Advice to a Budding Author

by Angela - on September 10, 2013

butterflyI’m happy that a new school year has started which means I’m teaching adult and continuing ed classes again. Last night was our first class of the semester. I love my students and love reviewing the creative process through their eyes and remembering the path I took to publication. It’s true that a book is like a baby, each unique, extraordinary and challenging in her own way. I love my “babies,” despite the restless nights, the labor pains, the expense, the necessity to dig down deep when I felt trapped in the shallow end, the demand to walk the talk.

I wanted to share an email query I got recently from a stranger, along with my reply to her. I know from frequent conversations that “M” is not alone in her frustration. I hope it’s helpful to anyone else:

Dear Angela,
I’m ready to give up. How do first time authors make it? I wrote a children’s book because my husband is out of work and we need the money. I’m scared of the future and of losing my house. I tried kickstarter and nobody funded me. I’m not a illustrator, is that the problem?

Sincerely,
M

My reply:
Dear M,
I totally understand your frustration. It is very difficult to get published for the first time. And unfortunately, it is typically not a money-maker upfront, so if you are counting on it for that, you may want to have a back up plan. In 2006, my husband and I self-published the first Petalwink book; it wasn’t until a couple of years later the series was picked up by a publisher. Even then, the advances for each book weren’t huge (although they definitely helped!), and an advance means “advance against royalties,” so we didn’t get paid royalties for the books until enough were sold to cover the advance. It is disheartening to hear that you most likely can’t depend on making money right away by publishing a book. There are two things that are needed: a lot of time or a lot of money. They are proportionate to each other. If you don’t have a lot of money to invest, you can do a lot yourself (in terms of marketing, trading for needed services, getting pr and making connections), but that will take your time.

I’m not trying to discourage you at all, but trying to be realistic. It doesn’t mean you should give up by any means, but go forward with your eyes open and be willing to be creative and work hard. Be open to learn everything you can. The worst mistake you can make is think you know everything you need to know already and not take advice or not ask a LOT of questions.

I recommend this book if you don’t already have it: 2014 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (if you live near a library, you can check it out there and don’t have to buy it). This book is a wealth of information where you can research publishers (and not just the “Big 5″ Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.), find out what kinds of books they publish and which fit the style and theme your story would be and how to query them. The reason I mention this book, too, is that publishers usually do not want illustrations along with a manuscript pitch and this helpful reference book will say what publishers require. Go to book stores and libraries and find the books that appeal to you, research and dissect why they work, and who published them. Before you query any publishers, due diligence is key. You want to know for yourself that they would be a fit for the book you have in mind to publish.

There is also the option of self-publishing. Check out FastPencil.com And…they have illustration services.

I hope this was helpful at all; I know what it’s like to be in a dark place and on the verge of losing everything. No one would know it from looking, but we’ve been there and it wasn’t that long ago. All I can say is, keep the faith. There is a plan for you already in place and sometimes the fear just obscures our vision of what steps we need to take to fulfill it. So stay in the present as best you can (instead of the “what if” of fear of the future) and put one foot in front of the other.

Happy to answer more questions if that would be helpful.

All the best,
Ang signature

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Meg September 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Well said, Angela! As another self-published author, I would second your thoughts on time and money. We have put quite a lot of both into my first two books. The rewards come in good reviews and happy children and are well worth it, but from what I hear around Facebook and twitter it is rare for any books to be huge money makers — even if you are picked up by a big publisher. “M” — write for the love of it, but if money is tight you should look for a day job. Even reasonably successful authors often make money off another job, blogging, or school visits, or all of the above. I am assured that if I just keep moving forward I will know how to act for the future. That’s all anyone can hope for.

Hayley February 18, 2014 at 5:14 am

Hi Angela,
That advice for M was really helpful. I don’t suppose you could spare a little for me? My mind is constantly buzzing with ideas for children’s books and I am eager to have a try at writing for younger children, within the picture book market. I am not an illustrator and will certainly be picking up a copy of 2014 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market but what I want to know is, how do you know if your books are any good? I am an infant school teacher so have a good insight into successful children’s books and styles of writing but just struggle to look objectively at my own work if that makes sense. Is there anyone I could send it to who look at it objectively before I sent it to possible publishers? Or would you recommend a writing course before I go down that route? (Apologies for the essay!)
Hayley x

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