Saturday, September 24, 2011

How Quora helped me become a published author

This is a post I wrote on Quora.com about the process towards publishing my Simple Pickup article -- expanded, with bonus insights. It's gotten over 2100 views and 120 upvotes putting it in the top 40 posts on Quora, ever.

To my friends, it's not a secret that Quora has become my 2nd most frequented social network, just behind Facebook. Forbes online calls it the social network for smart people to show off their intelligence; to "win" at Quora, you write witty, insightful answers to questions other users have posed. It's like what Yahoo answers should have been. The community is rapidly expanding: Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Rhee, Reed Hastings, JJ Abrams, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Summers have all either asked or answered questions on the site. 

I've always enjoyed puttering around there, learning esoteric facts (like why platypuses sweat milk)  while trying to find out the backstory for the community's welterweights (Yishan WongMarc Bodnick). While I'd heard of success stories of Quorans who have been "discovered" on the site and now write for Forbes or TechCrunch, they were feverish content creators. I'm not. I consider this site useful procrastination -- every day, I log on and read the new content on my newsfeed, and vote up the best answers -- and not very relevant for my professional life. That has all changed.

On Monday, Salon.com, a liberal-leaning online magazine that sees 1.5 million page views every month, put up, on its front page, my profile of the YouTube channel Simple Pickup. 


You can find the article here: http://www.salon.com/life/coupli...

My personal story -- the story of the article's inception -- begins with Quora. While I wrote for the Yale Daily News and was active on on-campus publications, I had zero contacts in the outside journalism world. I did, however, know some professors and staff that had written for big magazines, like the New Yorker and the New York Times, but my pride wouldn't let me contact them before I tried to publish the profile myself. So I went to Quora, and asked the question, "Getting Published: What's the normal process for submitting a story to a magazine for publication?" On August 31st, 2011, Aileen Gallagher, who is definitely in the long-tail of Quora users (only 2 answers, I'm her only follower), wrote a generous response to the question. 

She literally laid out every step towards getting published: how to find a relevant magazine, how to lay out the introductory email pitch, where I should be looking. After receiving the response, I thanked her. Further meanderings through the Quora ecosystem revealed other equally incisive answers to the same topic. Brandee Barker's answer to Wired (magazine): What is the best way to pitch a story to Wired Magazine? at once overwhelmed me and steeled me for the process ahead; Steven Levy's answer to Wired (magazine): What is the best way for a freelance journalist to pitch a story to Wired Magazine? brought back my excitement for publishing with one sentence: "But like every magazine I've ever known, we are hungry for someone who can deliver a fantastic story, and when one of those does come in, everyone is excited." Did I have a fantastic story? I thought so. James Mowery's answer to What is the best way to get started as a freelance writer? convinced me the daily writing I do in my blog (peterjlu.com) was still worth it. Finally, Lulu Liu, who from all I can discern, is concentrated in science topics on Quora, contributed the best answer to What should I do if I want to have my own article published in a magazine? that, while rehashing all the information I had read about already, strangely unhinged me, and imbued me with a quiet optimism. It whispered in my ear, "You can do it."

In no time during this process did I ever go outside Quora to seek advice on how to become a published author. What's more, I never even thought about leaving Quora. That's what you call an affirmation of the quality of this site. 

On September 15th, after having written the profile, and with everything I gleaned from this site teetering precipitously in my head, I shot off an email to the Life section of Salon.com. 3 hours later, the editor of the section emailed me and said, "Let's do this." I edited with her for 2 days, flipping my day/night sleep cycle on its head (I'm working in Manila), and, Monday, my profile appeared on the front page. If Quora didn't exist, it'd still be languishing in the hinterland of my computer's folder system. 

So, to the Quora community: Thank you. You guys are f*cking awesome.
(If you haven't joined, you should. If you've ever had questions that you can't find answers to online, or know a ton about an esoteric subject, the site's for you.)

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