Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Phone advice to a friend on how to get published

The sister of a friend of my wife's called me today. She's written a children's book. You know how it goes. She wants to know how to get it published.

If you're in the business, you know there ain't no simple answer to this question. Requires more than a 20-minute phone call. Since I love talking trade, and since she asked, I gave her an earful in one-long-drawn-out-run-on-sentence-not-stopping-long-enough-even- to-breathe. She got more than she bargained for.

I answered the usual questions: "Do I need to get an illustrator? How — or should — I get my story copyrighted? How can I get an agent, or find a particular editor?" And so on.

Hope I didn't discourage her, but I didn't candy-coat my answers either. I explained the importance of writing a great story, and then tossing it aside only to write it over and over again. I talked to her about researching the children's book market to determine which publishing houses, editors, or agents best fit her submission. I explained how slow the process works, how thousands of other writers, just like her, would be following the same process, so to expect rejection or no replies at all. Then I advised her to set her story aside and write another. And another. And, still, another.

With my advice, I sprinkled in some children's writer/publishing lingo, words like "trade picture books," "imprints," "SCBWI," "YA" and "vanity publishing" (to which I suggested might not be the best avenue for her to take). She listened intently. Asked questions. Took notes.

When I finished, I felt like I'd painted an impossible picture for her. Made it seem like getting struck by lightening, twice, on the left toenail, in a dust storm, would be easier than getting a children's book published. Considering the competition, maybe it is. But I didn't want her to know that. So I ended on a more promising note by sharing with her how much I enjoy doing what I do, that I've been doing it along time — more than 20 years.

I haven't been struck by lightening, twice, on the left toenail, in a dust storm, yet. But in the 20-plus years in this business, I have illustrated more than 25 books, written several (one likely to be acquired soon). So, it is possible. Very possible. I hope she realized that.


paula said...

Good for you, Don, for telling it like it is. Most people have no idea the work involved in getting a book published. If you get a fair amount of inquiries like that, an FAQ area pertaining to book publishing might be a nice addition to your blog or site, if you don't already have one.

rindawriter said...

You ARE kind to spend the time with her! I think the FAQ idea is a good one, though, to perhaps save you some time some time anyway!

Liz in Ink said...

I love the FAQ idea. Maybe we should, a bunch of us, combine forces on that one...

cloudscome said...

You might get a chuckle out of knowing that when I showed my mom your book Black All Around and told her that I read your blog (and sometimes you read mine) she told me to ask you for advice about getting my own book published. I had to explain to her that the writer doesn't usually get to chose the illustrator, blah blah blah.. I bet that happens to you all the time.

Thank you for this post anyway. I find it very encouraging to know that you have been doing it for 20 years and have 25+ books published. You are good enough for that and more, but like you said it sometimes seems impossible for anyone to publish anything no matter how brilliant. For me the hardest part is to keep trying.

I love the idea of a FAQ sidebar on your blog!