How I Became Published
Contributor
Written by
Lissa Bryan
November 2012
Contributor
Written by
Lissa Bryan
November 2012

This article originally appeared on Word Edit. It's the tale of my unorthodox journey into the publishing world. I've tweaked it slightly for the difference in audience.

 

The Day the Story Exploded

By Lissa Bryan

I’d always written stories in my head, including re-writing books and movies to have the plot or ending I thought they deserved, or sending the characters on new, fantastic journeys. And I had no idea anyone else in the world did this. 

I wrote my first fan fiction story when I was twelve, a Wizard of Oz story, though I called it a “parody” at the time, for lack of another term. In it, no one really liked Dorothy and the Wicked Witch was actually a tragically misunderstood heroine. The Ruby Slippers were one of three magical items the Witch needed to collect to break Glenda’s evil spell enslaving the Munchkins. Unfortunately, pretty girls can get away with anything and Dorothy believed Glenda’s side of the story. 

Yeah. Imagine my surprise when Wicked came out a few years back. 

In September, 2011, I read Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard. I went to Amazon to leave a review, but that review never did get written because I found something interesting. A reviewer said (rather scathingly) that the book had once been Twilight fanfiction. I wondered what that was, and went searching for it. 

If it was a movie, the sky would have opened and golden beams of light descended while angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus. There were other people out there as weird… uh, creative… as I was. Other people re-wrote stories, too, and it was called “fanfiction.” 

I sent Sylvain Reynard a thank you note a while back. That book literally changed my life. 

For those of you unfamiliar with fan fiction, the largest online community for it is the site fanfiction.net. It has thousands of stories from hundreds of different "fandoms," which is the term used for the source material. Writers of all ages and from all walks of life write fan fiction. Quite a few have been published, including the most famous of all Fifty Shads of Grey. Some are written by published authors just for fun. (Rumor has it that Stephenie Meyer wrote a Twilight fanfiction story and entered it into a contest. She lost.) Some are by young writers just starting off in the craft. The stories are posted online to the site and the writer gets feedback in the form of reviews. It works much like serialized fiction, with writers posting chapters over time, generally every week or so. 

After making this discovery, I read eagerly for a couple of weeks, finding stories of all types. Here, finally, was an outlet for the stories that had rattled around in my brain for so many years. 

I began writing my first fanfic on October 4, 2011, exactly one year ago to the day as I write this column. It was a Twilight story where Bella ends up with Emmett, and as it progressed, it found about a dozen regular readers. 

I was tickled. Not only had my story been read by twelve people (willingly!), it was out there in cyberspace, floating around forever, being disseminated far and wide (assuming anyone ever made a copy of it.) It belonged to the ages now. 

Giddy with my success, I decided to start another story. At this point, I need to pause in the narrative and explain that I wrote these stories really fast. I shake my head and marvel now, but back then I wrote and posted a 5,000 word chapter every night. Granted, it was easier because I already had the story written in my head and it was mostly a matter of typing it out, but my speed back then makes me dizzy now. And, secondly, I never told anyone about it. I didn’t really know anyone in the fandom, so I didn’t have a pre-reader or editor. I did my own editing, and it probably shows, especially in the first story when I was having computer problems. 

The second story made me hesitant, because I’ll be frank: it sounds as bizarre as hell. How does one explain a story about aliens with tails without adding the qualifier, “It’s not as weird as it sounds. Honest.” I had the suspicion I was going to be laughed out of the fandom and I’d have to change my pen name. I kept hearing the mom in Carrie, taunting me: “They’re all going to laugh at you!” I regretted the loss of those twelve readers already. But, as they say, God hates a coward, and so I posted the first chapter. 

The first day, I had 150 readers. I was shocked. Astounded, really. And all of the reviews were positive and encouraging. With cautious optimism, I wrote the next chapter and uploaded it. And that one had 350 readers. By the third chapter, I was up to 600. The numbers kept going up. I was getting messages that the story was being discussed on fic sites and Twitter. The popular authors were recommending it and that brought in even more people. Just two weeks later, I was up to 3,000 thousand daily readers. By the end of the month, that had more than doubled. 

That’s when I started to get a little scared. Actually, very scared. I would have never dreamed that my story would get so much attention. Because of it, the story wasn’t just for me anymore. I felt like I had a responsibility to all of those people. And I had no idea what I was doing. 

I still don’t, come to think of it. 

In February, a strange note came to my inbox. It was from a woman claiming to represent The Writer’s Coffee Shop, the original publishers of Fifty Shades of Grey. She asked me if I’d be interested in writing an original fiction novel. 

If I’d gotten a letter from Obama asking if I’d like to take over as President, I couldn’t have been more astonished. I stared, bug-eyed and slack-jawed at the screen for a while. 

I’d never thought publishing a novel would be possible for me. I thought publishing only happened by repeatedly submitting manuscripts and trying to find an agent, facing years of soul-crushing rejection with the infinitesimal chance of succeeding. Yeah, I’m not that type. While I love writing, I never thought I’d do it for any reason but my own enjoyment. 

After the shock wore off, suspicion took its place. This has to be a scam, I thought. I tried doing a little detective work, searching for the woman’s name on the internet… And found she was who she claimed to be. I called my husband and warned him not to get excited yet, because I still wasn’t sure it was real … but I might be writing a novel. 

But the offer was real. Back to the shock. Even sitting in the lawyer’s office while he explained the contract didn’t make it feel like it was really happening. 

My first novel, Ghostwriter, was released on October 11, 2012, one year and seven days after I first sat down in front of a keyboard to write a story. My second, The End of All Things, is set to be released January 24, 2013. 

It’s been a year now, a long strange trip, but it’s been an amazing journey. I’m not sure where I’m going next, but I’m thinking it will be a fun ride. Once the shock wears off.

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