Post questions in the comments section about writing or publishing. Make it something general, not specific to me (i.e. not about my interests as an agent, not when I’ll open to submissions again, not my query guidelines). I’ll be answering all day (10/19/15). (I’m all done now…)
I recently attended a 3 day writing retreat for children’s book writers, in a beautiful beach house on the New Jersey shore. My job was to critique manuscripts, have one-on-one meetings with the participants, and generally make myself available to hang out and talk. It was small and quite intimate and the participants were a lovely group of people. It was a very nice retreat and I truly hope I made a difference for the writers who attended.
There was one participant who stood out for me though. She was a woman who is brand new to writing. Before the retreat, when I received her manuscript, I did an internal WTF. Was the short piece she submitted for critique the beginning of a middle grade or young adult novel? Was it a picture book? What was her intention with this? With nothing but the work to go on, I made an executive decision and decided to go with picture book. But I couldn’t and didn’t want to critique it using the same criteria I used for the other manuscripts. If I did, I could very easily rip it to shreds and subsequently crush and destroy a fledgling writer. That’s just not how I roll.
I can’t tell if this author has what it takes or not to be successful. The writing is decent, but not yet kid-friendly or focused. She’s clearly at the beginning of this journey. And that’s more than ok. That’s fantastic! When talking to any of the authors, I tried to drive home that where their focus needs to be is on their work, not on “how to get my book published.” With this author, we didn’t even speak about publishing. We talked about what her intention is and why she wants to tell this particular story (which was pretty interesting, by the way). I gave her a picture book lesson, explaining some of the many different structures picture books can be written within. We spoke about looking at the world with the eyes of a child and trying to leave our adult filter off the page. I told her about picture book lay outs, and page numbers, and all that jazz. But I think the best advice I gave her, which I’d like to share with you, is this:
Read in your genre. Know what books came before you. Know what’s in bookstores right now. Read books that are successful in achieving a similar goal to what you intend to accomplish with your manuscript. Allow yourself to be inspired. Immerse yourself in reading books in your genre; swim in the water of your intention.
I wish that new author all the best of luck, as she tries on being a writer. I hope that she finds her voice and perseveres.
How much do you read within the genre in which you write?
Guest Post: Chuck Sambuchino Shares What 12 Debut Authors Did RIGHT On Their Journeys to Publication
Hey! My buddy Chuck is stepping in to guest blog! Check it out…
Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. His latest humor book, WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE (Sept. 29 2015), will protect people everywhere from malicious bozos and jokers who haunt our lives. His books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, and more.
I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, such as the new 2016 edition. These interviews are very helpful to aspiring writers, because the authors come clean about what they believe they did right, what the wish they would have done different, and other advice for writers.
So I went back to 12 debut author interviews of the past few years and focused on one single important question I asked them: “What did you do RIGHT on your journey to publication that others can learn from?”
The results are inspiring and fascinating. See below, and learn from 12 writers who have come before you and succeeded.
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“I was very specific on who I queried to get as my agent. It’s quality over quantity and I only queried agents who I thought would truly get my story. I also think being open to critique and feedback is vital. Most authors who go on submission will get rejections. Being open to hearing the why, and working on it, is vital.”
– Aisha Saeed, author of Written in the Stars
“I didn’t put the books out there until they were ready to be seen. Really ready. These days there’s such a huge rush to get your writing out there as soon as possible, and there are lots of systems in place to let you. I could write something in the morning and have it for sale on Amazon that night. And because of this rush and these systems, a lot of people put stuff out there before it’s ready, or before they’re ready. No one expects to win Olympic gold their first time in a gym, but lots of people seem to think their first attempt at a first draft should be a mass success and acknowledged by a major publisher. I spent years learning how to write and how to tell a story, and I think I’m fortunate that during a lot of that time there weren’t any of these quick, easy avenues. I wanted to tell the best story I could, and I spent the time to make sure it was. I rewrote and edited the hell out of it before I submitted it.”
– Peter Clines, author of Ex-Heroes
“I didn’t give up. I queried widely. Widely. Like more than 100 queries. I was getting a good number of requests, but the partials and fulls would keep getting rejected, for different reasons. I felt like I should quit—shelve the project and start on something new—but this was the book I loved and wanted to debut with, so I kept researching and kept querying. In the end, I got two offers of representation, and it was worth all those horrible months in the querying trenches.”
– Katie M. Stout, author of Hello, I Love You: A Novel
“I just never quit. A successful writer friend recently told me that’s the only difference between a published writer and someone who used to/wanted to be a writer. And certainly, my fifteen years as an independent bookseller has helped—giving me contacts in the industry, a working knowledge of the market, and daily interaction with the audience.”
– Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil
“I joined a critique group. Getting honest feedback about your story is vital to its success. I read, and then dismiss many of the ideas suggested by my critique group members, but some of the changes I have made based on those amazing writer-friends have made all the difference in the world.”
– Marcia Berneger, author of Buster the Little Garbage Truck
“I tried to treat writing and publishing like a career, even when it couldn’t even pay for a coffee. That meant being serious about my efforts, investing in ways to improve my craft, and approaching other publishing professionals with courtesy and respect. I also always tried to remember that publishing is a long game—getting rejected or having to put a novel aside doesn’t mean inevitable failure, only that it’s not the right project at this moment, for this market.”
– Karina Sumner-Smith, author of Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book 1
“I never gave up and I kept moving forward instead of stalling out on a single story. I’d finish a manuscript, send out queries, and immediately start writing something new. When I had the next manuscript finished and polished, I put the older one in a digital drawer and started to query the new one. Wash, rinse, repeat. If I’d spent all those years revising my very first story, I never would have improved enough to write a mystery novel like Claws of the Cat. It’s hard to put 100,000 words in a drawer. It hurts to let years of effort go. But if I hadn’t kept moving forward, I wouldn’t be the author I am today.
– Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery
“I read a lot. I also sought out other writers online—forums, blogs, social media—and read as much as I could about the writing process and, later, the publishing industry. Information is power! But really, I just wrote my heart out. Whenever I sat down to draft a new story or revise an old one, I would think, You can do better.”
– Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater
“I revised the heck out of my book so that by the time I sent it in, it was in good shape. I also did a ton of agent research before I began querying. I figured out what my comps were and which agents were looking for what. I read the ‘Successful Queries’ series on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, as well as the Query Shark’s entire archive of letters.”
– Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes
“I asked for help from the people with experience. It took many years, believe it or not, for me just to reach out and say, ‘I’m not sure what to do from here.’ That solicitation is what led to my first book contract.”
– Elizabeth Kiem, author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
“I started as a book blogger, and that really helped me get to know the business of publishing. What books were coming out, how authors were marketing, etc.”
– Lindsey Cummings, author of The Murder Complex
“It sounds like a cliché but just taking the initiative is probably the biggest factor that allowed me to succeed. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of journalists out there who are way more talented than myself and who want to write books. But many of them don’t take the risk and actually do the damn thing.”
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED
September 2015 sees the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. If you’d like to win one of Chuck’s books, post a comment before noon (Eastern Time) on October 12th. One commenter will be picked at random. Must live within US/Canada to receive a print book. Outside North America may receive a PDF ebook. Beware clowns.
Our book give-away winner is Allison Baxter! Thanks for commenting, Allison!