The Secret

At the library where I work, people often find out that I’m a published author. The first thing they do after their discovery is not to ask me where they can read some of my work. No. What they want to know is how they can get published too. I think the reasoning goes something like this: Well, heck, if this schmuck can do it, then I should be able to do it too.

Nothing wrong with that. I’m just a guy with a computer and some postage, like most writers, so, actually, they can do it too. Just about anyone can. Except they don’t really want to know how it’s done. What they want is The Secret.

I tell them the secret to getting published is writing something, then sending it to an editor who might buy it.

This usually gets blank stares. They want to know the secret handshake that gets them into the club. They want to know who they have to know to get their stuff into print.

So I tell them again. I became a published poet by writing a ton of poems, then mailing them to editors. Every one of those hundreds of editors, except for a couple, were complete strangers to me. Most of the poems came back. About 95% of them came back with flat rejections. But the other five percent? Editors liked them enough to put them in their magazines and anthologies. That’s it. That’s the secret. Write. Mail. Repeat. Over and over.

Of course I didn’t write the same poem over and over. I studied poetry. Tried dozens of different forms. Wrote against my natural style. Tried subjects unfamiliar to me. Wrote from my heart. Wrote from my brain. Wrote about my life. Wrote about other people’s lives. Wrote about this world. Wrote about imagined worlds. And so on. In other words, I kept learning while I was doing those thousands of poems. I made a lot of mistakes, wrote some terrible poems, but I just kept doing it, stretching my craft, until I got some success.

I’m not saying that’s the only way, or even the best way. I don’t know what the best way is. All I’m saying is that’s the way I did it and anyone else can do it too. It works.

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