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Unusual Ideas Get Published

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It seems to me that there are about three ways to get published these days. First, you just have to write an extraordinary book. That seems an awfully simplistic statement, but it’s true. Getting a book published isn’t a right, it’s not a guarantee, as much as I might wish it otherwise. So the primary way to get published is to produce an amazing book. No tricks needed, just create the best. Second, you can know someone and be connected. I’m not going to really complain about that so because that’s the case in every industry. It’s not a requirement to publishing by any means, but it can help an otherwise mediocre book, just as it helps all those dim-witted people who have relatives in the corner offices of bigtime corporations. And third, you can come up with an original, quirky, and off-the-wall concept. Create an idea that only you could have dreamed up, and only you could have convinced a publisher to print.

As an example of that third method, I read a review of Everything I Ate: A Year in the Life of My Mouth by Tucker Shaw in The Washington Post. The book is a photographic record of a New Yorker’s dining habits over the course of a year. Shaw documents everything he ate, day by day, hour by hour. The critic states “The photographs are not the pretty kind you see in cookbooks. They’re slightly fuzzy, often poorly lit shots taken with the author’s digital camera, along with captions that provide details on his location (‘nuts at home’) and dining partners (‘Duck spring rolls at Chow Bar with Jason’). And that’s about it. Aside from a brief introduction scrawled on a paper napkin, we don’t know why Shaw eats all the stuff he puts before the camera. Were those spring rolls great or greasy? Readers want to know.” So it’s hard to know whether the reviewer thought this was a positive reading experience or not.

I would never dream that I could go to a publisher and say “I’m going to take a poorly lit snapshot of everything I eat in a year… I’m not going to provide a whole lot of explanation or text to explain my dining choices and experiences… It’ll be great!” and then have the publisher actually agree!

And that’s not a criticism of the book. I haven’t seen it so I’m not saying whether I think it’s good or bad. I’m just in awe of the idea and the fact that Shaw was able to convince someone to go for this. So kudos to him. He came up with a quirky idea no one else would think of and he made it work. Amazing.