It’s been 20 years since I first asked that question.
It’s been 14 years since I first earnestly began seeking the answer.
It’s been 12 years since I attended my first children’s literature conference.
It’s been 9 years since I got THE phone call from Random House with an offer on a manuscript that would become my first published book.
It’s been 7 years since that book was released.
And now, with 4 books published, 1 releasing in September, and 5 more sold, I look back at those years and consider: What did I do right? What did I do wrong?
What do I know now that I wish I’d known then?
Several things come to mind quickly:
I wish I’d found a critique group sooner.
I wish I’d not sent some manuscripts out so soon.
I wish I’d sent some out sooner.
I wish I’d studied the business, read more craft books, enrolled in an MFA in Writing program, eaten less chocolate….
Enough with regrets. We can beat ourselves up rehashing all the things we didn’t do right.
Sometimes we have to pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve done well.
I asked questions.
I used resources wisely.
I read lots of picture books and middle grade books – including new ones, not just the ones I read and loved as a child.
I found others who were on the same journey and supported them while they supported me.
I didn’t give up.
The publishing world is a big, scary place.
I get that. I STILL get that. But over the course of my journey, the publishing world has become much smaller and much friendlier. And part of that is because I’ve realized it’s made up of humans. Editors, agents, those successful authors and illustrators- they’re all humans! Just like you, just like me.
I’ve also found that Children’s Literature is made up of some of the best humans on the planet! For the most part, we’re NICE. We’re friendly, we’re supportive, we build up one another, and we’re fierce when it comes to protecting one another. I’m sure Kate Messner and Phil Bildner would agree that they’ve experienced the love and support of the Kid Lit community these past weeks.
Like most published authors, I get my share of emails from those just starting out. They want answers, magic keys, perfect advice, that tip that will start their career in the direction of their dreams. I always reply. Yes, it’s disheartening when I spend half an hour crafting a personal response and then I don’t get a “thank you” in return. I suspect it’s because I said some things the person didn’t want to hear: It’s not going to happen quickly. It’s going to be hard. A good manuscript isn’t good enough – it’s got to be GREAT. You’re going to get rejections. You’re going to want to give up.
I delight in those who are like I was 12-14 years ago. Not the 20-years-ago me. The 20-years-ago me thought she was interested in writing for children. She thought she was ready to seek answers, but she wasn’t ready to hear the truth. But the 14-years-ago me? She was ready to dig in, to listen, to understand how it works. And the 12-years-ago me? Oh, she was on fire. She was so serious, she talked herself into boarding a plane for New York City in the dead of winter to attend her first SCBWI conference. That girl… that’s the one that would become a published author.
I’ve taught several workshops for beginning writers, and I’m also thrilled to meet folks who are earnestly seeking to learn more about writing for children. At the end of July, I’m hosting a one-day Writing for Children Summer Workshop in my one-room schoolhouse studio in Ohio. Seating is limited (it is, after all, a one-room schoolhouse) but there are a few spots open. If you’re interested, click here for all the details.
If you’re that 20-years-ago me, that 14-years-ago, or that 12-years-ago me, I hope you’ll take one thing away from this post: Listen. Listen to the stories of those who have traveled the path you’re on. Listen to the characters who may be asking you to tell their stories. Listen to your heart.
It’s noisy out there, I know.
But listen, and you’ll learn a great deal. I know I did.