Want to Know How I Got Published? The Punk Way.
When I was in college, I had the coolest professor. She taught history and politics with early hip-hop culture, when the human beatbox and breakdance cardboard were tools of the revolution. She taught philosophy through a book — a zine, practically — called Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing. That book introduced me to DIY as a commitment, a lifestyle. Do It Yourself, ironically, has led to my success in getting big-house published.
What is the Punk Ethos?
Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing introduced me to DIY as a lifestyle choice. The punk iteration of DIY — Do It Yourself — has nothing to do with the glossy, wood-grained home improvement channel competing with HGTV. Punk DIY says screw the system. You don’t need ties, money or good hair to get a thing done; you need your own brain and fingers.
So yeah. Punk DIY would definitely have a snarl for the high-zoot cameras on the DIY Network’s set. And another for my dreams of New York Times bestseller status.
But if we’re doing it our damn selves, shouldn’t we be setting our own damn goals? My goal is to be a bestseller. Yours too? Here’s how: plan to do it all yourself.
How Did I Combine Punk With Publishing?
My YA memoir The Dead Inside was published by Sourcebooks, the 10th biggest publisher in the U.S. How’s that DIY? Well. It was originally self-published as Straightling. And I logged a trillion DIY hours to get that thing into a position where it would snag me an agent, a publishing contract, and a mega-lunge closer to my non-punk goal.
So here’s my big, vital piece of advice, if your goal’s the same as mine: expect nothing from anyone. Expect to work your ass off and to do it, to do everything, for yourself.
How Did I Get Traditionally Published? Brace Yourself.
Here’s a short list of things I did, as a self-published author, that helped land me where I am today:
- I got up at 4:30 in the morning, every morning, and wrote. For five years. I’m sorry. It’s true.
- I ruthlessly cut every scene, every line, every word, every comma, that seemed excessive, that clanged wrong. I slaughtered my words to get my manuscript so sharp, your man could shave his throat with it.
- I reached out — humbly, sincerely — to authors whose work I love. I told them exactly why I love their work. I told them I wondered if they’d consider blurbing my book.
- When those authors wrote back, as 99.9% of them did, to say “Thank you, I wish I could, but I’m drowning in my own writing,” I took it as a miracle win. My frigging hero just wrote to me! The impossible is possible! I used that energy to keep on DIYing, even when there was 0% “success” to be seen.
- I found an up-and-coming graphic designer whose work I loved, and whose fee I could afford, to design, tweak and perfect a standout cover.
- I took an online course with a book publicist, and followed her instructions meticulously…which netted me print coverage and a spot on NPR.
- I voraciously read the blogs of the publishing and marketing experts — Jane Friedman, Nathan Bransford, Chuck Wendig, BadRedheadMedia Rachel. I took notes and did what they said.
- As a result of the above, I got my chops up and — following the experts’ advice — meticulously followed agency protocols, and wrote personalized query letters to only the agents whose interests matched my genre. Within a week of sending my three queries, I had two requests for partials. Within a few weeks of sending out my fulls, I had an agent….
- …who used the 20-page manifesto I wrote, explaining how engaging, no-B.S. YA is the fix we need in our ailing public schools, to snag me a two-book-option-for-a-third publishing contract.
Who Do I Depend On? Me.
I’ve been obsessive with this book thing for a decade now. I have like one friend, and a husband who’s hanging on by a thread. I don’t go on vacation, to the movies, or to the gym. I write, I do book promo stuff, and I sleep. So not punk rock. But it’s working. I’m getting there. I’ll have a life, maybe, when my book’s on the bestseller list. Or maybe when book number two is. Or…you know.
Like the early rappers making music with their fists, like the first British punks spiking their hair with egg, I know one thing for sure: I’ve gotta do what it takes to get what I want. Emphasis, extra heavy, on the I’ve. You wanna get up here with me? You gotta do like all the renegades before us, and start doing it for your damn self.
A version of this piece originally appeared on Bad Redhead Media.