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?