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December 1, 2009 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

Say Yes

My husband came home from guitar school with a lesson: never turn down a gig.

His teacher’s band was asked to play in some miniscule town.  Other bands had refused because of the expense to travel, minimal exposure, etc.  But this band said sure.

The local radio station promoted the hell out of this one band willing to travel in.  The band got continuous airplay, building up support.  On the actual day of the concert, a ripping audience of new fans screamed for more.

A decade later, they still travel back to that tiny town for their hard core fans.

They said, never turn down a gig.  You never know where it might lead.

In October, a major national magazine approached me.  The health editor had read my work in the Medical Post.  She said they’re looking for the next Dr. Oz to write articles and make “occasional media appearances.”

It’s a sample article.  It might not go anywhere.  But I actually hadn’t considered that the Medical Post, with its circulation of about 50,000 to a relatively specialized audience of doctors might lead me to a regular gig at a national magazine.  Which would create a platform.

A platform, my dears, is what makes agents and editors breathless.  It’s a built-in audience so the publisher doesn’t have to work so hard to sell books.  You can see why they like them, but for the average Joe/Josephine, the platform is mostly limited to blood relatives and friends.

As it stands, I have a lot of little publications scattered through magazines, books, journals, newspapers, and e-zines.  A small platform.  Maybe a diving board.  But this opportunity has opened my eyes to the possibility of reinventing myself as a brand.

To sell my books, I’d be happy to flog a book of doctor writing before moving on to my medical thrillers, YA, middle grade, picture books, women’s fiction, erotica, science fiction–oh, yes.  I have a lot of books that have not been published.  Some of them probably never will be.  But the rest of them need a home.

So I’m saying yes to this opportunity.  I want this gig and the next.

You have to weigh the risks and benefits, of course. All writing is good practice and I’m always looking to expand my writing income.  OTOH, between medicine, writing, and my family, I sometimes feel stretched tighter than a porn star.  So I sometimes have to say no.

You also have to select what format to say yes to. The article that started this off was a humor piece about patients telling me I looked too young to be a doctor.  I sent the 600-word story to Stitches, a medical humour magazine.  The editor accepted it as an anecdote and told me I wouldn’t get paid, but I’d get put in a draw for a stethoscope.  Now, my stethoscope works just fine and I like to get paid for my work.  So I added another 100 words, turning it into feature length, and he accepted it for the next issue at 35 cents per word.  Considering that a lot of fiction markets pay anywhere from “exposure” (nada) to the “pro rate” of 5 cents per word, me likee.

However, I never heard back from him.  Since I was too busy going back to work, raising an infant, and dealing with my father’s diagnosis of brain cancer (high grade glioma, for the medical types), I didn’t really pursue it.  At a continuing education course almost a year later, another doctor said, “I think Stitches went out of business.  I haven’t gotten it in a long time.”

Ah.  So that was why they didn’t answer my e-mails.

I looked them up and sure enough, they had folded.  Dang.

Next, I sent it to a respected medical journal’s humanities section.  That section is generally well-written stories about patient interactions or what it’s like to become a patient when you’re a doctor.

The editor told me she’d showed it to a physician and it passed the “laugh test.” She sent me a contract.  I read it.  They wanted global rights but made no mention of compensation.  I wrote back and asked.  She said “fame and glory alone, I’m afraid.”

I wrote to a few other journals and they also told me they didn’t pay.

C’mon.  Doctors are a huge market.  I have to empty my mailbox regularly because of all the free journals stuffed with drug ads, not to mention the occasional luxury car fold-out.  You’re telling me you’ve got nothing?

So I wrote to a few places, including The Medical Post.  They paid 20 to 30 cents per word.

The editor responded within a few weeks.  She wanted to buy it.  She published it within a few months.  I sent them some more pieces and so far, they’ve published a grand total of three.  Since my mail gets sent to my secondary hospital, I usually find out it’s been published because one of my undergrad or med school friends I haven’t talked to in years Facebooks me and says, “Good one!”  I even got fan mail from a doctor based in Thailand.

And now, a potential new stepping stone.

Like I said, I don’t know where this one’s going to go.  But I’m hankering for the ride.  Enough that if this one doesn’t pan out, I might take the initiative to ask other national magazines to take me on.

And although I won’t feel like I’ve “made it” until my name is on the cover of my own spanking new novel, there are side bennies to the nonfiction gig thus far.  For example, I have explained that I don’t do full-time emerg because I write and have a toddler. But to my sensible doctor colleagues, writing seems like code for smoking weed and eating corn chips if I don’t have a book with my name on it.  In the meantime, when my name shows up in their mailbox in the Medical Post, complete with cartoon illustrations, they take me a little more seriously.  Like, maybe they think I drink vodka and eat organic corn chips instead.

In general, my motto is to say yes.  Say yes and plums and cherries may drop out of the sky, along with the occasional hail storm, but that’s life, right?

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2009

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6 Comments

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  1. cindie geddes / Dec 1 2009 12:41 pm

    What a great post (especially the porn star line). I’m sort of a discerning say-yesser for nonfiction. If it’s a subject I’m interested in, yes. If it’s just eh, I need to be paid. But I have no niche. I’m more of a word whore (will write anything for pay). Fiction is all interesting, so back before the dawn of the new millennium when I was submitting, and thus selling regularly, I looked at the fit of the story and the pub, whether or not it was new exposure, etc, but first was pay. Second was prestige. Third was just if I liked the pub. As I start to submit again, I find that third one more important than before. I’m not sure why. But my submissions, while weighted toward pay, are running the gamut.

    Though, truth be told, starting out again, I’m just happy to see my work somewhere besides my own computer.

    • melissayuaninnes / Dec 2 2009 10:01 pm

      You’re in demand as a non-fiction writer, so it makes sense that you’d have to be more discerning. It’s interesting that you backed off on submitting fiction and now you’re enjoying the process more. Good luck!

      I also get a gut feeling if I like the pub, like _The Sun_ is a literary mag filled with stories, so I’d really like to sell there. And when I saw the market called _Dog vs. Sandwich_, I knew it was calling me.

      So glad you liked the porn star line. This is the censored version of the post. Can’t wait to get rich and famous so I can get all Lady Gaga and unleash more of my inner beast!

  2. cindie geddes / Dec 2 2009 10:08 pm

    I say go Gaga now! Why wait? I wonder if Lady Gaga would be rich and famous had she waited to be rich and famous to be herself.

    • melissayuaninnes / Dec 13 2009 9:03 pm

      Point taken. And yet, you notice she is not Doctor Gaga. Pseudonyms, anyone?

      Also, I’m not mega gaga. Just minor league gaga. But I definitely agree that you should follow your voice, whatever that is.

  3. cindie geddes / Dec 13 2009 9:39 pm

    Oh, important point. I hadn’t even thought of the restrictions of being a doctor. What a strange place to be. It must be a little schizo sometimes being a doctor and being a writer and having to so often keep those separate. I hope you get the nonfiction gig! Then you could meld the two, at least some of the time.

  4. melissayuaninnes / Dec 13 2009 10:14 pm

    You’re so sweet. Actually, the mag is going through new editorial changes and they won’t pick their Doctor Oz until sometime in 2010. Oh, the freelance life, huh?

    I try to deal with the schizo-ness by trying to be myself, regardless of the circumstance, but just a little more proper as an MD. For example, I don’t wear jeans in the ER, although some of my colleagues do.

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