How I Got Published

I'm not a famous writer, but I publish enough to be satisfied, and it sure beats golf. This is the true story I tell to encourage young writers.
  1. I once wrote a funny essay about stupid baby names.
  2. Thinking "that wasnt hard," I cold-emailed the editor of my town newspaper, asking if I could write a humor column. She requested a sample, and I sent the baby-name one. Then I got this email.
  3. We agreed I would write a local column every week... and get paid nothing. I was ecstatic about the deal. We called it "Grain of Salt," but it could have been called "Don't Complain, I'm Doing This for Free."
  4. In 2006, the editor of New Jersey Monthly, who lived in my town, liked the column, and offered me $600 to write a personal Mother's Day essay for NJ Monthly. I did, throwing my mom under the bus.
  5. Buoyed, I took a personal essay-writing class in NYC. The first assignment: Write about your most embarrassing moment. The teacher suggested I send it to The New York Times Magazine. I pitched it in 2006. A year later, after calling my mom to fact-check the story (true!), they published it.
  6. Feeling confident, I pitched another personal essay to Newsweek in 2009. They only liked one paragraph -- naturally the most controversial part. I rewrote it based on the one paragraph. They published it.
  7. I read about a publisher in Oregon specializing in nonfiction books by Moms. I pitched a collection of essays by a Divorced Dad. She agreed to publish me, and paid me nothing. Then again, I paid her nothing. I wrote 40 essays. It was published in 2009 with a great cover.
  8. Five years later, I had written another 25,000 words. Same publisher. Same deal. This time, terrible cover.
  9. If you want to be really impressed, know my work can be found in three "Chicken Soup for the Soul" anthologies. That's big time.
  10. With the combined royalties from my two books, I'm able to buy expensive coffee fairly frequently. But the goal was never to make money. It was just to have a reason to write.
  11. The lesson I learned is this: If you want to be a published writer, you don't have to be famous. You just have to write something worth reading. But remember, writers write. They don't dream about the things they'd like to write. I started with a simple essay about baby names. But the truth is, it would have made a much better