WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
SUSANNA LEONARD HILL
DO YOU WANT TO WRITE PICTURE BOOKS, MG, YA? wELL, FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS…BECAUSE YOU ARE IN FOR A WILD RIDE. Luckily, in this kidlit community, we have a couple of amazing mentors who are always there to help. ..even in the midst of busy book blog tours!
Susanna…thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us today! Welcome to Picture Books Help Kids Soar! The floor is yours!
(And Vivian, thank you so much for inviting me for cookies again! You know what a sweet tooth I have!)
Vivian and I thought that today perhaps we’d have a frank discussion about the writing life.
Everyone knows that it’s not easy being a green, unpublished writer. You work hard, all the while wondering if you’ll ever be published. Although it is fun and fulfilling to write, it can be discouraging and disheartening to submit and get rejected, most likely many times. I am probably safe in saying that every single person reading this blog post is familiar with that feeling. Whether or not we have gone on to get published, we all had to start at the beginning.
But what everyone may not know it that there is a different set of challenges that comes with being published.
This is not to suggest in ANY way that it isn’t absolutely fantastic over-the-moon wonderful life-changing validating aMAZing to be published! It IS! No two ways about it. And I wish it for all of you!
But it isn’t always easy being on the experienced side either. So today, in the interest of sharing the challenges with those of you who find yourselves in this delightful position, or who will at some point, we’re going to talk about being published, or even multi-published.
You wrote a book!
And you got an offer for publication!
The dream came true!
(which ol’ dream? The writing dream!)
Woo hoo, the dream came true at last!)
(sorry – I couldn’t help myself . It sounded so much like that song from the Wizard of Oz)
A n y how…
Your work is done!
Time to sit back, eat bonbons, and watch the royalty checks roll in! Right?
Er… a little bit right, yes, certainly…but not exactly… completely…
Honestly? Now that your book has been accepted and is going to be published, the work is just beginning!
Definitely have a couple of those bonbons – you’ve totally earned them! – but now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and really get down to business!
“What?” you shriek in dismay. “What do you mean the work is just beginning?! I’ve slaved for years to get to this point! I’ve written and re-written, been critiqued by peers and professionals, read books on craft, and taken writing classes, and attended conferences, and joined SCBWI, and submitted even though it was scary and I got a lot of rejections, and possibly (I admit nothing!) danced around a candle at midnight under the full moon, andandand What Do You Mean???!!!”
First, there are likely to be a few things that need tweaking in your manuscript.
It’s perfect – of course it is! – it got accepted, didn’t it?… but… it’s likely your editor is going to have some itsy bitsy teeny tiny little (or possibly not so little) changes that need to be made here and there, just some minor (or maybe slightly major) things she’d like tweaked to make it perfectly perfect in every way.
Some of those things will make complete sense to you. Why didn’t I think of that? you’ll wonder, shaking your head. You will fix them easily and without complaint.
Other things may not make as much sense to you. “Do I really have to cut out the traffic scene in spread 5?” you’ll worry, because you feel the book will have a hole without it, and “Must I turn the gorilla into a Chihuahua?” because really that’s a whole different animal… In many cases you’ll end up agreeing with the editor – she’s good at her job! – but sometimes you may need to discuss, and sometimes you may need to take a stand for something you feel strongly about. And sometimes, even though you see her wisdom you will really struggle (and possibly do a little hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing) to come up with a way to accomplish what she wants because it’s not immediately obvious to you and it’s HARD! No matter how good your original manuscript was, there’s likely to be some re-writing.
So keep calm and eat chocolate. That’s my motto J
The manuscript is polished and completely accepted!
You did it!
And you only feel a teensy bit like you chopped off a limb (but the editor was right – the story is better without the gorilla .)
So, NOW you can sit back and eat bonbons and watch the royalty checks roll in! Right?
Because now it’s all about the book doing well.
Yes, you wrote a terrific book. An editor loved it. A publishing house got behind it. But now you ALL have a lot riding on it – your heart and soul, your publishing house’s bottom line.
Some of the Big 5 imprints will pull a book and send it out of print within 8 months if it doesn’t do well. And whether that happens or not, your future as a published author, able to sell more manuscripts, is on the line. If the book does well, the publishing house you’re already contracted with and others will be willing to take a risk on your future work. If the book does poorly it’s like having to admit you got fired from your last position at a job interview… editors may be hesitant to get involved.
So you need to wade into the vast world of indie bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the internet, the blogosphere, social media…and get some attention for your book. Do what you can to make sure it sells well.
There are books everywhere. Over 7.5 million titles on Amazon. Publishing houses still have an advertising budget for the books they’re most excited about on each season’s list – they’ll pay to get them face out in bookstores, put adds on GoodReads, make sure they show up at the top of online bookstore searches, and sometimes organize book tours for the author etc… but only a tiny percentage of each season’s list qualifies for those efforts and advertising dollars. You can count on your publisher to list you in their catalogue, make a sales pitch at appropriate venues, and send out copies for review to Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist, etc. But other than that, publicity, promotion, gaining visibility for your book is pretty much up to you. And if you’re like most authors you are a) not trained in marketing, and b) not comfortable tooting your own horn in public. So it can be a challenge!
You will need an online platform of some kind if you don’t already have one. A website at least.
You will need to organize some online blog appearances and a bit of a social media plan to get your book on peoples’ radar.
You will need to organize some in-person book events – readings and signings at local bookstores or other relevant venues (e.g. if your book is about sheep you might appear at the sheep and wool festival.)
You will want to do library visits and school visits.
You might want some bookmarks or other swag you can hand out at book festivals you attend, or on school and library visits.
You might want to create book trailers, classroom guides, and/or coloring and activity pages for your book.
On some levels it’s a lot of fun! – interesting, varied and creative work, and it’s always a privilege because you have a book out! you are a published author! – but it can be stressful too because all these other things are not writing and take us out of our comfort zone. There is a learning curve and a lot to do, and we have to leave the safety of what we know and are comfortable with and try to step up for our books.
If all goes well, your books sell like hotcakes! (not all of them to your mom) Your publisher is pleased! You go into a second, or third, or fourth printing, and things look peachy!
In the meantime, in addition to all the work you’re doing to ensure the success of your first book, you’re an author! Writing is what you do. If you want to keep being an author, you have to keep writing!
So somehow, amidst all these other efforts, you have to make time to get something new ready to submit.
Surely it will be easy this time!
You are published!
Your book is doing pretty well!
But…unfortunately…the fact that you’re previously published and have a decent track record does not guarantee sales of new manuscripts. On many levels, it almost doesn’t matter. Because the bottom line, still and always, is whether or not you have a great story that fits the needs of whoever you’re submitting to at the time. It doesn’t matter that you’re published if your next submission is of lesser quality. It doesn’t matter that you’re published if your next submission is great but you submit to someone who already has a too-similar book on all their foreseeable upcoming lists. And oftentimes, publishers are more willing to take a risk on a debut author with a great story, then a published author with a mediocre sales record. It is still a challenge to sell a manuscript.
And it can be more of a challenge even to write one.
Marketing takes time away from writing. You can invest a lot of time on social media, designing and sending out swag, contacting local media to talk up your work, and creating and sending out flyers for school visits etc.
School and library visits also take time away from writing – getting them, organizing them, and going to them.
Book reviews, both the professional ones and the consumer ones that show up on Amazon, GoodReads, etc are mostly nice if you’re lucky, but there will always be at least a few that wound you to the core and can undermine your confidence.
And, funny as it may sound, a long series of rejections – a long period of time where you don’t sell a new manuscript – can be even more discouraging to someone who has published than someone who hasn’t.
For many of us it can be easy to fall victim to the worry that we won’t ever get another idea as good as that first one that sold, or that if we do get an idea that good, we won’t be able to write it as well. There is a pressure that comes with being published – an expectation both of yourself and from others that now that you’ve done it once it ought to be easy peasy and you should sell piles of manuscripts all the time from here on out.
And it just doesn’t work that way for most people (Jane Yolen and Mo Willems excluded)
If you go too long without a sale, you can begin to question whether your sale was a fluke, whether you’re a one-hit wonder, whether you’re even really an author at all.
This may sound a little dark and discouraging, and I don’t mean it that way at all!
You know how we all write picture books about getting a new sibling or losing a beloved pet or wanting to feel important in the world? Books that reach out to children and let them know that they’re part of a shared experience, that what they feel isn’t new or unheard of, that they are understood and things will be okay?
This post is much the same.
It is writing to let you know that wherever you are in the publishing world, you are not alone. There are others who have the same questions, doubts, moments of low self-confidence, worries about whether they’ll ever be published or whether their published books will ever be well-received, pain over hurtful critiques or reviews – everything under the publishing sun. Each stage of publishing comes with its own set of awesomeness and challenges, good and bad, triumph and heartache.
But if you are a writer at heart – if it’s what you really want to do – it is all worth it!
Oh my goodness…Susanna…you asked me to trim your post if I thought it was too long…honestly, I could not cut out one single word. And I think everyone will agree…you hit the nail on the head. And not only is this a great post for writers…it’s also a great post for writers to read to their non-writer families and friends who question their sanity as they keep plugging away, with seemingly little to show for it.
Please, dear friends…believe me…It is totally worth it. You will definitely succeed. Just keep writing and revising and submitting. Embrace critique. Honor your own voice. And when all else fails…or when everything succeeeds…EAT CHOCOLATE!
Or, mix up a batch of this sweet treat provided by Susanna:
All this hard work we do to write and get published and promote requires fuel, and what better fuel than this?
(Plus really, when you think about it, it’s pretty much health food! )
Inspiration Concentration Motivation Publication Cookies!
You will need:
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups granola (any kind you like)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup chopped up apricots (if you use dried cut that to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or really any kind of nuts you like)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (doesn’t hurt to be a little generous with the chocolate )
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter and sugars.
Add vanilla and eggs.
Next add the flour, baking soda and salt.
Then add in granola and oatmeal.
Fold in the apricots, cherries, pecans, raisins, and chocolate chips.
Drop rounded spoonfuls on cookie sheet and bake 12-14 minutes.
Eat and don’t feel guilty because it’s mostly whole grains and fruit – like trail mix for writing instead of hiking
Thank you so much, Susanna, for sharing your beautiful insights (and yummy treat) with us. And thank you, dear readers, for stopping by to visit.
For any of you who don’t already follow Susanna’s marvelous blog, I urge you to do so. She teaches the fabulous Making Picture Book Magic Picture Book Writing class. And has a whole slew of amazing picture books that grace the shelves of libraries, schools, and homes, all over the world.
I hope you’ll be back on Monday, becawuse we have a giveaway and a special interview with MOOSE, the dog from Maria Gianferrari’s HELLO GOODBY DOG. And then on Tuesday, it’s a BOOK BIRTHDAY for Lisa Amstrutz’ APPLESAUCE DAY. Then on Friday and Saturday, we’ll be welcoming author and agent Traci Marchini and her brand new picture book, CHICKEN. And on Tuesday, August 8, I’ll be interviewing the pirates from Henry L. Herz’ new picture book, CAP’N REX AND HIS CLEVER CREW.
Phew! I think I need some chocolate!