As a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, for those of you who don’t write children’s lit), I get to go to events like the one I attended today—a panel of three debut children’s authors, Prudence Breitrose, Lisa Schulman, Corrine Jackson, and illustrator Alice Feagon.
Each gave the fifteen-minute story of how she came to be published. They were all quite different paths. And none was easy. (Of course if it were easy, it would only take three minutes to tell the tale. And that would probably make for a pretty boring—and short—event.)
It occurs to me that their personal journeys to publication were rather riveting stories themselves, with many of the same elements that a good book has. The protagonist wants something very badly and makes several attempts to get said thing until she finally gets it, only to find out that it’s not as great as she thought at first. But through either perseverance, wit, or possibly experiencing some epiphany, the protagonist figures out what is truly valuable and learns from her journey. Doesn’t that sound like the outline of every best-selling novel ever written? Well, that’s what trying to get published is like, except that many of our stories don’t have the happy ending.
There were certainly common threads among the three writers. They all sent out their manuscripts to a large number of agents. (Interesting side note: Corinne Jackson sent hers out in groups of eight.) All three did quite a bit of waiting and received numerous rejections. Shared high points were getting accepted by an agent, landing publishing contracts, and seeing their books in print for the first time.
The differences lay mostly in the low points of their roller-coaster rides.
Prudence was told that her mouse characters were wonderful but her humans didn’t have depth. This was discouraging, since she herself is human, so she thought she was pretty familiar with the species. Then after she revised her humans, many publishers decided they already had their mouse books for that season and didn’t need any more. But I think the toughest pill to swallow was when two-thirds of the illustrator’s pictures didn’t actually reflect her story (e.g., the brother is clearly older than the sister in the manuscript but is depicted as several years younger), Prudence was asked to revise the text to match the drawings, and her publisher even added a paragraph to her contract that stipulated that she had no say whatsoever on the illustrations. That’s just wrong.
Lisa really tried to give her first two agents a chance to sell her book, but neither one worked out. And the blogger/reviewer who decided to trash her debut novel (most likely to provoke comments on her blog) did some real damage, even when professional reviews were glowing.Corinne’s editor loved Touched, but said she had to trim it from 140,000 words down to a maximum of 100,000, which is as long as a debut paranormal YA could reasonably be and still sell. But there were only a few scenes that could be cut entirely, so Corinne went line to line, snipping a few words from each to get rid of almost a third of her manuscript.
Nobody said getting published was easy, and these stories prove it. Now a more rational person might conclude that it wasn’t worth it. Toiling for years on a story, suffering multiple rejections, continuing to work at a full-time job while writing and revising, not getting any feedback, getting contradictory feedback, getting questionably motivated negative feedback—why put yourself through all of it?
What they all had in common was their perseverance and their love of writing. (And of course that they all finally did get published. It would just be depressing to have a panel of unpublished authors.)
Their stories are really the inspiration I need to keep going. I don’t need to believe it’s going to be easy; I know it’s not. I just need to know it’s possible.