02 April 2013

Want to Get Published? Dean Ken Gormley Shares Some Advice

by Lauren Gailey, Staff Writer

© Richard Kelly/Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Ken Gormley, Dean and Professor at Duquesne Law School, knows a few things about getting published.  He has written extensively for law reviews and other publications, and his two books, Archibald Cox:  Conscience of a Nation and The Death of American Virtue:  Clinton vs. Starr, have received many awards and accolades.  Dean Gormley recently shared some of the secrets of his success with Juris Staff Writer Lauren Gailey.

Juris:   You’ve been published in many different media, from Rolling Stone magazine to academic journals to books and book chapters, each of which demand different approaches.  Can you describe how you tailor your choice of subject matter and scope, writing process, and writing style to the medium in which you’re writing?

KG:     I start out by asking myself, “Who’s my audience?”  If you’re writing for a readership of lawyers, that’s different than writing for a law review (which is mainly for academics), and both of those are different than writing for a general audience of readers who may know nothing about law and who need to be told a compelling story in common-sense terms.  No matter who I’m writing for, though, I try to write as clearly and directly as possible.  That usually means lots of re-writes.

Juris:   Do you have a preference for writing in one medium over the others, and, if so, why?

KG:     I enjoy writing for a general audience.  It’s scary but exciting to try to connect with a large group of readers who you’ve never met.  There’s nothing that’s more exciting than waking up in the morning, opening a newspaper, and seeing a story you’ve written, accompanied by an eye-catching photo or illustration.  Or seeing a book you’ve written in the window of Barnes & Noble.  That’s what writers live for – to see that they’re connecting with a wide audience.

Juris:   Which of your non-academic publishing experiences have been particularly gratifying?  Particularly memorable?

KG:     The Clinton book [The Death of American Virtue] was certainly an incredible experience.  Sitting in the sunroom of President Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, New York, talking to him about the exhilarating and dicey moments of his presidency – that was high drama.  You say to yourself:  “Am I really here?  I really hope I don’t screw up this interview.”

Juris:   What would your advice be to students who are looking to explore getting published in media other than academic journals – where should they start?  How does one go about landing a book deal or getting a newspaper editor to publish him or her in the Opinion section?

KG:     Start small and shoot for perfection in everything you do.  It probably isn’t a great idea to devote nine years to writing a big book until you’ve first published smaller pieces and you’ve confirmed that A) people actually read them and B) neutral people like editors believe you actually know how to write.  Doing newspaper and magazine articles is a good way to test out your writing skills and try out different techniques and styles for different audiences. 

Juris:   Can you offer any advice as to how a student can build a professional reputation or an area of expertise that will make it more likely that an editor, publisher, or literary agent will reach out to him or her and commission a piece or book?

KG:     That comes from becoming a go-to person in a specific area.  You do that by building on your strengths and experiences until you become an expert in something, big or small.  I’ve always had a motto, “Don’t do anything interesting in life without writing about it.”  So far, that’s worked out pretty well.  

Look for more from Dean Gormley and other Duquesne Law faculty and students who have been published in the next issue of Juris Magazine.

Lauren Gailey is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a 2L at Duquesne Law.  Her favorite subjects include Constitutional Law and Criminal Law, which she had the opportunity to put into practice when she interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last year.  She and her teammates recently represented Duquesne at the 2013 Judge John R. Brown Admiralty Moot Court Competition, where they reached the semi-finals and won an award for the Second-Best Respondent’s Brief.