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A Secret To Getting Published

Nov 10, 2007
When Warner Books, one of the world's largest publishing companies, published my first book, The Angry Clam, back in 1998, the most common question I was asked was, "What were you smoking when you wrote this book?" This was quickly followed by the second most common question, "How in the world did a 40-page, hand-written book with bad drawings of a clam get published?"

The answer to the first question was easy - pure Turkish Hashish - just kidding. (Actually, I awoke in the middle of the night with the idea of a ticked off clam running through my head, then feverishly spent the wee hours putting a frantic pencil to paper.) The answer to the second question takes a little bit more explaining but I believe it contains one of the essential keys (and secrets) to getting published.

The story of how I got The Angry Clam published is a brief one so I will share it with you now:

After I awoke from my long morning nap after having spent the previous night beginning and completing my first ever attempt at literature, I reviewed what I wrote, kind of liked it, and then decided to show it to a few friends. To my amazement, they all thought it was hysterically funny - but in a good way. (They were actually laughing WITH the book not at it!)

Inspired by this, I purchased the supplies necessary to create a more presentable copy of the book - like giving it a cover and hand-writing and drawing each page in pen - and then went to my local Kinko's to get 50 copies printed up. The following day, with my 50 copies in hand, I decided to go to the owner of a neighborhood bookstore to see if he would be interested in selling The Angry Clam on consignment. To my delight, he looked at the book, laughed, and then said sure, why not, he would take 5 copies. (I believe he was half taking pity on me.)

Unbelievably, within 24 hours, I received a call from the owner asking me for 10 more copies. He then explained how the staff of the bookstore had bought the books and they were now passing them around for everyone to read. I brought over the 10 copies and they were immediately placed in the "Staff Favorite" section near the front register. Incredibly, I began receiving weekly orders for the books.

Encouraged by this, I then went to the owner of another neighborhood bookstore, described the tale of what was happening down the street, and he too agreed to take a few copies. Astonishingly, a very similar phenomenon happened. So this was great - I now had 2 local bookstores consistently selling and promoting The Angry Clam. It was at this point that I stumbled upon the very simple idea that would eventually get big New York literary agents and then several major publishing houses to pay The Angry Clam notice.

Placing a call to the owners of the 2 bookstores, I very politely asked them if they would each write a brief letter describing the "phenomenon" of the The Angry Clam at their store. Thankfully, they both agreed and within a day I had my two letters.

Armed with these testaments of The Angry Clam's selling prowess, I was ready to see just how far my little book could go. So I purchased a copy of the Writer's Guide to Literary Agents, picked about a dozen agents, and then mailed out a copy of the book and the 2 letters to each one of them.

What happened next has made me a legend in my own mind. Within 2 weeks I received calls from 5 of the agents - each wanting to represent The Angry Clam. After carefully selecting one of them, it took less than a month to get my first of several publishing offers.

What happened after the book was bought by Warner Books is a tale for another day. (The Angry Clam eventually hit the shelves of bookstores all over the United States and even rose into the Hot 100 on Amazon.

But the moral of The Angry Clam story is this - in the publishing world, a book's perceived ability to sell is king. Prove to the publishing companies that your books can sell on a small scale and they just might take a chance that your books will sell on a large scale. What have they got to lose? Unknown authors rarely get more than a tiny advance and the cost to print up the first 2,000 books is nothing to a large company.

After all, Publishing is just a business.
About the Author
Erik Quisling is the author of the critically acclaimed new book, Fables from the Mud (Borderlands Press, Nov. 2007). His website is Erik Quisling.
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