Don’t quit! A guest post by Jon Bard from Children’s Book Insider

by Julie Frayn on July 2, 2012 in  Guest Posts

Today I am handing my blogspace over to Jon Bard, Managing Editor of Childrens’ Book Insider.  What does writing for children have in common with sexy grammar? Not much. But I am thrilled to have him aboard with a post that speaks to the frustrations of writers in every genre.

Don’t quit! A guest post by Jon Bard

Recently, I felt the need to vent a bit to my e-mail list (comprised of working and aspiring writers for children and teens).

My complaint? Too many talented writers are packing it in at the first sign of discouragement, falling back on a litany of excuses (I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too male, I’m too female, I don’t have time, I don’t have the right college degree, etc. etc.). I gave my people a bit of a tough love lecture (you can read it here) and was gratified by the positive response. Apparently, a lot of folks were ready for a good pep talk.

But amidst the “thanks, I needed that” messages, a few readers struck a different note. They said, in essence:

We’ve done everything right – we’ve thought positively, we’ve battled through rejection, we’ve honed our craft, we’ve attended conferences, we’ve networked…but we still can’t get published. What about us?

As people who make our living doling out advice, we typically assume that, if someone follows our advice, they will succeed. But the world doesn’t always work that way. And for every author who inks a new deal, there are ten writers who believe they have given it their best shot, and their best shot simply hasn’t been good enough.

I understand that, but I still can’t accept it. I just refuse to believe that karma, bad luck or the evil forces of the universe who unfairly portion out rejection letters cannot be overcome. Of course, that’s easy to say. So I wanted some backup.

I asked our amazing group of CBI Clubhouse Expert Guides — a collection of million-selling, award winning authors — for their take. What would they say to a writer who has seemingly done all the “right things” but still can’t climb that final wall to publication?

We compiled their answers into an eBook called Don’t Quit! (I have a free copy waiting for you here). Here’s some of the choice tidbits contained within. If you’re about ready to pack it in, I do hope they give you fuel to carry on with your journey.

KIRBY LARSON – Sometimes, You Just Have to Dance.

Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky, a young adult historical novel inspired by her great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, who homesteaded by herself in eastern Montana as a young woman. Kirby’s passion for historical fiction is reflected in The Fences Between Us (Scholastic, Dear America series; September 2010) and The Friendship Doll (Delacorte; May 2011). She is CBI’s Middle Grade Expert Guide.

I feel this writer’s pain. I’ve LIVED this writer’s pain: In 1994, (after 3 years of collecting rejections), I was over the moon to publish my first book; I published a second in ’96, ghost wrote 2 books and then in ’97 got a picture book published. Five books! I was certain I’d made it as a writer. Then, between 1997 and 2004, I did not sell one thing.

Seven years of publishing drought. It was discouraging, depressing, heart-breaking. During that time, I cried, moped, railed against the universe. But I also tried to find ways to learn to continue. For me, that meant reading books that inspired/comforted me, relying on understanding writing friends, and stealing Carolyn See’s idea to write “charming literary notes” to book world folks whose work I admired (I gotta tell you, getting a cute postcard from Kate DiCamillo can really brighten a day!). I also taught writing, wrote book reviews for our local paper, and learned to ballroom dance (badly — but the exercise was good for me!).

In 2000, I took a risk and began my first-ever historical novel; it was published in 2006. The lesson I took away from that long publishing drought is said very well by Winston Churchill: “Never give up, never give up, never give up.”

I also am a pretty hopeless optimist so I absolutely believe good stories will find a publishing home. The thing is, we have no control over the timing. We only have control over our work.

ANASTASIA SUEN – Diversify and Thrive.

The author of 135 books, Anastasia teaches writing at Southern Methodist University and online, and has written with students of all ages in workshops all over the globe.

Anastasia’s many honors include Association of Educational Publishers’ Award (Wild Animals series), Best Girl Reader (second grade), New York Times Best Illustrated Book (Window Music), Nick Jr. Best Book (Toddler Two Dos años), Smithsonian Notable Book (Baby Born), Time Magazine Best Book (Window Music). Anastasia is CBI’s Easy Reader Expert Guide.

It’s all a numbers game. There are only so many slots available each season on a publisher’s list, and if all of the slots are all filled, then the answer you and I hear to our submission is no. So try what the illustrators have been doing for years…and diversify.

Artists illustrate books, but they also create art for all sorts of other clients. You don’t have to put all of your eggs in one basket, either. Write for more than one market. It’s not all or nothing unless you decide to make it that way.

And remember, the “Big Six” publishers in New York are not the only game in town. Yes, it’s marvelous to sell a book to the Big Six, but when they say no, go knock on someone else’s door. Write for someone else. That’s what writers do, we write. As my father used to say, “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.”

NATASHA WING – Outlast the Competition.

Natasha Wing has published 22 books with more on the way. She is best known for her Night Before series that puts a twist on The Night Before Christmas. The Night Before Kindergarten has sold more than 1 million copies. Some of her books have been on best-seller lists, state school reading lists, and notable books lists. Natasha serves as CBI’s Picture Book Expert Guide.

Being one who swims around obstacles, I did everything I could to better my chances – a critique group, reading how-to books, reading competitor works, getting an agent, attending conferences to network with editors, and just sticking to the plan of wanting to get published. I heard that it took eight books before I should quit my day job, so between books I had part time work. But I stuck to my plan. Write, write, write and continue to submit.

I knew there’d be fellow writers who would give up and so in my mind, there was less competition, which bettered my chances, so I kept at it. Sometimes it’s about outlasting. Sometimes it’s about skill. Sometimes it’s about luck. But if you can stack as much as you can in your favor, you’ll create opportunities. Maybe the story you wrote is not sought after at this time in publishing history. The pendulum always swings, so when it does, be ready with the best story possible, and your chances for publication will increase. Don’t be a drop-out. Be a still in the gamer.

HELEN LANDALF – It Only Takes One “Yes!”

Helen Landalf’s debut young adult novel, Flyaway, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in December, 2011. She is also author of two picture books, including The Secret Night World Of Cats (Smith & Kraus, 1998), which was illustrated by her autistic brother, Mark Rimland, and received a 1998 Parent Publishing Association Honor award, as well as five nonfiction books for teachers on integrating dance and drama into the curriculum. Helen is CBI’s Young Adult Expert Guide.

To those of you who are on the verge of giving up on the idea of being a published writer, I say, “I totally get it.” I tried for 10 years to publish a Young Adult novel. I took workshops, attended conferences, and read books. I drafted, revised, and polished. I submitted and submitted and submitted…and for 10 years, all I got were rejections. At that point, I’d just about had it. In a final effort, I sent the first pages of my novel to one last agent, and I told myself that if I got another “no,” I’d take the hint and quit trying to make this publishing thing happen.

Guess what? The agent loved my novel, and after a revision, he signed me. My debut YA novel, Flyaway sold to an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and released last December.


So what’s my advice to you? Write because you love it. If you don’t genuinely enjoy the process of writing and revising, you should set your sights on something else, because dealing with the rejections and disappointments and long wait periods that are part of this business won’t feel worth it. If you DO love writing, keep at it. Do it for fun and satisfaction and don’t be in such a hurry to get published. At the same time, stay optimistic. For all you know, your success might be just around the corner. As my agent said: It only takes one “yes” to make it happen. Keep honing your craft and cultivating connections, and chances are that someday, the “yes” will be for you.

LINDA ARMS WHITE – An Improving Economy Means More Opportunity.

Linda is the author of both fiction and non-fiction books for both children and adults. Her picture books include Too Many Pumpkins, Comes a Wind, and most recently Too Many Turkeys.

Her I Could Do That: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote won the prestigious Christopher Award for material that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Her non-fiction books include Cooking on a Stick: Campfire Recipes for Kids, The Pocket Guide to Camping, and Log Spirit – a design book for log homes. Linda is a Picture Book Expert Guide for CBI.

Perhaps this borderline author, borderline between not published and published, might find one more tool for her toolbox that would put her over the top. I suggest she look at each and every level of her stories and see if there is any layer that she could improve upon even slightly. Could her plots be any more solid, her characters a bit more real and enticing, her writing style any more lively? Recognizing it could help her fix it herself or she might find someone particularly good at that element to mentor her, teach her.

Above all, I would advise her not to quit. She is too close. I believe as the economy improves, publishers will be buying more fresh material. In the past poor economic years, publishers have brought forth material they didn’t have to spend much on to flesh out their lines. They republished old material and put new illustrations on public domain stories. A publishing house can only do that so long before they have to bring out new and exciting books. I think that time is now.

For much more on the subject, I invite you download the entire eBook. Just head over to http://bit.ly/dontquitbk to download it instantly. I do hope it inspires you.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do to stay positive along your writing journey?


 

Jon Bard is the Managing Editor of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. If you’re interested in exploring the world of writing for children and teens, come hang with the Fightin’ Bookworms of the CBI Clubhouse! Visit now at http://cbiclubhouse.com

 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jester Queen July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am

I appreciate that kind of pep talk far more than I can say. I’m never going to stop writing. I’m never going to stop seeking ways to make this my living. So I need the reassurance. It will work. I will make my living with my passion.

Reply

Julie July 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm

You go, Okrablossom! I have complete faith that you can.

Sean Farley July 3, 2012 at 10:19 am

Julie, absolutely fascinating post. How on earth did you land such an influential man as a guest blogger?!? :) Seriously, though, I think it’s a great topic. Why haven’t I been writing or blogging as of lately? Because I gave up. It’s a phase I go through each time I have a writing spurt. It’ll pass, but it sucks. Thanks for the great post!

Reply

Julie July 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I didn’t land him, Sean. He landed me. 😀 I hope you get past the ‘give up’ stage soon. Miss your posts.

Taurean Watkins July 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Sean, I also had to leave my blog, often months go by between updates, and while I’m not proud of that, I also didn’t want to bore and “poison” my blog and my small readership with negative ranting all the time.

If nothing else, know you aren’t the only one.

Take Care,
Taurean

Resurrected Writer July 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Awesome post Julie! I’m so glad Mr. Bard shared this with us, and that you allowed him to use your blog! This really is invaluable to any writer. Thanks!

Reply

Julie July 3, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I’m glad too, Jase. Any encouragement is good encouragement, and a good lesson to keep at it.

Jon Bard July 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Glad to see the post inspired some folks. Which bits of advice had particular resonance for you?

Reply

Julie July 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

For me, it was good to know that all authors face the same challenges, the same frustrations. Good to hear that perseverance pays off, and in the end, good writing rises to the top of the slush pile. Now the trick is to ensure the writing is good!

Thanks, Jon, for sharing on my blog.

Carol July 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I have just started reading a book called
How to Write a Book ASAP.
by Garrett Pierson.

It has a step by step guide to writing your first book to get you started if you have a book inside you but are struggling to start writing it.

Carol

Reply

Julie July 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Sounds interesting! I should read that before hitting Camp Nanowrimo in August.

sue berg July 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Great advice — don’t give up!

Reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s attempts to get A WRINKLE IN TIME published. I forget, now, how many publishers rejected her manuscript. It was A LOT! But she kept trying until one finally said, “yes.”
Her problem was her story was new — a new style. Publishers just thought kids wouldn’t understand it. Turned out, she said, the kids got it but the adults didn’t.
Today, what I see being published — there are lots of jump-on-the-bandwagon copycats of genre or style. Could be that publishers are seeing too much of the same thing and/or are aware that such fads will fade before the book finally hits the shelves.
Write well. Write something you’d like to read. Enjoy the process. And don’t give up.
But please, this from an avid reader as well as a writer, avoid the fads in genre trends. Personally, I’m sick of YA Dystopian novels and I sure hope our teenagers are too.

Reply

Julie July 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I Just took part in a writing boot camp with two agents. They said agents look for what is familiar, but different from the rest. So, how is your story the same, but what sets it apart. I choose to just write the stories that come to me and let them unfold the way they want. Hopefully one day, someone will love them and want to see them in print :)

:Donna July 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I can tell you that at our recent NJ SCBWI June 2012 Conference, Kate DiCamillo said one of her books (can’t remember which one—sorry—but it was a big one—possibly Because of Winn Dixie) received over 470 rejections. Talk about not giving up! :) Btw, she’s a very warm, down-to-earth person. That made me happy :)

Reply

Julie July 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm

That’s a lot of rejection! And I love that book. Thanks for sharing, Donna.

Virginia July 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I think that writers should NOT try to write something just for the sake of selling. That sort of writing doesn’t come from the heart, and no publisher will welcome it. For example, there is a lot of attention right now on dystopian novels and werewolves, but that’s really not my personal thing. If I tried to write something to fit that bill, it would be the worst disaster of the century. I do believe, however, that all of us are diverse, and we can use that to our advantage if we follow the market carefully.

Reply

Julie July 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

I’m with you, Virginia. I’ll never write about vampires either. If I can’t stand to read about or watch them, how could I write them?

Valerie Ormond July 11, 2012 at 8:37 am

Dear Julie,
Thank you so much for this uplifting post. I am a huge fan of Jon Bard and the CBI Clubhouse — tremendous resources for ALL writers. If it were not for the CBI Clubhouse and write4kids.com, I don’t know if I would have been successful in having my first book published. The stories in this blog post remind us all that there are many approaches and that we are not alone when we are struggling. Thanks again.

Reply

Julie July 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm

It was my pleasure having Jon and CBI Clubhouse on my blog. Stay tuned, we may do this again. And congratulations on being published! I love hearing about other authors’ success, it is very inspirational.

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