Have you heard of New In 19? They're a group made up of debut trade picture book authors and illustrators of 2019. I was invited to moderate a #NewIn19 Twitter chat with the members back in October. I'll be sharing a post each day this week using the five questions from the chat. (View other questions through the NewIn19 keyword.) Today we'll here from four 2019 debut picture book authors about the advice they wish they knew prior to publishing.
I've included a link to the #NewIn19 archive here for my fourth question, As an author, what advice do you wish you had heard when first starting your journey to publication?
I've also included some screenshots like these between the guest posts below that I hope you'll enjoy.
In the beginning of my writing career, I wish I knew the benefit of critique groups. Like so many, I was over confident with my writing, until I was invited to my first critique group. It was certainly and eye opener! I feel like knowing other writers and having a competent critique group early on, that I would have advanced quicker in my writing skills. My advice is to get a critique group as quickly as possible! I also wish I knew the benefit of the SCBWI. The networking and bonds formed at these conferences are great. Lastly, I wish someone told me that patience, persistence and being thick skinned would be my greatest qualities to have in the writing world.
Your editor is not your boss. Your editor is not your adversary. Your editor is your partner.
There’s so much angst about the author-editor relationship: what if they think I’m difficult to work with, what if my book never meets their expectations of what it could be, what if it doesn’t sell as well as they hope and the publisher loses a ton of money... And the fear is that this will mean: The End Of Your Career.
But that angst sets up an unhealthy and incorrect perception of the dynamic between an author and their editor. Your editor has a job to do, and that is to help you craft the best book you possibly can by asking you questions and pointing out holes and other places where the manuscript doesn’t match your shared vision for the book. Your job is to respect that, to listen, to be open to experimentation and feedback, and to be really clear about your vision. That’s it. And if one of you is too afraid of upsetting the other to voice your opinions or concerns or questions, then you’re not going to make your best book.
Remember that your editor won’t ask for your thoughts unless they really want your thoughts. They’re not just asking to be nice, or asking so they’ll have someone to blame if your book doesn’t sell as well as everyone hopes. They’re asking out of respect for your role as the author of this work. And when you have a dialogue with your editor that is borne of mutual respect for one another and one another’s roles in the creative process, then your book will really shine.
I’ve heard many times at conferences how in order to survive in publishing, you need to develop a thick skin. I think that learning to be kind to yourself may be even more important, to help you through the inevitable times when your hopes clash with the reality of rejection.
Sometimes all you get in response to a submission is dead silence or tepid replies. Sometimes, it’s even praise, which sets your heart beating fast—until you reach a “Thank you, but it’s not right for me.” It can feel like you’ve just been punched in the stomach, especially when you’re starting out. It’s hard to detach yourself, but try not to take it personally. It’s a tough, competitive field, and many times it comes down to personal taste, timing, a twist of fate or sometimes, your work is not strong enough. Yet. Remind yourself of all of this the way a supportive friend would.
You might find that if you leave your best manuscript in a drawer and later you return to it with fresh eyes, you’ll agree with some of those rejection comments you thought to be unfair at the time. Write stories that are yours and no one else’s, the kind that follow you and don’t leave you alone until you have put them on paper.
And after you’ve put those stories on paper (and revised them again and again) it’s critical to find a group of like-minded people whose opinions you trust. If you’re an introvert, that’s hard to do, but it’s worth the effort. In the end, it will circle back to being kind all around. Learning to give and receive critiques is also about supporting your fellow writers when they think they are not good enough, accepting their support when you’re feeling down, and helping each other as much as you can.
You may be surprised to discover that becoming part of a community of kind and supportive people that you can call your friends, will turn out to be by far the best part of your journey to publication.
The advice I wish I had heard loud and clear when I first started my journey to publication comes in two parts. First, I think getting into any new field or industry can be overwhelming. There’s so much knowledge, so many experts, potential mentors, people who have come before you. So, as an author, I wish someone would have said to let the advice go and allow yourself to just write. And whatever is written may come out horrible and unsalable, but these crazy rough drafts are the stepping stones. Following all of the rules of writing picture books can kill your story before you even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Following all of the rules of writing, like checking elements off a list, restricts creativity, and the heart of your story goes flying out the window. The editor should come into play later. Do the creative work first. The unbridled work. Let that horse go and see what it can do. The trainer (or the editor in you) can come in later and hone, shape, and manipulate. That way, the creative off-the-wall ideas and the passion will be there. Secondly, allow yourself to make mistakes, like sending that not-so-polished manuscript to your dream agent, and have compassion for yourself when you do. There’s no learning in perfection. That perfectionist needs to take a hike. There are so many more things to learn from really falling flat on your face. Oh, and I’ve done it many times over on this journey, but I didn’t really appreciate it until recently. Now, I’m a huge advocate for goofing up big time. Making mistakes was and continues to be one of my wisest teachers.
Contributors to this post:
Michelle Vattula is a children’s book author with her debut picture book, The Stalking Seagulls, in Spring 2019 with Maclaren Cochrane Publishing. She has a second picture book, Dance With Me-date TBD, also with Maclaren Cochrane Publishing. Michelle is an active memeber of the SCBWI and is the New Member Coordinator for the WPA SCBWI chapter. She lives just North of Pittsburgh, but never forgets her Boston roots.
Ishta Mercurio is an author and actor. A Cincinnati native, the daughter of a Philippine-American mother and an Irish-Italian-American father, she now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Look for her fiction debut, SMALL WORLD, from Abrams Books for Young Readers on July 2, 2019. Find her on twitter @IshtaWrites or online at www.ishtamercurio.com
My name is Ioana Hobai and I was born in Bucharest, Romania. I am an architect turned illustrator, now living outside of Boston MA with my two children. My illustrator debut BEFORE YOU SLEEP: A BEDTIME BOOK OF GRATITUDE, was published this year by Page Street Kids and my author-illustrator debut, LENA’S SLIPPERS, will be out on June 11, 2019, from the same publisher. It’s a story inspired by a childhood memory, about a little girl who loves to dance but doesn’t have the right ballet slippers for a school recital and has to come up with a creative solution.I am currently working on my second book as an author-illustrator, A WHALE OF A MISTAKE (January 2020, Page Street Kids) a meditation in picture book form about the feelings that we experience when we make mistakes.
Lindsay Leslie is the author of the upcoming picture books THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS (Page Street Kids, Feb. 19, 2019), NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids/May 21, 2019), and WANTED: DUSK RAIDERS (Page Street Kids/Spring 2020) Lindsay lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.