Book Publishing Secrets: A Conversation with David S. Atkinson

We’re talking to authors from all walks of life about their experiences in publishing their book.  Some have smooth paths, some rocky, but they all share a common goal – to see their name on the cover of their creation.  It’s interesting to read what path they decided to take to get there and my guest today is here to tell everyone what he/she did in order to make it all happen so that other writers will learn a little something from the experience. 


Today we are talking to David S. Atkinson, author of the absurdist literary short story collection, Not Quite so Stories


Thank you for your time in answering our questions, David.  Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to write a book?

Thank you for talking to me! I had been writing some very straightforward, realistic stories for a while. However, every once in a while, I'd get these strange story ideas (like the couple's mysterious adventure with the wrong car in "Context Driven"). They were really fun to write, and I couldn't ignore them. Sometimes as writer you have to follow where the energy takes you. I didn't know what I was really doing with them though, particularly on a larger scope. However, then I ran across Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout in a bookstore and was asked to review Amelia Gray's Museum of the Weird for Gently Read Lit. Here were two different authors working with very similar stories. Of course, they'd gone much further than I had at the time and showed me so many places worth exploring. Regardless, looking at these works and getting led to other that were similar, I started thinking about myth and the world, particularly the idea of myth as a halfway attempt to explain the world. I was thinking of Rudyard Kipling's Just so Stories in specific. That's when I started thinking of these stories as kind of a myth tradition where instead of explaining the world, since life is ultimately beyond our understanding, we simply look for how to live amidst all that we will never understand. I kept writing stories in that line, looking at a kind of answer to an unstated assertion in Kipling's work. Before I knew it, I had a book.


Is this your first book?

It's my third. They're actually pretty different from each other. Bones Buried in the Dirt is a child-narrated novel in story form, a series of short stories that form a larger single story arc, developing a kind of sonar picture of the person a boy named Peter will become. The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes is much stranger, a novel about a young woman named Cassandra who may or may not be eternally stuck in a Village In with her ex-boyfriend and her ex best friend (the ex-boyfriend's current girlfriend). Not Quite so Stories goes for collected short stories as opposed to a novel or forming a novel from the stories, and is something of a mixture of the strangeness of the latter with the realism of the former (like how Elaine is troubled by the fact that her rental car engine has been replaced with a cymbal monkey in "Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!").


Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey?

I've always been big on staying connected to the literary community, both because I'm interested in being there and because it's a good practice as an author. It wouldn't help me if I wasn't genuinely interested in what's going on around me, but it certainly aids in publication if one is. I don't mean that you can get something published that isn't publication worthy though. Publishers will be inundated with publishable manuscripts. Relationships won't help you if your manuscript isn't one of those, but it can get you noticed in the flood if it is. My first book, Bone Buried in the Dirt, was contracted after the press had accepted a short story from it. While we were preparing for publication of the story, I mentioned how it was a part of a book length work. They said they wanted to see the whole thing, and then said they wanted to publish it. My second book, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, was similar. I'd been working on it and running sample chapters by some writers I'd worked with in my MFA program. One of them landed a role as head editor for a new press and was tasked with securing their starting lineup. He loved my book and approaches me about publishing it. Not Quite so Stories was no different. There was an author I was a big fan of and I regularly attended her readings. From seeing me there, she'd gotten to recognize me and got curious about my writing. At one reading, she introduced me to her publisher and told us both that based on what she'd seen I needed to submit the publisher something. The publisher was willing to take a peek and ended up loving my book.


What lessons do you feel you learned about the publishing industry?

I've learned that the publishing industry is a vast and confusing place. There are all different kinds of publishers out there and everyone operates a little bit differently, each has their own interests and goals (even places willing to take a chance on bears who come into casinos to force people to gamble after jumping on their cars, like in "The Unknowable Agenda of Ursines"). There seems to be someone out there for almost everybody, but you really have to spend the time to go out and look and learn about presses, find out who really does match you. No web site will really give you that understanding of who they are, how they operate, and what they want/might learn to want. It's an industry of mavericks. You just have to find your maverick.


If you had the chance to change something regarding how you got published, what would you change?

I wouldn't change much. I don't believe in second guessing what has worked, preferring to look toward the future. Still, if I had to pick something, I'd wish that I'd gotten serious earlier. I could have gotten so much more done if I'd put the kind of work in I do now back twenty years ago. There is only so much time, and we can never get back what we frittered away watching Looney Tunes with the sound turned down and the radio on while drunk so it looked like the characters were singing.


Did you credit any person or organization with helping you get published?

There's a ton of people I'd need to thank, may parents for instilling in me an interest in literature, my MFA program for really helping me tune what I'm doing, my publishers for believing in me, all that. For this book though, I've got to thank Linda Joffe Hull first. She's the author I mentioned above. If she hadn't gotten curious about my stories and liked them enough to introduce me to her publisher and recommend the stories, Not Quite so Stories might still be sitting in a drawer.


What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?

I always think the best advice is to keep writing. Making sure to submit, keeping calm when things get discouraging, staying engaged in the literary community, all those other things are important. I think one should do them whenever one can. However, keeping writing is the absolute essential. If you can maintain that one, I have to believe the rest will work itself out sooner or later (like how things go for the character in "The Elusive Qualities of Advanced Office Equipment").


David S. Atkinson is the author of "Not Quite so Stories" ("Literary Wanderlust" 2016), "The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes" (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and "Bones Buried in the Dirt" (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Grey Sparrow Journal," "Atticus Review," and others. His writing website is and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.


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