Friday, April 25, 2008

There is no magic pill!

Tip of the Day: Eat blueberries. They are very, VERY good for you. And they're about as close to a magic pill as you'll ever get.

I started seriously writing for kids waaaay back in 2001. I have the "2001 Children's Writer and Illustrator's Market" edited by Alice Pope to prove it.

My first story was about a boy, Oliver, who found a box buried in the sand. The box had a little poem written on it which basically said if you put the box under your pillow and wished to become a certain animal, your wish would come true.

At the time, I had a son who was eating up the Magic Treehouse books, and we couldn't find much else that he liked. So I thought, hey, I'll write books he would like. He likes animals, he likes adventures, I'll write a series about a boy who becomes a different animal in each book.

Writing a chapter book turned out to be harder than I thought. I finished the thing, but there were problems with the dialogue. I mean, a chapter book needs to have lots of dialogue, but I had Oliver and his friend, Katie, swimming in the ocean as dolphins, and dolphins don't actually TALK, you know?

After that experience, I thought, okay, that was too hard. I'm going to try picture books. HA - like that would be easier! I must have written twenty picture book stories before I wrote BABY CAN'T SLEEP. I'd write one, send it to my critique group, get feedback, try to revise to make it better, then I'd send it out to a few editors. Some I believed in more than others, but I probably didn't let any get more than ten rejections before I'd stick it away, telling myself I'd try again "later."

When I got the call from Sterling in 2004 that they wanted to buy BABY CAN'T SLEEP, I had about 100 rejections on various stories. Yes, you read that right. 100!

So what's my point? Sometimes writers will ask me for advice on how to get published. And I always pause for a minute before I respond because it's such a complicated question! We all know there is no magic pill you can take so the next day - *poof* - you're a published author.

But if I had to make a list of things an author might do to better his/her chances, it would be this:

Lisa's Top Five List of Things to Do to Better Your Chances at Publication

5. Join a critique group or find a couple of readers who will give you honest, valuable feedback.

4. Write, write, and write some more. Write every day if possible.

3. Read. Read at least 100 books in the genre you want to publish in. Make a list for each book of what works and why you think that book was published.

2. Go to conferences if you can, and when you're first starting out, don't go to all of the workshops with editors/agents. Go to the ones on craft, and take it all in and go home and do the work. Because the number one thing you can do is

1. Write a fabulous story. Something fresh, something unique, with fabulous writing, fabulous characters, and a fabulous voice. Whether you're writing chapter books, picture books, novels, or anything in between, it really all boils down to this one thing.

This is not an easy business. It is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, dedication, sweat and tears, a TON of tenacity, and a little (or maybe a lot) of luck.

100 rejections is a lot of rejections, you know? At about the 70th one, I thought, maybe I'm just not cut out to be a writer. And I almost quit.

I'm glad I didn't.

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed


Emily Marshall said...

Great advise Lisa. I loved it, and really needed it right now as I'm dealing with some of the same thoughts. Just got to keep plugging away...

Kate Fall said...

Wait, dolphins don't talk? LOL.

Lisa, it's great of you to share the early steps of your writing career. Very inspiring.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

I'm glad you didn't quit, too, Lisa! I started in 2001, as well, and am on the threshold of publication now...any day...any day!

But your advice is right on, though many beginning writers won't want to believe it. They'll convince themselves that they won't need to go through all that, to wait that long, that they already know the craft so well...

But they will soon find out that this business is just as you have described it, and no matter how well we think we write, we can always learn more.

So, I'm walking in your footsteps on my way, too. Hoping that I will arrive soon. :-)

DeenaML said...

Darwin the Dolphin talked! :)

OK, I started writing seriously in 2004 and have already accumulated more than 100 rejections -- does that mean I'm subbing too much or you subbed too little? :)

amuse me said...

Enjoyed reading this and good to hear this is not for the faint at heart. Getting newspaper articles published was too easy and I thought it would be so-o-o-o easy to write fiction. It is seriously hard work, but oh so satisfying when progress is made.