March 1, 2010

The Haystack Theory of Publishing

When I was teaching, someone told me about the haystack theory of education. Usually, learning is thought of a linear kind of thing ~ first you learn this, then this, then this. All the teacher has to do is lay it out in a row, sort of like that old video game Pacman. But, really, it’s not. There are so many factors that affect student learning. The student has to be ready to receive the knowledge. The teacher has to present it in the right way. It has to be reinforced enough times. And so on. That’s where the haystack theory of education comes in. Learning is not a linear thing; instead, it’s like a pile of hay. The teacher needs to keep throwing bits out there and picking up old bits and retossing them. Some will stick and a lot will slide off, but eventually they’ll amount to a pile.

I’ve extended this metaphor to what I call my “Haystack Theory of Publishing.” Publishing is not a linear thing. You don’t send one thing out that is received and published and then that leads to another thing. No. Instead, you’ve got to keep throwing bits out there ~ and not just in one pile but in multiple piles. It just keeps sliding off and sliding off. But you just keep throwing it out there. Eventually, though, it will amount to something.

This is my way of thinking about publishing as a process. When I send something out, I expect it to be rejected. This is not unreasonable, given that literary magazines and agents and publishers only accept something like 0.1 percent or less of what they receive. But I’m looking past that rejection to down the road. I’m getting my name out there. The first-round reader may reject this story this time, but next time a story might make it to the fiction editor’s desk. They won’t publish it, but they might be impressed by a turn of phrase or the protagonist's take on things, and that will put my name in the back of their mind. Then maybe the next submission or the one after that might grab her or his interest. This process also has the advantage of improving my writing, so that when something is published it’ll probably be a lot better than if it followed a linear process.

What I’m Reading Today: More wonderful Erdrich.

PS I received a rejection from a great litmag today but it had an invitation to submit again. It was one of those that made me shout woo hoo!


Lisa Jo Finstrom said...

I like your hay stack metaphor!

Tamara said...

Hey, Lisa Joe! Thanks!

I hope your writing is going abfab!