Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Twelve Things Every Children's Book Writers Should Do - #9 Don't be in a Rush to be Published

I am going to be completely honest with you here. I am completely guilty of this sin. Yes, gentle readers, we have all been guilty of certain sins, and this one is mine.

Over five years ago, I completed my first novel. Now, this wasn't really the first novel I had ever written, but this was the first novel that I actually thought was good enough for publishing. I worked on it day after day, writing furiously, and then printing it out and editing it. I then even gave it to a friend and she edited it with me. We discussed certain parts of the novel, and I changed a few parts based on these discussions. In my mind, I was ready.

Boy was I wrong!!!!

Satisfied with the novel, I decided to send it out. I purchased a book on how to submit to agents and publishing houses, and sent, sent, sent. If I even got a reply, I was lucky. Most of the time, I got form rejections. Only once I got a written rejection. It said, "This didn't do it for me." It was really tough and the rejections sent me into some soul searching. What was I doing wrong? Why didn't they love my novel as much as I did? Did I really have what it took to be a writer?

Well now that I have the luxury of hindsight, I can see my sin. I was in a rush to get published. I had written, edited, and "critiqued" my novel in one year. Perhaps if I were a more experienced writer, then yes, this could have been feasible. But I was a young novice (still am). I hadn't really taken the time needed to develop myself and my skills as a writer.

Also, perhaps my friend wasn't the best person to critique and edit my novel. She was a good friend and I appreciate her help, but what I needed was a group of people who specialized in this sort of thing. Several skilled eyes help catch things that one set of eyes do not.

So what have I done since then? I took a couple of writing classes, have had the novel critiqued several times, and have even re-written the novel. Three times. It took me four years since I wrote the first novel to the point of the third revision of the novel. It has been critiqued, polished, and edited. And for now, it has been put away.

Why? I still don't feel it is ready. After polishing it, I put it away and began a new novel. I am now at complete peace of mind. As I embark on the new novel, I do not feel the rush I once felt. I will keep working and working and working on the new novel until I feel it is truly ready. And knowing that I will work on it to my best has actually helped me gain more insight on the writing process and makes me feel more confident in my abilities. I feel far more secure that this time, when I am ready, I will receive more favorable responses.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Twelve Things Every Children's Book Writers Should Do - #10 Be Professional

You have your manuscript ready to send to a publisher. That's fantastic! But now what do you do? Whenever you are prepared to send your manuscript, you must prepare for it as you would for a job interview.

When you are looking for a job, you don't apply to just anything? Of course not. You look for companies that interest you, openings that match your skills, and so on. This is the same when you send out your manuscript. Look at the company. What kinds of books do they publish? How about the editor? What does look for? What past books has he published. This takes some research, but the payoff is worth it.

Okay, you've found what you think is a good match. Now, take a look at that particular editor's or publishing house's submission guidelines. What do they want? A chapter and novel synopsis? How do they want it - by email? By mail? Follow the instructions carefully.

Remember, presentation is everything. You don't have the opportunity to put on your best suit and present yourself in person, so you have to let everything you send do the talking for you. You wouldn't send in your resume on pink paper, so now isn't the time for that either (yes, I had this happen quite often). Plain white paper and typed (please!) is best.

Just as you must always send a cover letter with your resume, you must always send a letter with your manuscript (or summary, or whatever the house or editor has asked for). This letter should always try to establish some of the following:

  • Establish the book's setting
  • Give a plot summary
  • Convey a sense of the characters and why the editor should care about them
  • Demonstrate your writing ability
  • Explain how the book differs from all the other books in its genre (this should be done in summary)
  • Show an understanding of the house and editor

These basic points should always be covered in your letter. In addition, you must always be sure that:

  • It is typed 12 pt double-spaced
  • It is no longer than one page
  • You have a good, clear letterhead with several means on contact
  • You are formal and polite in the letter
  • You formally close thanking the editor for her time and consideration
  • You have read and edited the letter making sure there are no errors

This is your chance to be seen and heard, so be as professional as possible.

There are many good websites that give a lot of information on how to write a good query letter. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) offers a lot of help on formatting manuscripts and how to write a good query letter. However, it also helps to look at what NOT to do.

With that in mind, I offer two fantastic sites. The first offered by Cheryl Klein, a wonderful editor at Arthur A. Levine whom I have had the pleasure to meet, presents a humorous look at the Annotated Query Letter from Hell. I've read it several times and still enjoy reading it over (and yes, we have all been guilty of one sin or the other, so don't worry if you recognize something you've done. As she says, acknowledge the sin and then sin no more.) Next is a wonderful website dedicated to YA query letters called Query Shark. Every week, the shark (a literary agent) sinks her teeth into query letters explaining what works and doesn't work with them. You can even submit your own query letter and let the bloodletting begin!

Although you should be professional, also remember to be yourself, and have fun.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Twelve Things Children's Book Writers Should Do - #11 Work on Getting Published

This is rather like the old adage - to get a job, you have to have experience, but to have experience, you must have a job. Writing is kind of the same, too. If getting your novel published is the equivalent of having a job, then getting published is the equivalent of having experience.

Sound confusing?

It really isn't. Don't forget, while having a book to your name is wonderful, there are other smaller venues - and they count too! While you are shopping around your novel, or still in the middle of writing it, you can submit to other places. Consider journals, magazines, small newsletters, or even on-line websites.

Having said that, do not think just because the length is small that the standards at most places are not. My writing group and I have tried ( to get published in Highlights. We all have submitted to date at least two stories or short histories to the magazine, only to be turned down. But we do not give up. Right now, I am mostly published on these blog pages (with the exception of the odd piece I write for work).

But I don't give up.Think how much better it would look when I submit my query letter to an editor to list the various places I have been published than to have nothing at all. A list of stories published would be the experience I need to land my job.