An Agent and Her List Discuss Children's Books, Publishing and Beyond
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Lisa: You really want my advice?
As a published author, the most common question I get is – can you give me advice on how to get published?
I do understand it can be a bit daunting when you don’t know anything about the publishing business and don’t have a clue as to where to go first. (Although I often want to say – ever heard of that thing called google?)
But here’s what really gets me. Many times, the person asking the question hasn't even written a book yet.
To me this is like a single girl with no boyfriend going around asking new brides for recommendations on caterers, florists, wedding cakes, etc.
I mean, come on. First thing’s first.
Read, write, read some more, write some more, study the craft, maybe take a class or two or go to a writer's conference, write some more, and maybe then you can ask me about getting published.
Why are we so anxious to get published? Why aren’t we more anxious about writing the best book we possibly can? Because honestly, if we do that, if we invest the time and energy into our writing, the publishing part will be a piece of cake. Maybe not wedding cake, but cake nonetheless. And once your book is on the shelves, you want as many people to love it as possible. And the only way that's going to happen is to spend the time and energy writing an amazing book. But good writing isn't enough in today's competitive market, you say. Yes, you're right, it's tough out there. Having a little luck on your side certainly won't hurt. But knowing someone or having a special "in" isn't enough either.
I can't help but wonder if sometimes, people who ask me about getting published are hoping I can give them a fast pass somehow. Well, sorry folks, this ain't Disney.
How did I get an agent? How did I find an editor who loved my work? How have I continued to sell six more novels after that first sale? The old fashioned way. Lots and lots of hard work. Nobody gave me a fast pass.
Years ago, I wrote a novel and it sucked. I wrote another one, it sucked a little less. I wrote another one, and was almost there, and then, I wrote a fourth one. It was different. It was risky. And it made my heart dance and sing. I stopped writing with the goal of publication and started writing something that made my heart dance and sing. When I finished, as excited as I was, I didn’t jump to sending out queries right away. I knew I needed to make it as good as I could make it. So I got one critique, then another, and a third, and I revised accordingly after each one. That book, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, eventually landed me my agent and after that, a contract with Simon Pulse.
So, you want my advice?
Write the best book you can. It's not easy, I know. Believe me, I know! And if all you get are rejections, then write another book, better than the first. And keep writing. Try a new genre or a new age group. Maybe you haven't found what you're meant to write yet. I think the first years of writing and submitting can be a lot of trial and error - figuring out what your strengths are and maximizing those.
Once you have a great book ready to submit, there are wonderful resources out there for you to tap into. Here are a few off the top of my head:
www.scbwi.org - The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, with publications and conferences that will help you on your path to publication. www.verlakay.com/boards - A place where writers gather and share all kinds of information about writing and publishing www.agentquery.com - A database of literary agents. Search here based on what you write, or search name(s) of agents you've heard about.
In case you’re curious, the second most common question I get is – I want to write a book, but I don’t know how to get started. Can you help?
That one’s easy.
Start at the beginning. And don’t stop until the book is finished.