if it sounds like i’m begging, it’s only because i am

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Let’s say a real estate agent sends you one of those slick postcards, inviting you to an open house on Sunday. You’re not really in the market for a house, but the agent’s photo is so endearing, and well, there might be cookies, so you and your beloved make plans to go. You show up between the hours of 2 and 4, and there stands the darling real estate agent—on an empty plot of land.

You and your sweetie make simultaneous brow furrows and head scratches. Wrong address? Then one of you suggests, perhaps she’s going to walk us over to that quaint house next door. Maybe she was so excited to usher us into our new dream home, she waited outside. You both exit the car and approach the agent. She nods and laughs at your quizzical faces. “Yes, yes, this is the right address,” she assures you. “But there’s no house here. Not yet.” You two do a simultaneous brow lift. “Heavens,” she says, “It’s still in the design phase.”

What? Doesn’t that sound loony–to seek buyers for a house that only exists in the mind of the architect? Why, yes, indeed it does. But you know what? (Uh oh, here she goes . . . )

It snaps my heart in two when I see people who are new to children’s writing splintering their time in unproductive ways. (Probably because I hate seeing them repeat some of my own dundering blunders.) And while I hate calling a story a product, if you plan to sell it, it is. It would stand to reason then that one must have a product to sell before one goes to market. Yes?

So, please, please . . . you’ve got me down on my old knees here . . . if you are new to writing for children, pretty please with Nutella on top, place your focus on crafting not publishing.

Here’s where your focus needs to be (according to yours ever-truly):

  • Craft–first-drafting, revising, sharing with your critique group, revisiting and polishing
  • Establishing good writing habits and routines
  • Asking questions
  • Attending conferences and workshops centered on writing (not publishing)
  • Networking–yes, online, but also at retreats and what-have-yous
  • Joining or establishing a critique group
  • Reading books, blogs and articles on craft
  • Reading books in your genre of choice
  • Reading books outside your GOC
  • Cultivating interests and experiences away of writing–dance, gardening, making pickles–anything that widens your world a bit
  • Maintaining a positive online presence

Please don’t divert your precious writing hours by: 

  • Spending time and money learning how to give a stellar school visit
  • Searching for an agent (they need a polished product to take to market first!)
  • Submitting manuscripts (do not rush the process, let your manuscripts cool and mature)
  • Hunting for an illustrator (that’s the art director’s job)
  • Practicing your autograph (okay, well, it is fun, I’ll grant you that)
  • Drafting your Newbery acceptance speech (but I do admire your radiant self-confidence)
  • Investing metric tons of energy into building a fancy web site and online platform*

*Okay, you got me there. You may have noticed, since you are reading this after all, that I myself have a blog. Am I published? Well, no. Not yet.  But I do see value in having a site for several reasons–it gives me a way to share ideas, offer encouragement and connect with other writers, it makes me feel more like a professional writer, and yes, it is a means to building a wee online presence for myself (even if it is the size of a frog on a dime). So, go ahead and create a blog or web site, but only if you really want. Don’t feel pressured to do it and certainly do not let it gobble up your writing time.

Focus on craft when you’re starting out, and then, once you’re more established, you can focus on craft (some more).

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. ~ Anthony G. Oettinger

7 responses »

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Vicky. As a writing coach, I give this advice all the time to newbies who are overly eager to get published before doing their due diligence. It would be like batting around a ball on the tennis court on weekends with you buddies and expecting to play at Wimbledon. That’s just not how it works, and any agent/publisher can spot an amateur from miles away. So, bravo for sharing concrete tips on how to ready oneself for the extremely competitive environment of publishing, Vicky. And remember, if someone doesn’t want do the work it takes to compete, there is always self-publishing.

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  2. I hear where you are coming from Vicky. It is one reason that I wish SCBWI had a more formal approach to mentoring. What if people new to the industry could join a specific cohort, and move through the stages/phases under the guidance of a more experienced writer/author? It could save a lot of angst on the part of writers, coaches, agents and editors.

    Like

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