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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


When I tell people that I write children's books, they ask, naturally, what I have had published. I say that I am unpublished but trying -- and hopeful. That's why I call myself a children's book writer and not author (yet).

Getting published is a very difficult, painful, maddening (and I hope -- exhilarating) process. The statistics are all over the map, but here are some that I have heard:

  • Large publishing houses receive something like 14,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year. And publish less than 100.
  • One New York agent did the math on everything he receives each year and takes on something like 0.04 percent of those writers as new clients.
Most publishers rarely take on unagented authors, but getting an agent is supremely difficult.

There are ways to make contacts and connections, like joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and going to conferences. But that doesn't guarantee you anything. And even then, there's a delicate dance of not being too pushy at those things but still meeting agents and editors who can make it happen.

In February, I went to the SCBWI annual meeting in New York City. It was an investment, but one I saw as necessary if I ever want to see my work in print. I sprung for a pre-conference roundtable session that puts you at tables with agents and editors. You read 500 words of your piece and got feedback. It was a little scary and brutal, and I learned that my novel has a great idea but needs to be completely reworked. I trashed 30,000 words and started over.

I really loved one agent I met, and when I had a finished picture book manuscript a few months later, I sent it to her directly.  I waited for the form e-mail rejection.

But, by God, I got a personal reply.

She loved it. She wanted to see what else I had. She asked me to let her know if I was going to sign with another agent before she could get back to me. I did a really, really happy dance.

Despite working on a lot of different projects, I only have one other complete picture book manuscript and 2,000 words of my reworked novel. I sent her both. And then I waited.

A week later, I got the rejection that I anticipated (you can never get your hopes very high). But she was nice and gracious, and gave me great feedback. She still adored the first book I sent her. She just wanted me to have more finished manuscripts she could sell. She asked me to send her more when I have them written. And she wanted to see more of my novel when it is done.

In this game, you have to consider that a success. If I don't ever appeal to her with my future work, at least I have a little feedback that I am doing something right. In this game, it's the little wins that keep you going.