As I read a lot of quick-fix New Year’s Resolution articles, I’m struck by how generic and often glib they seem.
As a writer, I try to re-energize and refocus on goals just like anyone else, but instead of resolving to chase the newest business or creative fad, I simply vow to continue to take the one step that I know from experience actually works – persist! I had the honor of addressing a SCBWI (Society of Childrens’ Book Writers & Illustrators) conference last year on this very subject.
I’d like to share my speech with you here in the hope that it can encourage you to pursue your dream even when you seem overcome by the obstacles that this new year will surely bring: They asked me to say a few words about my path to publication. I think I can best explain my path with a little help from Monty Python.
There’s a scene in The Holy Grail movie where the lord of the swamp castle is talking with his son.
All the other kings said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp as well. So I built a third one. That one burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up!
And that’s sort of how my path to publication unfolded. My first “castle in the swamp” came in the form of a regional children’s magazine called, Kid’s World. I discovered their debut issue and noticed they didn’t have any fiction stories. I contacted the editor and asked if she’d like some fiction, and asked if I could be the one to provide that fiction. To my great surprise, she said “yes” and my first castle was under construction.
I worked with Kid’s World for a year. During that time, I got to perform readings in schools, I gained experience working with a deadline and writing in general, and I experienced the joy of seeing my writing in print. Things were going well and I was pretty excited about my writing future, when the editor contacted me and told me that she and the publisher were no longer seeing eye to eye and they had decided to dissolve the magazine.
And so my first castle sank back down into the swamp.
So I began building my second “castle in the swamp” which came in the form of self publication. I was lucky enough to have a good friend who was a graphic designer. And after a few drinks I convinced him that publishing a children’s book together would be a good idea. We worked on the layout and design for a couple of months. I researched prices for book printing. I learned about ISBNs and bar codes and distribution.
Finally, nine months later, DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! was officially released! I performed readings at area schools and book stores. I received glowing reviews from several online review sites. Somehow I managed to get a brief TV interview with one of the local news stations. My book even managed to crack the Barnes & Noble top 100 children’s books (for about a half an hour!) Things were going so well that a distributor specializing in children’s books contacted me and offered to handle marketing and distribution for DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! as well as my next book, PIGGIES. My second castle was well under way!
… Right until the month before my second book was scheduled for release. I received an email from the distributor saying they were filing for bankruptcy and they would be unable to perform the support and marketing and distribution they had promised.
And so my second castle sank into the swamp.
After a brief period of pouting, I went back to writing and submitting. I was starting to get really nice, personalized rejections. If there was such a thing as a good rejection, I was getting it. So I decided the only thing I lacked to get over the next hurdle was an agent. And so construction began on swamp castle number three.
I received an email from an agent at the Ronnie Herman agency saying she liked my query submission and wanted to represent me! Woohoo! Quickest castle ever, right? Not quite. The agent asked me to make a few revisions which I gladly did. Then she emailed to say the market was soft for the theme I’d chosen for my original manuscript. Thinking quickly, I emailed back to ask what she was looking for. She said she needed math themed stories. So I sent her one. She said it had potential, but she felt she wanted to devote more time to her other clients and could no longer represent me.
So, I had an agent for all of a week and a half. But no pouting this time – I sent out a few more queries right away and received an email from an agent at Muse Literary. She said she liked my writing and kids would (and I quote) “love the whimsy of my story.” She included a list of about ten suggestions for editing the story and invited me to resubmit my revisions. I incorporated about half of her suggestions and made my defense for keeping the rest of the story the same. A week later I received a very terse follow up email informing me that (and I quote) “children would not be interested in my story.”
And I watched as my castle burned, fell over, and sank in the swamp.
Just as I was feeling completely defeated and was seriously considering giving up writing, something truly amazing happened! A fourth castle began to rise from the swamp! One of the “nice rejection” editors at Tiger Tales contacted me and told me she wanted to publish my latest submission, WITH ALL MY HEART. A few months later I received another offer of publication from an editor at a Sylvan Dell for a math title, called THE DEDUCTIVE DETECTIVE. The same math title I had originally written for my first agent.
So as I consider my “path to publication” and my quest for that grail castle, I have to stop and give thanks for the little successes and especially the many failures along the way. Because each sunken “swamp castle” helped lay the groundwork for my next success.
So if there’s any kind of moral to this rambling story of mine, it’s this:
If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results – then success is insanity squared!
So keep building your castles in the swamp and keep writing; make 2013 the year that your castle finally stays up!