"Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book." - Stéphane Mallarmé
What exactly do I do as a writer?
It isn’t uncommon for friends and family to ask, “How’s the writing going?” or “Did you finish your book?” While I don’t mind these questions and am happy to ramble on about my work (see rambling below), I feel I have to justify my answer by explaining that my response isn’t a reflection of my writing skills (well, not entirely), it’s a reflection of the industry and the process. The truth is, not much has probably changed on a surface level since the last time that person asked, even if it was over a year ago! Contrary to popular assumption, writing books for children is not easy. It is an extremely slow process that takes patience and perseverance.
To all my friends and family who are curious about my writing journey, here is more than you ever wanted to know.
How’s that book coming along?
Which book? I have 57 manuscripts drafted.
Of these 57….
How did I get to this point?
The answer isn’t just writing! In addition to writing, reading is necessary to understanding the craft. My reserve list at the library is always maxed out, and I typically check out about 10 books a week. I’ve read over 230 picture books this year. I not only read them to myself and out loud with my daughter, but I log each book. This includes noting basic information and craft notes about theme, form, structure, literary devices, and anything else that stands out. I even type the entire text of some standout books to glean additional insights. And then there are blog articles, books, and industry magazines all focused on the craft. My “To Read” list never seems to get shorter!
Next comes the manuscript, right?
Nope! Writers also hone their craft with conferences, webinars, writing communities, and social media. I belong to a national organization called Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), as well as an online writing community called 12x12 (a challenge to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months). I’ve participated in 21 webinars this year and attended 4 local SCBWI meetings with industry professionals. Through social media, I learned of a mentorship opportunity, which I applied for and was awarded – thanks Penny! The KidLit community is incredible! There are so many opportunities to get involved and build a writing community; growth as a writer is inevitable!
So, back to the writing…
Again, it isn’t all about writing. The biggest part of the writing process is revision. The first draft is the easy part. Revision is where the work gets done. Once I have that first draft, I let it sit for a week or two or more. If it still resonates when I come back to it, then it’s time to revise. This could take a week or months. After it feels “ready,” I may let it sit another couple of weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes yet again. Another round of revisions may ensue.
Then it’s time to share with critique groups or mentors, which are imperative to the writing process and can truly make all the difference in your growth as a writer. As a side note, getting critiques means giving critiques. Just as reading and reflecting on published books helps me grow as a writer, so does reading and reflecting on peer manuscripts. Evaluating them for strengths and weaknesses helps me identify those elements in my own writing.
A couple of weeks later with feedback to consider, it’s time for the next round of revisions. This isn’t as simple as implementing each suggestion provided. Some may be off the mark in terms of vision, some comments may be conflicting, and some may point out a weakness but not offer solutions. Again, this takes time and multiple drafts to fully address critique feedback. Another round or two of critiques are usually needed!
And now the submission process. There are two routes – submit to agents or directly to publishers. Not all publishers accept manuscripts so this path can be limited. However, you are more likely to get an agent if you have a published book. I’m seeking an agent who will push my work even farther and will handle the publishing side of the business. Writers don’t simply hire agents. There is a query process to share manuscripts with agents in order to find the best fit for both parties, which is someone who believes in the manuscript as much as its author! It’s about finding the right agent, not any agent. This requires research and personalized query letters, as well as 3 or more submission-ready manuscripts.
Then comes the waiting with four possible outcomes: (1) no response = no interest; (2) form rejection, which could come after 8 minutes or 4-6 months; (3) personalized rejection, also called a champagne rejection; or (4) a request to see more, which does not mean representation, just one step closer in the process.
When #4 does indeed happen, and an agent requests more of my work and wishes to represent me, the wait isn’t over. The next step, after potentially more revisions, is submission to publishers. And so the wait begins again. The average book takes 18 months to two years from publisher contract to print. More waiting.
Time to twiddle my thumbs?
Absolutely not! While waiting for an agent to bite or a publisher to sign a book or a book to go to print, I keep reading and writing and learning and growing as a writer. There’s always something to be done. My husband has learned to ask if I made progress any given day, rather than if I got my work done. Done doesn’t exist!
So why do I do this?
I find joy in the process – yes, that long, slow process! And, quite simply, if I don’t write, I’m not happy. I write for myself, but I also write to inspire a love of reading, to make an impact, to evoke a feeling, to heal or cope, to learn, and to make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t want to simply see my name on a published book. I want to write the best possible book I can write. Or as Jane Yolen would say, I want to write a book worthy of a tree.
“As we write, each of us has to believe that our books are worth a tree. That our labor – and the labor of the unremarked editors, copyeditors, book designers, printers, binders – is also worth the tree. Or worthy of that tree.” - Jane Yolen (Take Joy, 2006. p.64)
Visit AJ Irving’s blog post “How to Explain Your Writing Journey to Friends and Family” for another perspective on this wild writing life!
So, when is that book coming out?
As soon as I have a publication date, you’ll know! In the meantime, scroll to top of page and re-read.
Thank you for asking how my writing is going and being supportive of my writing career!
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