hub. Everything you’ve dreamed, in bouts of caffeinated madness. Important-looking editors bustle back and forth within, but you’re stuck on the outside of your new publishing house, peering in through double-buffed windows, eyes wide.

How do you set foot in that hallowed place?

As it turns out, it’s just another rung in a ladder. And like every rung in every ladder, you merely have to know how to climb it.  

And to do that, you have to …

(Today we continue our Top 20 Lessons from WD in 2009.)

No. 17: Ask. Ask!
“The moral of the story is not to tremble in awe at the entrance doors of the publisher. Ask, ask, ask, even if you don’t know what to ask. Ask them what you should be asking. Ask for a publishing schedule; ask what you can help with; ask for their publicity plan so that you can compare it with yours. Start your publicity plan long before you’ve finished the book, long before it’s published.”
–Author and WD reader Jeanette Salerno, as featured in our July/August 2009 Publishing 101 package.

Have an excellent weekend, and consider taking a crack at our magazine’s Your Story prompt. In 750 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring, post your stories in the comments section of my blog, and they’ll be entered in the contest, or e-mail them to (There’s only one entry allowed per person, and you have until the Nov. 10 deadline.) Should your story win and you posted it here, I’ll contact you for your name and mailing address when the time comes. Good luck!

WRITING PROMPT: Your Story Contest No. 22
Suffering from a mid-life crisis, a 50-year-old businessman quits his job and goes on a quest to “get the band back together.”
—From The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts: a literary journal

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0 thoughts on “The Secret to Surviving First Publication (Plus, Get Your Fiction in WD!)

  1. Beth Cato


    Ben stood back, arms crossed. “I can’t believe you just up and quit like that.”

    The desk drawer slammed shut with a hollow ring. “It was time,” Dean said, shrugging. He wiggled binders to one side within the cardboard box, then opened the next drawer. Metal pens clinked like little bells as they fell loosely into the box. “Most everyone here should quit, considering everything we’ve put up with. The backstabbing, the gossip.” The final drawer thudded shut. “The matter of Sherry losing oh, a few hundred thou, but since she’s the VP’s daughter-in-law, everyone conveniently forgets how to count.”

    “We all see it, Dean. But a job’s a job. We can’t just up and walk away.”

    “I am.” With a sweep of his arm he gathered the rest of the detritus from his desktop and heaved it onto the pile. The crystal frame of his family portrait clattered against the pens. Dean paused and turned the frame over to stare at the image of his family frozen in time from the Christmas two years before. A slow smile crept across his face.

    “You ever think that little kids have it right?” Dean said. “You know, all that innocence and ignorance. They don’t care about skin color or how much money the guy next door makes or any of that crap. They just play, and they have fun, and they don’t care what anyone thinks.”

    Ben shook his head. “That’s all good and well for toddlers, but you gotta grow up sometime.”

    Dean met his gaze. “Do you?”

    A shrill tone split the air, and Dean’s hand went to his phone at his waist. He smiled faintly when he glanced at the screen. “It’s my wife,” he said, then held it to his ear. Ben backed off, staring at the muddled brown and crimson carpet.

    “Hey Sue. You got the text? Yeah. I did it.” His thick fingers stroked the rough flap edge of the cardboard box. “I’ll be home in about thirty. And hey, you think you can get the band together for me?” He listened, head cocked to one side. “Yeah, yeah. Thanks.”

    “Didn’t sound like she tore you a new one,” Ben said, watching his friend holster the cell phone.

    “Nah. She knew this was coming.”

    Awkward silence lingered. Ben glanced at his watch. “And since when do you have a band? You don’t strike me as that type.”

    “What, bald, fifty-year-old guys can’t jam?” Dean whisked a hand over his shiny pate. “Not exactly easy listening, but –“

    “Listen, man.” Ben interrupted him, shifting his feet. “It’s been thirty minutes. I’ve got to escort you off the premises or they’ll be after my head next.” He tapped the badge on his front pocket.

    “Yeah, yeah.” Dean hefted up the box with a grunt. “But promise me something. Promise me you’ll get out of here when you can, you and Bill, Caroline, and the rest. Your soul’s not worth this.”

    Ben sighed as he held open the door. “But the paycheck is.”

    Dean parked the car. Home. As he opened the car door, he could already hear chaotic clangs of a warm-up session in progress. A grin lit his face as he took long strides up the front walkway.

    Sue met him just inside the doorway. “Hi,” she said in a loud voice to be heard over the din.

    “Hi.” He set down the box and shoved it aside with his foot. He planted a kiss on his wife’s lips, and was surprised when she let it linger.

    “You did the right thing,” she said, looking intently into his eyes. “We’ll be okay.”

    “Yes, we will.” He squeezed her hand.

    “Here,” she said, reaching behind her. Sue pressed the Dutch oven and wooden spoon into his grasp. “Go play.”

    Dean had just enough space to squeeze in between his three and four-year-olds. He took up the drum beat, blending with the cacophony of makeshift maracas, bells, and clattering spoons. Even the baby helped, banging along with plastic cups on his feeding tray. Rhythm meant nothing; skill even less. Noise pounded, wild and free, and Dean head-banged to a beat all his own. Savings would tide them over for a few months. That soul-sucking job didn’t matter anymore. This – this – was his life.

    Little Shawn turned to him with shining eyes. “More music!” he yelled.

    “Yes!” squealed Gail, her pudgy cheeks aglow.

    Dean played on.

  2. Mark James

    Shadows of the Horsemen

    Bob walked out the doors of ICP, Inc. for the last time and crossed the street, deftly avoiding the yellow cabs with slaughter on their mechanical minds.

    He sat in the same coffee house where, until this morning, he used to buy five dollar coffees. His lower back twinged when he settled onto the wooden chair. Fifty years was a long time to spend in a human body. He was glad his time was almost up.

    He slipped his phone out of his pocket and looked at the mid night blue button. It had a tiny skull and bones drawn on it.

    Bob or more properly, Bub or even more properly Beelzebub, loved modern technology. The Cray computer at ICP, or International Center of Projection, had been chewing over the same illicit problem, fed in by Bob, since September 11, 2001.

    For a Cray computer, the mathematical problem was simple: project the current psychological crisis, forecast the fomenting economic crisis, and come back with a day that would be the mathematical equivalent of the straw that breaks the camel’s back. On what day would four reports of senseless, bloody violence against the innocent tip the balance from contained national frustration to bloody, burning riots that would spread across the country like wildfire in a dry forest?

    He let his right index finger hover; one button, one message, four e-mails. His finger fell, like tipping over a poison vial that would stain the face of the whole world.

    The message was short, simple, and essentially meaningless, except to the creatures who’d open their emails and read, “Find a place to sleep.”

    In Boston, Jeff, twenty nine years old, the most promising lawyer in his firm, read the message on his phone. He looked around his corner office, stifled a pang of regret, and for the first time since he graduated from law school, left his office without his briefcase.

    In Dallas, Warren, twenty two years old, the most honest mechanic in the Ford Dealer’s garage, checked email on his phone. A smile creased his lips. He went to the locker room, changed out of his dirty overalls, and headed out into the street.

    On the island of Hawaii, Casey, twenty four years old, untangled himself from the latest middle aged tourist who paid extra for tennis lessons. He checked his phone, read the e-mail. A grin twisted his young pretty face into something beyond terrifying; his dark green eyes became the greedy eyes behind the Halloween mask of a leering demon. He slipped into faded denim, a midnight blue t shirt and worn sneakers. On his way out, he stole the money in her wallet. The grin lurked on his face again; he’d always wanted to do that.

    In Miami, Martin, twenty one year old short order cook, checked his cell phone. He ripped off his cook’s whites, flung his hat on the grill, and bounded out the door. Later, customers would report that his eyes gleamed, like a starving man about to sit down to a buffet.

    Warren walked to the corner he’d chosen two years ago after the Band met with Bob in the desert, somewhere near Area 51. They’d been given their assignments that day. From then on, it was waiting, living a normal life, even marrying if they cared to have a woman in their bed.

    Standing on the bottom of the exit ramp of I-75, Warren thought how translation was a tricky thing. There were Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; that part was right. But every Horseman had a shadow Angel that opened the door into this world; translators missed that part.

    Despair was Death’s trailbreaker; Pride banged doors open for Victory; Wrath ripped political entrails open for War; and Gluttony settled his heavy weight, pressed a way into this world for Famine.

    Warren’s sign read, “My wife, my two kids and me need a place to sleep tonight.”

    A woman picked him up, poured sympathy over him, asked where his wife and children were on such a cold night, and did they need to eat.

    He guided her to an empty parking lot behind the Outlet Mall, slipped the box cutter from his boot, and slit her throat. After he carved her up like a Thanksgiving Turkey, he got out of the car and dropped his weapon. He didn’t need to worry about evidence. Angels don’t have DNA.


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