The Path to Publication by Brad Windhauser
Like most schools, Calvert Street Elementary had a Spring fundraiser, which asked students to sell chocolate candy bars for a dollar apiece. The catch: you compelled people to commit to buy, collected money, submitted the cash to the school, and then you delivered the candy the next day. You can see how this created limitations, for instant gratification is a salesperson’s best friend. Anyway, I liked a challenge, and so I mounted my dirt bike and canvassed my neighborhood, hoping to sell as many as possible. I knew sales weren’t likely to knock on my door, and I also steeled myself (as only a ten-year-old can): remember, most people will say no, so keep knocking until you find the people who say yes.
I saw modest success, and, thinking I could do better, I opted for a new strategy: convince my Dad to buy 20 bars, which I would keep in the fridge, and then travel with the next day. With the money I sold, I could then invest in more boxes, which would allow for further success.
This strategy worked, and when it did, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it earlier.
Though I of course didn’t know it then, my mentality would serve me well in my writing career: the path to publication is littered with people who say no but you need to keep knocking on those doors. And when you are not seeing enough results, you need to make some changes to your process.
When I graduated with my Master’s, I figured I was set. Education under my belt, I started submitting stories right and left. Only a matter of time before the acceptance letters arrived, right? Wrong. But as these piled up, I didn’t look closely enough at these rejections. Sure, not all rejections indicate weak writing—some stories just don’t work for certain publications—but at a certain point, you need to ask yourself if your work is as ready as you think it is.
I had to change my strategy.
A number of these rejections concerned my first novel, and when the third round of rejections complimented my writing but expressed concerns about aspects of the plot, I knew I could move forward: I believed in my plot.
This was a useful lesson, for the first step in my path to publication had to do not necessarily with confidence but rather with an honest assessment of my strengths as a writer: I was headed in the right direction.
I then turned my attention to my short stories and revised, revised, revised. I then knew I had to adjust how I got my work in the hands of editors who could do something with it. For me, this meant attending writer’s conferences with workshops led by such editors—One of these editors, after workshopping one of my stories—published a story. This further bolstered my confidence, which compelled me to take the comments received from my workshopped material and scrutinize other short stories.
I also continued to study my craft, which meant reading, reading, reading. This exposure to other approaches to fiction provided me with new tools, which better enabled me to draft and revise. With a few publication credits on my CV, I then submitted my new work to more and more journals—this time, I was more selective with the doors I knocked on. Sure, I wish the Atlantic would run a few of my pieces, but before that, I wanted my publication credits, so I selected reputable journals that tended to publish work similar to my stories. Three of these journals accepted and published my stories last year.
I also diversified my projects by beginning a blog project where, as a gay author, I chronicled my experience reading the Bible for the first time. This experience compelled me to crank out a different style of writing and allow me to expand my audience.
All of these experiences along my path to publication continue to encourage my work, as I am seeking an agent for my second novel and also working on the second draft of my third.