Friday, July 10, 2015

Hang in there and keep writing, reading and submitting your stories

Yay!!! My picture book 'Once a Creepy Crocodile' illustrated by Nina Rycroft and published by the Five Mile Press has been Shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia's '2015 Book of the Year' Award for 3-5 year old children, as a '...quality Australian book that helps children get the best, most literate start in life and which encourages a love of reading'. Thank you! (And the award also recognises the important work that Speech Therapists do to help children.)


To celebrate, I've purchased more hand-puppets of animals featured in the story. Apart from this collection already used in presentations, I've ordered '...gorgeous grubs to eat - munchy crunchy crispy ones that curl up underneath', including a caterpillar...

  ...and a pill-bug...

There are other very worthy contenders for the award, and a lot of sleeps will be had before the winner is announced in mid-October. Of course, I'll keep my fingers crossed that mine wins, but it's absolutely wonderful just to have received recognition that it's a quality book. And it's my first traditionally published picture book, too! - though I have had five non-fiction books for adults and children published as well

But climbing the ladder to success with a picture book has been a slow process.

All writers start unpublished. For me, the early years of writing for children were considered an apprenticeship. You learn by writing and making errors of judgement (not by thinking about writing) - and guidance has been vital. I did my first correspondence course with accompanying homework and feedback in 1998 and followed that by a paid mentorship. Workshops, articles, websites, conferences, masterclasses, forum and network group posts, video tutorials and more have all added new insight. Enlightening, too, have been the opinions of other writers on my works in progress and those stories I've considered 'finished' ...but which actually needed reconsidering and changes.

Paid appraisals by editors at conferences have been phenomenally helpful in my development as a children's writer.

Not all stories have to be published to be worth writing, but neither knowing all the theory of how to write picture books well, or even actually writing well, guarantees traditional publication, if that's an aim.

It is wise to read hundreds of the latest books published 'like your story'. They will not only give you an appreciation of word use, but they will also be a guide to the current taste of each editor and publishing team. (Or at least, what their taste was three years before the book was released - staff change ...and two or three years is often how long many books take to be developed and printed, once the text has been accepted. The team's taste will almost certainly be different from what it was 10 years ago - do read older acclaimed books, but particularly those only a year or two old.)

Which publisher releases books with the same number of words as yours?

Do they publish books of the same reading level as yours and with similar subject matter?

Does your story fit current trends? If 'pirate' stories are popular now, the chances are that you are too late to write one to get in on the publishing action - by the time it has been edited, illustrated and printed, the fad will almost certainly have changed.

So how do you discover current trends and editor preferences? Answer: Research agents and read their blogs, posts and website news. These will tell you what stories they have recently sold and to whom. You may find that mermaid stories are popular, or 'groovy grandparents'. If they have just sold a 'grandparent' story to a publisher, almost certainly that particular publisher will not want two books on the same theme and they will reject a 'grandparent' story that you submit no matter how good it is - send it to a different publisher on your list.

Yes, over the years I have submitted many stories that publishers have liked, but the stories were 'too long'; 'too short'; ' this time we are looking for counting books for an older readership'; ''Just-So' style folk stories are not in vogue at present' ...and experienced the bad luck factor - 'We love this story, but we've just accepted one on the same subject, and will not be publishing another.'

With the current trend for many editors not to reply if they have no place for your story, it is hard to know how far away from acceptance you are. Rejections are not automatically a sign that your writing is not worthy of publication, and literary tastes are personal not only of editors, but also of sales teams. If a sales team has no enthusiasm for a story and doesn't believe they can sell effectively, this may also seal its fate.

If you have met an editor at an event or conference, it is still not certain but much more likely that when you submit a story to them in the future, they will tell you why your story was rejected. 'Once a Creepy Crocodile' was once rejected for being too short ...and so was lengthened before the next submission.

I'm not sure when 'writing apprenticeship' actually ends, but the support of 'writing and illustrator buddies' in the lean years has helped me keep at it - keep writing and submitting.

You have to keep at it and hang in there. Never give up. Your story needs to arrive at the right editor's desk at the right time.

And I wish you a full measure of good luck!

Peter Taylor
Writing for Children