GIVEAWAY: In two weeks time, Chuck will pick three random commenters from this post to win his book, 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Simply comment to win. Good luck!
I love talking to debut authors. They’ve just been through the difficult process of getting a first book published, and are oftentimes full of knowledge concerning what they did right (and wrong) on their journey to success.
So with that in mind, I asked 16 debut children’s book authors—writers of picture books, middle grade, and young adult—for advice they’d like to share with other writers. Enjoy their wonderful answers below.
All authors included in this article either had their books released in the past nine months, or their books will be released before October 2016, so you’re getting tips and guidance from writers who are in the thick of things right now.
“Write for you first. Write what you like. And keep at it.”
“Always keep writing the next thing. Truthfully, I think not giving up is huge. If you keep at it and keep learning, you will get there. In many cases, ‘failure’ or lack of success comes from not putting yourself out there enough.”
“My attitude was to interpret any ‘no’ from the publishing industry as ‘not yet.’ I also viewed any feedback—whether a thoughtful critique or a full-on rejection with no explanation—as a gift. Be willing to work harder than will show. No reader will know if you had to rewrite the opening chapter ten times, or cut an entire character. All that matters is the [final product].”
“The most valuable thing I did to improve my craft was finding critique partners and beta reading regularly for other writers. In addition to reading published books voraciously, providing beta feedback on manuscripts helped me study the craft of writing and gain perspective to judge my own work. Writing is rewriting.”
“Inspiration is overrated and ideas are cheap. Being a writer doesn’t mean you’re exceptionally smart, creative, or talented. Instead, it means that you put in your time. That you put in your million practice words. I found there to be so much less ‘luck’ in the publishing process than I’d originally thought. I also learned (if quite late in the game) to be my own type of writer. Not to sound cheesy, but it was a huge epiphany to discover that my very best writing came when I was trying to be me, not someone else. If I could travel back in time and tell myself anything, it would be: ‘Finish that first novel, and then throw it away! Rinse and repeat. All the while, study writing. Study craft. Study stories.’ ”
“Write what excites you as a reader. I like to write the kind of story I like to read, not what I think the market needs or wants. For me, writing is just a grown-up form of making up stories like a kid does while playing with toys. If you do not find yourself getting excited by what you have written, then it’s a good warning sign that it should be rethought or rewritten.”
(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)
“Getting involved in the writer community online has been a key step toward my eventual publication. Twitter especially became a hub for me where I connected with other writers, met my future critique partners, became familiar with agents and industry professionals who share tips for aspiring writers online, and kept up to date with what was going on in the publishing industry. Swapping manuscripts with critique partners is easily the best (and scariest) writing decision I ever made.”
“Take in other art whenever you can—books, visual art, music, plays, movies that inspire you. It helps your brain rest, and gives you creative energy.”
“Just write—wherever, whenever you can. If the product is garbage, you can always fix it, as they say in the film industry, in post.”
“1) Never give up. Just don’t. 2) Turn off the television and your i-Whatevers, and get to work. 3) Don’t be afraid to revise and to listen to other people’s suggestions about how to improve your writing. 4) Keep at it. There is someone out there who needs the story you are writing.”
“You must write. If you don’t write, you won’t have anything to edit later. You must get words down on the page. Even if you feel like what you are writing is terrible, at least it is on paper and you can fix it later.”
“For me, ‘success’ has come from getting repeatedly thrown flat on the ground—by harsh critiques, rejections, reviews, you name it—and then getting up, dusting myself off, and continuing to pursue publication. It’s been three steps forward, two steps back. And in this industry, I think that’s pretty normal. Success comes from a process of persistence.”
“Read. Read widely, outside your chosen category and genre. Read things you’re not sure you’ll like. As a reviewer, I’ve read hundreds of books I would never have picked up on my own. I’ve learned something about writing from every single one of them, even if it was what not to do.”
“I’m a big believer in writing what scares you. There were many elements of Underwater that scared me, but I think those fears pushed me to write a better book.
“Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird taught me that I can’t look at the entire story and its every twist and turn, layer, and subtlety all at once. That view will cripple a writer on the spot. My tactic is to chip away at a story bit by bit, turn that chunk of marble into something people want to look at. I focus only on a chapter, and brainstorm on one or two elements to include. But they have to be elements I feel excited about. My mentor would always say, ‘Write where the heat is.’ I find that heat and start running toward it.”
“Remember that what works for one writer might not necessarily be good for you. Try a lot of different approaches, but focus on creating a process that works for you.”
Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
July 23, 2016: “Get Published” Conference of Tennessee (Nashville, TN)
July 30, 2016: Colorado Writing Workshop (Denver, CO)
Aug. 12-14, 2016: Writer’s Digest Conference East (New York, NY)
August 20, 2016: Toronto Writing Workshop (Toronto, Canada)
Sept. 9, 2016: Sacramento Writers Conference (Sacramento, CA)
Sept. 10, 2016: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
Sept. 10, 2016: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
Oct. 28-30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 5-6, 2016: ShowMe Writers Masterclass (Columbia, MO)
Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
Feb. 26 – March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)