(Ed's note - I saved this one until the end because (as Eric mentions) the essay contains spoilers and I wanted to give people as much of a chance as possible to read the story first. If you have not read the story yet, do yourself a favor and read it before you read this.)
Warning! Includes plot spoilers for "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars."
In early 2004 I sold a story called "The Man Who Moved the Moon." It was a combination of some fairly hard science fiction with a fairly ridiculous premise, and to this day it remains one of my favorites. So, having succeeded with that rather strange combination, I decided to try it again in time for the next Writers of the Future Contest deadline.
So I wrote a first contact story, using some speculative exobiology for the hard science parts. For the ridiculous premise, I dredged up an idle thought I'd had years before about Elvis appearing to aliens.
But what made the story work for me was the narrator. Less than a year before I wrote the story, reporter Jayson Blair was fired by the New York Times for having fabricated stories, and that's what gave me the idea of a disgraced reporter looking to redeem himself. The narrative voice allowed me to inject self-deprecating humor into the story.
Having finished the story, I titled it "The First Ambassador" and sent it off to WOTF.
I was extremely happy when it was rejected seven days later. (Happy? Yes! The reason they rejected it was that I had become ineligible for the contest because my previous submission had just won second place in its quarter.)
Without the pressure of the contest deadline, I submitted the story to some of my usual critiquers. The feedback I got was generally positive, but some people had a real problem with the ending. As originally written, the revelation of the first ambassador's identity came in the last line of the story, which made it feel like a punchline.
In order to set up the punchline a little more, I changed the title to "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars," but that wasn't enough. The story got rejected several times.
When Orson Scott Card asked me if I had anything I could submit for the new online magazine he was starting (and let me tell you, being asked was one of the biggest compliments of my writing career), this story was one of four I sent for his consideration, along with "Taint of Treason" (IGMS issue 1) and "Salt of Judas" (IGMS issue 2).
After Ed Schubert took over as IGMS editor, he read the story and asked if I would rewrite the ending to make it less like a punchline. We had a good discussion about the story when we met at Dragon*Con, and over the next few weeks I wrote a new ending that kept the Elvis element but added a resolution to the conflict between the scientists.
And that's the story behind the story.