The writing world can be a frustrating place at times. The normal rules of business communication often do not apply. The speed at which our modern culture moves seems entirely absent amongst the methodical plodding projects in the publishing realm. The people in charge, the feedback, the validation are forever seeming beyond arm’s length, behind closed doors and maddeningly out of reach. I mean, in what other industry do people straight up tell you, “We’ll likely take six months to respond, and then, only if we are interested”???
And yet, here I am.
Here we are. Writing, submitting, hoping. Either gluttons for punishment or humans with dreams who refused to be deferred, we stay in the game. We keep showing up, trying, writing.
For the past six years I have been self-publishing my books. I am a do-er and after my first attempts at querying failed, I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to wait for the industry to accept me. So, I did it myself. I have learned a TON about books since my first one came out in 2013. I know now why the books I created back then weren’t ready for the traditional publishing world. But I truly believe that if I hadn’t pressed forward and hadn’t learned important lessons along the way, that I wouldn’t be the writer I am now. I wouldn’t change my path or take my books back, even the ones that make me cringe a little.
I’m sure many musicians and artists feel the same about their debut work, so I don’t think I am alone in these sentiments. We all have to start somewhere. We all learn and grow along the way. If our first attempts were brilliant, reaching the bright and shiny milestone we’ve been dreaming of wouldn’t feel nearly as amazing. In fact, it might feel just ordinary. Where’s the fun in that?
In the past year I’ve made the decision to stop self-publishing my children’s work, for a variety of reasons. Number one, I feel my skills have progressed the point that I am ready to withstand the scrutiny of the submission process. Two, in order to move my career forward, I need the acceptance and champion-efforts of the children’s literary gatekeepers. I need more teachers and librarians to say yes to my books, instead of “Have you won any awards?” “Who is your publisher?” “Have you been reviewed by Kirkus/School Library Journal/etc.?” I understand why they do this, but now, I want to have something to say that they will want to hear.
I am incredibly grateful to the schools who have taken a chance on a no-name girl from Wisconsin with her trunk full of self-published books. My school visits are some of my best works days, and definitely the best line in my financial statements. But I’m ready for more. I want more. Some people might call it greed; I’m calling it ambition.
So, I’m back to where I’m started. Researching agents and publishers, scouring the internet and guidebooks, preparing myself for just how long I’ll have to wait. But this time it’s different. This time I have writing friends, word nerd acquaintances, Facebook connections and generous already-made-it-big souls to help me along the way, even if just emotionally.
If you are just starting out on your own writing journey, my biggest advice to you is this: Make writing friends. Get to know your heroes. Reach out. Ask for help.
The lesson that was reiterated to me this week, was that even though agents and publishers are overworked souls with very little time to respond to your attempts at communication, authors lie in an entirely different camp.
Last week I emailed the lovely Helen Frost, asking her for advice when querying her agent (my DREAM agent!) and she replied wishing me luck and suggesting another agent she thought might be a good fit if hers says no. I also sent a manuscript question to award winning, picture book (and fellow Wisconsin!) author Pat Zietlow Miller, who quickly answered my question and wished me “wild success” on my current project. Chris Richards, an editor for Penguin Press that I met at a wedding last summer responded to a Facebook message with loads of querying advice. I’m currently reviewing an advanced reader copy of Wendelin Van Draanen’s writing memoir and advice book for aspiring writers. I messaged her on Facebook to tell her I loved every word, and she immediately replied (from the airport) thanking me for feedback that gave her a little boost during her long travels. E.M Kokie is currently critiquing my picture book manuscript and accompanying query letter (as well as giving me invaluable advice!) after I purchased the services at a SCBWI silent auction. Margi Preus just said she’d answer a few questions (maybe even in person when I vacation in her hometown later this month!) for an interview that will be featured on my blog… even though we’ve never met, just because I asked. Christy Wopat meets with me a few times a month to co-critique and daydream about being famous writer friends. I am floored by the generous and talented people that make up my writing life and know that this time will be different because of them.
So, don’t worry. Even if the publishing road seems impossibly long, even if you aren’t sure the wait time is worth it, even if the radio silence is driving you insane… hang on. Find a writing friend. Reach out to someone you admire. Ask for help. And if you’d like me to be your person, I’d be happy to help. As you can see from above, I have a lot of good industry Karma to return to the writing world.
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