Tag Archives: publishing

Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.

Aloof

The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.

Crying

You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits

 


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

Baby horse gif

or Childbirth

Dumbo gif

Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

Book heart gif

Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

Gravatar

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Advice, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Editor, Faith, Illustrators, Inspiration, Patience, Picture books, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, waiting, Writing and Life

Writing for Charity: Refugee Benefit Auction

auction

The kidlit community is incredibly talented and endlessly generous, and when those two forces come together, remarkable things happen. In 2012, authors, agents, and editors donated to KidLit Cares (led by Kate Messner and Joanne Levy) and raised over $60,000 for the Superstorm Sandy relief effort. I was fortunate enough to win a critique in that auction from author Julie Berry, and her feedback still guides my revision process to this day–and led to multiple offers of representation within a few months.

Now there’s another opportunity to join together and do something spectacular for people in need, with possible side effects that will greatly benefit your writing.

When authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison (who already run the Writing for Charity conference each spring) asked for donations to an auction to benefit refugees, the response was huge. The result: amazing. Click here (or the image above) to see all the awesome.

You could win countless critiques from top-notch authors, editors, and agents–including query and 10-page critiques from our own agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Drinks with Lemony Snicket. A writing retreat for you and four friends in a gorgeous mountain home, with visits from Shannon Hale and Ally Condie. You could be murdered in a book by international bestseller Dan Wells. The list goes on and on and on! There are plenty of budget-friendly items too. The author critiques in auctions like these are incredibly helpful and such a great value.

I’m thrilled to be part of this auction on both ends. I’ve donated a signed ARC of my debut, LIKE MAGIC, as well as a query and first chapter critique. But I’m definitely bidding too, and I’m sneaky and very competitive. You’ve been warned.

Of course, the very best part of all this is that 100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps. So please, bid/give generously, and good luck! Unless, of course, you’re bidding against me. 🙂

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profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

 

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Filed under Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Hold the Vision

Look what I got in the mail the other day! My signed contract for THE NIAN MONSTER! I was so excited that I hugged it. But not too hard, because that might crinkle the pages. If you look closely, you’ll see that the contract was issued last August – 7 months ago. And that was nearly 7 months after receiving the offer to buy my story.

My first book contract!

My first book contract!

I found out that this is not at all unusual in the publishing industry. It’s still hard to get used to, though. When I worked as an environmental consultant, we never did any work unless we had a signed contract from the client. Sometimes, we even asked for a retainer — payment in advance! But over the past year, I have done a lot of work on the book — all without a signed contract. It didn’t make me feel better to read this line at the bottom of the offer letter: “Please note that this offer is subject to contract and in no way does this offer represent a binding agreement.”

 

And that got me thinking about trust. From the very beginning, when it was just me and the blank page, there had to be trust. I love what Neil Gaiman says about this part of the process: 2016-03-24 07.04.53

After the story was written (and re-written many, many times) and an offer had finally been accepted, there was still no guarantee that there would be a book at the end of the tunnel. I had to trust that my editor and art director shared my vision of the book. I had to trust that my illustrator would bring my words to life and add a layer of emotion and richness that I couldn’t. I had to trust that people were working on my book when I wasn’t there to watch. It was hard. I’d never met any of these people in real life; I hadn’t even spoken to them on the phone. Communication was done over email. I’m sure I could have called, but I didn’t want to hover — I was afraid that if I made any demands, the offer would just vanish into the ether. So I just took a deep breath and chose to believe in them.

2016-03-24 07.12.29

I realized that although it felt like I had lost control, I really hadn’t. My editor had to learn to trust me, too. And I could do something about that. I listened to her feedback on my manuscript. I revised to the best of my ability. When she asked for information on the landmarks and the monster himself, I researched for days and produced what felt like reams of photos and data. And strangely, the more work I did, the more comfortable I felt with the situation, despite the lack of a “binding agreement.” The fact that my editor and the art director were asking for more information proved that they were working on my book. Just like when I was writing the story, I had to trust the process — but this time, it was the process of publication. My editor, art director, illustrator and I ultimately had the same vision: a beautiful book butterfly emerging from its publishing house cocoon.

2016-03-24 07.36.53

2016-03-24 07.29.42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that the path to publication isn’t always smooth; I’ve had it easy in comparison to some. But even when the road is bumpy or full of detours, trust is involved. Trust in yourself and your story. You will both be fine.

2016-03-24 07.25.01

 


 

Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang. What’s the “Y” stand for? Take a guess!

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Faith, Uncategorized, waiting

Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Longing for Balance, Post-launch

On Monday, our newest Emu Tamara Ellis Smith wrote a beautiful post about the longing that accompanies the journey toward publication. It’s a feeling that many, many writers aspiring to become published know, and one that I knew well for many years.

Born on July 10, 2014!

Born on July 10, 2014!

But now, I’m on the other side of the fence. All Four Stars has been out in the world for a month and a half, and I’ll be hanging up my Emu feathers before long. Has the longing evaporated?

No, of course not—but it has changed. For weeks around when my book came out, when my life felt swallowed up by launch-party planning and online promotion efforts, I longed to get back to my quiet, boring, normal routine and write. Finally, the chaos of launch has passed, and I’ve been able to do that, and now I have even more appreciation for it than I did before.

But now that I am writing again, I long to do it better—to dig deeper into my new characters, to send them on better-plotted journeys and describe their actions with more beautiful sentences. I’m thrilled that my first novel has been published, but I long to up my game in future ones.

But most of all, I long to find balance. I want to focus enough energy on promoting my published book that readers will continue to discover it even after the push of launch-time is over. But I also want to write new books. And I want to continue to travel and have the adventures and experiences that inspire my stories in the first place. Basically, I long for my old, prepublished lifestyle to continue while I also integrate my new obligations as a published author into it. A tall order, perhaps, but each day I’m finding my way.

All that said, finally being published after years of working toward it is undeniably sweet. There is nothing quite like a stranger—someone who has no reason to coddle or lie to you—telling you that they loved reading your book. And if that stranger is a kid, even better. And if they come to your latest book event and tell you in person, EVEN BETTER.

This actually happened last weekend.

This actually happened last weekend.

Yeah…life after launch isn’t so bad.

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Book Promotion, Book signing, Happiness, Launch, Promotion, Satisfaction

A Title Change and Why

I REALLY notice titles. Doesn’t everybody? We all have picked up books based titles, and I want people to pick up my book based on the title.

So here is my title change story.

I liked my old title, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON, and I felt it was a title that kids would like. I felt people would pick it up. After all, dragons are on Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted my title to be a glimpse into my story. A lure. And I had an idea that my title could accomplish this better by adding a few words. So I researched. I looked at title length. I looked at title layouts on covers. I thought. And thought some more. I let the new title wander around in my brain a while. I said it out loud in my house. I said it out loud while walking and driving. I typed it out and stared at it. I thought about people saying, “Oh, you must read MY OLD TITLE or MY NEW TITLE.” Which was better? I tried it out on some family and friends. And then I decided to approach my editor. I wanted her expertise and I knew from our working relationship that she would listen to my reasons and tell me her honest thoughts.

She liked my new title! She agreed with my reasoning.

So . . . THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON

is now

*drum roll*

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT

I’m very excited about the title change. It’s really a pretty simple change and may not seem like much to get excited over. After all, it’s only four more words. But to me it was a big decision, and the excitement comes from the feeling that I have given it the thought a title deserves.

Like I said, I had my reasons for wanting the change. Here they are. Maybe some of my “thinking through” will strike a chord with you if you’re wondering about a title.

  • THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON was fun. And it’s a good title. But THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT gives a more tempting glimpse into my story and is a great title  and even more fun 🙂
  • Not only do dragons make Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like, but so do knights. So I now have two things that kids like! Double the title temptation. (Even without Tara’s list, I knew that kids liked dragons AND knights, but I wanted to mention her list here because I refer to it often and thought all of you may benefit from Tara’s list, too. It’s an idea generator!)
  • I noticed that a lot of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY retellings included not only the swallow-er, but the swallow-ee. I felt there was good reason for this. The reason being . . .some of the titles made me laugh before I ever opened the books! Really . . . THAT swallowed THAT? Funny! I want to read more.

So there you have it. A lot of thought. A simple change. And hopefully a title that will draw readers to the tale of an old dragon who swallows a knight.

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penny3

Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Titles, Writing

Off To Grandma’s House

I remember when my husband and I took our son to the airport to fly to his grandma’s house. We had to leave him with those in charge of unaccompanied minors-those who would help him get to his grandparents without a hitch. I felt a bit sad that he was ready for this adventure. He was my little boy and he was growing up. I felt nervous that he was going on his own without me to see to his needs and interpret his moods…because Momma knows best. Momma notices every little nuance and expression. She doesn’t have to guess at their meaning. I also felt excitement that he was “ready” for this adventure. I knew this was part of his maturation and the process of preparing him for the world. I knew that his grandparents loved him. I knew how much they were looking forward to this. I knew the importance of his relationship with them and I knew the importance of their influence in his life. I knew that grandparents add a layer to a his life experiences that is important.

As writers we give our stories life. We are the mommas and daddys of our stories. We know every little nuance. But we have to leave them to those in charge-those who help our stories on their journey. We have to leave them with agents and editors and illustrators. It is very emotional. We are excited about this because how else would our stories get out into the world. But we are also nervous. We are hoping that those in charge of our stories will pay close attention to every word. Every mood. Will they notice that expression on page six? What about the humor I see so clearly on page two?

Right now, my debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon, is at Grandma’s house. It is with Ben Mantle, the illustrator. He will add that extra layer to the story. But before the manuscript arrived, it had to be left with those in charge. First it had to be with Tricia Lawrence, my agent. She got it! She so got it! When she called about my story she mentioned my favorite things. She loves this story and I knew it was in good hands. Then the manuscript spent time with my editor, Maria Modugno. Her excitement was inspiring. She suggested some edits that would make the visit at Grandma’s house more beneficial. She loves my story, too. It’s in good hands. So how am I feeling about the visit with Ben Mantle (Who may not appreciate being called a grandma because . . . well, he’s a man . . . and he’s way younger that me!) I’m feeling especially good! Not because I have a Mommy-cam. I haven’t even seen sketches. But my editor, Maria Modugno, and I talked last week. We talked about changing a few words in manuscript. A few words  . . . but Oh So Important Words. We had this conversation because she had been talking with Ben Mantle about the same few words. He called her to discuss the few . . . but Oh So Important Words. He is paying attention to each expression and mood. Every little nuance! Do you know how good that makes me feel? How confident? He sees the importance of these few words so clearly that he wanted to discuss them. So I know he is adding a layer to the life of my manuscript that I couldn’t add. I know he is taking it very seriously.

I have a feeling I’m going to be very pleased to see my manuscript’s growth and change once it gets back from Grandma’s house. Ben’s influence on the story will make this our story! His and mine. A picture book that is prepared for the world.

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penny3Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Filed under craft~writing, Editor, Publishers and Editors, Writing

The Second Time Around

One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard most frequently from authors who have published multiple books is “Enjoy this time—you only debut once!”

penguin-logo

You’re official! Now please rewrite this piece-of-dreck manuscript.*
(*Not an exact quote.)

For about a year after I sold my first book, I kind of got where they were coming from…but there was definitely another part of me that thought “Yeah, right. Because it’s sooo enjoyable is it to be a clueless noob about absolutely every single step of the publishing process!”

I regularly felt like I was flailing around in those months. I had no idea when to expect my contract, my editorial letter, my advance check. The conferences that more experienced authors referred to with casual ease sounded like alphabet soup to me. And let’s not even mention the looming challenge of how to promote a book when you have no fan base yet and zero name recognition.

But today, four months before my debut, I think I finally understand what those old hand authors were talking about. It just took selling a second book for me to get it.

Now, I’m absolutely ecstatic that All Four Stars will have a sequel. And this time around, I definitely feel more at-ease about the whole editorial process, since I’ve already been through it once. For instance, after I turned the manuscript for book two in to my editor, I found that I wasn’t constantly refreshing my inbox like I did after turning in book one; I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy the enforced time away from that story while I waited for her edits.

But I also have to admit that the things that felt like big milestones for me with my first book just haven’t been as thrilling this second time around.

I took copious pictures of myself signing my first book contract, and my first check. I may have squealed a little with delight when I received my first editorial letter, if only because every page had that official-looking Penguin logo. But that wasn’t really because other authors had told me to “enjoy it”—it was because these were pieces of hard evidence that my long-held dream of becoming a published novelist was really coming true.

The second time around, though, I just signed my contract quickly, wanting to get it back in the mail so my payment could get processed. When that payment came, I deposited the check with no fanfare. And as happy as I was to get my editorial letter for book two a few weeks ago, this time I didn’t squeal over how official it looked. I’d already done this once, so I knew how much work was ahead of me—and that I really needed to get right down to it.

So, I guess I’m on the brink of becoming one of those authors who warbles the song of experience, warning the whippersnappers that they’d better enjoy every little moment of their debut process, or else. “Never again will paperwork feel so exciting to you!” I’ll preach.

But you know what? I’m okay with becoming that person. Where I used to feel clueless and anxious, I now feel confident and…well, not exactly mellow, but at least a little more chill than I used to be. Publishing may not feel like a thrill a minute anymore, but overall, I think that the trade-off will be worth it.

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Advice, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editor, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Writing and Life

The Secret Formula for Getting Published

secretformulaYears before I was even offered a contract, new writers started asking me if I would tell them how to get published. Some have asked if I would connect them to an agent or an editor. Others have wanted to know how to write a surefire query letter.

These are the same questions I asked established writers when I was new, and every question is a good one. Every one of them is important if a writer wants to eventually work with a respected, traditional publisher. But—trust me—if I knew a quick-and-easy secret formula, I would’ve used it a long time ago.

If there *were* a step-by-step process, however, it might look a lot like this:

1. Blood

2. Sweat

3. Tears

4. Repeat

But since we’re talking about the Children’s market, rather than the Stephen King method of getting published, perhaps I should use the ABCs to impart the best advice I have to offer:

A: Attend Conferences and Workshops

You don’t need to attend conferences and workshops, but I’m telling you, I would’ve never been published if I hadn’t made the investment in a good education. And I’m not talking about my college English classes.

Writing and selling a manuscript is tough stuff. The good news is that many brilliant authors have done it before you, and especially in the Children’s/Young Adult market, they are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience. At conferences, you get the opportunity to learn from their presentations, ask them questions, and even benefit from their critiques of your work.

Editors and agents are often in attendance as well. Not only does this give you an opportunity to get a feel for what type of manuscripts they’re looking for, but in most cases, you’re then given the okay to submit to them directly. And this is a big deal. Every major publishing house I know of is closed to open submissions, meaning that you need a reputable agent to submit the manuscript on your behalf. And more and more agencies are closing their doors to open submissions, too . . . which means you need to have an “in” with them as well.

So how do you get that “in?” By attending a conference where that agent or editor is presenting.

As far as conference costs are concerned, it’s important to do some serious research. There are workshops aplenty—many of them very beneficial—that are less than $100. And there are also several that are over $1000. Some are even $2500 and beyond. Personally, I’ve never seen a workshop in this later category that looks worth the price (in fact, I think the majority of these highly-priced workshops are predatory). So definitely look into the details, find some conferences or workshops that meet your needs, and decide if the price seems reasonable.

For the Children’s market, you’ll find an excellent array of upcoming events at www.SCBWI.org. And my personal favorite week-long conference—for cost, improving craft, networking, and its impressive track record for connecting writers with their future agents or editors—is called Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. You can find more info about it at www.wifyr.com  (I’m not paid for recruiting, I swear! I’ve just attended it several times and love it).

B: Be Active in the Writing Community

Form genuine relationships with people who can both formally and informally mentor you. Learn as much as you can about the business from them. BUT keep in mind that it generally makes an author uncomfortable when you ask them to hook you up with their agent/editor. If you are genuine friends with an author, then he or she has likely read some of your work, so if they feel it’s a good fit for their agent/editor, they will likely tell you. Otherwise, do your due diligence, just as they did, and query the editor or agent yourself.

Where do you start if you want to get more involved in the community? Thanks to the internet, the world has become a very small place. Technically, there’s no need to even travel away from your laptop when it comes to making new friends, so get out there and make some. Start following writing blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, especially those by successful authors. Then just . . . absorb. Listen in, and eventually jump into conversations.

Another critical step for a beginner is to find a critique group. And make sure you connect with writers who write for your same genre, or your experience will likely go sour. For example, if you write picture books, then join a group with PB writers only. Even the best novel writer in the world could steer you wrong with their advice for writing a picture book (which are totally different animals!) And vise versa. It takes some effort, but if you seek out like minds, you will eventually find them. And don’t be afraid to leave a critique group if it’s just bringing you down—killing your confidence. Critiques are usually beneficial, but what’s the point if you’re not being productive? Sometimes a writer just needs to step back and take some time to sort things out on his or her own. But keep in mind that if you continue to hear similar comments that particular issues aren’t quite working in your manuscript, then they aren’t quite working. Editors and agents will see these same problems as well, so figure out how to make the issues work, then revise the manuscript. (Like I said: Blood, Sweat, Tears, Repeat.)

Let’s go back to conferences and workshops because they’re the best way I know to do some critical networking. Some people claim that it’s who you know in this business that can get you a book deal, and guess what? They’re often right. But it might not be what you’re thinking. It’s more like who you know, and what they can teach you. Or . . . who they know, and what they tell others about your manuscript.

I landed my first major book deal last May, and it was the direct result of one Important Person in the industry—who had read my entire manuscript—telling another Important Person (during a typical morning commute in NYC) that she felt my manuscript might be a good fit for Bloomsbury. And it was. So very good things can come from simple networking, which often results in forming genuine friendships.

C: Create a Quality Manuscript

Attending conferences, networking with other writers, and joining a critique group will also teach you a lot about craft. And nothing you do will be as important as writing a quality manuscript.

For new writers, especially, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of selling a book (how to write a query letter, how to get connected with agents and editors, etc). But no matter how well you know the publishing business, it won’t mean a thing if you don’t know the craft of writing.

And . . . no pressure . . . but you have to know it well enough to stand out in a sea of millions of others who want a contract just as much as you do.

This will never happen if you’re only doing networking, or seeking opportunities to meet editors and agents, and certainly not if you spend the majority of your time dreaming about how you’ll spend the money from your first book deal. Writing a quality, deliciously-marketable manuscript—that an editor won’t be able to pass up—only happens when you:

1) HAVE YOUR BUTT IN A SEAT

2) YOUR FINGERS ON A KEYBOARD

3) YOUR MIND ON THE STORY

That’s the real Secret Formula, my friends. Now, stop reading this and get to work! You have a book to sell!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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