I know from dirty, shameful experience that it sometimes seems like getting published is a mysterious process, involving chicken sacrifice and the black arts. Sadly, it’s a lot more mundane than that.
The Electric Church is my first experience with a large publisher, actually. My first book, Lifers, was published by a tiny company based in California, now defunct, and most of the rest of my resume is short stories and essays sold to small magazines. A lot of these were just faceless submissions–I mailed a story to a name and an address, and at some point someone sent me a nice note of acceptance an, in the best scenarios, a check. My first short story sale was for $7.50. As you can see, this is a glamorous, big-money life we’re talking here.
But a lot of my stories have been published by people I’ve actually met, god bless them. I assume, for ego purposes, that this is not because I am charming, attractive, and free with rounds bought at the local bars, but because of the searing force of my genius. Or at least so I tell myself every night before I finally pass out, bottle of Peach Schnapps in hand.
You see, I’m a Zine Publisher. A zine, in case you don’t know, is a self-produced magazine. I write a bunch of stories and essays, lay them out, print them out, and mail them to people. My zine is called The Inner Swine and I’ve been putting it out since 1995. There are two kinds of people in the world: People who hear “I put out a zine” and think hey, cool! and people who hear “I put out a zine” and think that’s the biggest waste of fucking time I’ve ever heard. That’s fine–not everyone can be cool like me. The zine world is a complicated place, littered with people who publish, people who used to publish, people who just like to read them, and people who just write for them. As a result, you get in contact with a lot of people who not only like your writing–which they were exposed to when someone handed them a tattered copy of your zine–but who might want to publish you in their zine.
Take Frank Marcopolos, for example. He used to publish a zine called The Whirligig, which was a literary fiction zine. He published 2 or 3 of my stories therein, and we met once at a reading. A very cool guy. He eventually gave up The Whirligig and moved on to other things, selling the magazine to another publisher who is working on the first issue of the reborn zine as we speak (and I’ll have a story in that one, too!). Now, zines tend to have a fairly low readership (all things being relative) but you’d be surprised–a fancy-pants literary mag based at a college sometimes is lucky to have a couple hundred readers, yet it’s got prestige. Some zines have several thousand readers, believe it or not.
The reading I met Frank at was in support of an anthology called The Urban Bizarre, edited by Nick Mamatas. Nick never put out a zine (that I know of) but loves to discuss writing and reading and such and so could be found on message boards that intersected with the subject of zines.Â Nick bought two stories of mine for that anthology, and thus will always have a place in my heart. He’d also had a story or two published in The Whirligig, and that’s how we became aware of each other. See? Everything’s a little clique. All that changes is the scale of the clique.
The difference between the scrappy, photocopied publishing of zines and the polished, nationally distributed book publishing of The Electric Church isn’t as big as you’d think. Heck, I had not only national, but international distribution for The Inner Swine for a few years there. Not only could you find TIS in stores across America, you could also find it in Tower Records stores in Japan, Ireland, England, and a few other places. The main difference I can see so far is that there are more people involved, and they buy you cocktails slightly more often.
That last is a huge difference, by the way. I’m going to hook my mouth up to the corporate publishing teat for the free booze more than anything else.
I am weary now. Click on the links above and tell these people how cool they are.