Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 4, 2016

Writing Advice from Debut Authors

Chuck Sambuchino

2016-cwimGIVEAWAY: In two weeks time, Chuck will pick three random commenters from this post to win his book, 2016 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's MarketSimply 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.”


About Chuck

chuck-fw-head-shot.jpgChuck 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.

Besides that, he is a freelance book & query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.  Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook.

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)



51 comments on “Writing Advice from Debut Authors”

  1. I'm actually writing a family-friendly screenplay which I also hope to spinoff into a children's picture book. Thanks to everyone for your encouraging words!

  2. My advice would be to start writing something. Your first draft won't be perfect, so don't worry about that. Get it on paper or on the computer screen. That makes it real.

  3. Chuck, thank you for sharing this advice and encouragement. If I’ve learned one thing in this journey it’s that writers are strongest when they work together, cheering each other on in their own projects. Authors, thank you for sharing what we need to hear. Don’t give up. Seek feedback. Be authentic. Write truth, even the scary stuff. Study and improve craft. Congratulations on publication this year. Clearly, you’ve put the time and the behind-the-scenes revisions and revisions and revisions to earn it!

  4. Rhino hide is part of turning pro. Chasing trends, sad. Good to hear many standing strong on finding and honing your own voice.

    Chuck, love, love, love your Guide to Literary Agents. You have no idea how many times I chime into a discussion re same in my crit group with, "Well, Chuck said . . ."

    Thank you again!

  5. Great advice no matter what genre you write. I've got a lot to learn, so hearing from those who have cracked the egg, so to speak, is valuable and worthy. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great advice! My family loves children's writing that is enthralling and captivating. We love creativity and hilarity. We also love beautiful illustration.

  7. I wish I had known about your books, writer and critique groups when I started writing. With no encouragement or advice I lost years of writing time and am trying to catch up. Thanks to you and people like you who provide aids and encouragement to writers, I am learning and hopefully growing, .

  8. Thanks, Chuck, for the variety of interviews. I especially relate to the "write the truth" message. Kids catch on quickly and shut the book just as quickly if they can spot the lie. And I'm looking forward to the gnome movie. %>)

  9. "Read widely" resonated with me. I have always read virtually everything I could get my hands on, and I find a well-written story delights even if it's written for a different age group. I loved reading to my kids when they were young, because I found stories that I just loved myself. They tickled my heart. An example is "Why is a Yak?" or "I love red". And let's not even get started on the Richard Scarry books. As a result my kids all grew up to be avid readers too. Writers should always remember they are sharing a gift that is priceless, even if it isn't perfect.

  10. Thank you for the post. I'm currently struggling to keep my audience in mind when I write. Writing is hard work and after a long day I'm mentally drained.

  11. Great advice! Thanks for sharing! I'm writing toward my goal of being in the next wave of debut authors.

  12. Thanks for all the great advice! I especially agree with Melanie that having excellent critique partners and being a beta-reader really help you analyze your writing and find your weaknesses so you can fix them.

  13. Fantastic collection of advice. I've come across a lot of writing advice posts over the past few years, but this one is easily one of the best I've seen thus far. Just about all of the suggestions here resonated with me in some way, especially "read widely," "write what scares you," "write what excites you," and "write now and fix it later." I need to do all of those things! Tons of valuable information here!

  14. Even just reading these short quotes has already helped me! As a Creative Writing student, now almost finished with my course, I find it hard to just SIT DOWN AND WRITE! Maybe now inspiration will strike a bit of energy into my fingers and I will finally goad my children's book into motion. Many thanks for this awesome info!

  15. After I finish writing this reply, I'm going to copy and paste the comments. What fun to hear from those who are one their way to making it. Very helpful comments.
    Thanks for another good post (even if I don't win a book)

  16. Great advice, and great to have it put here as a reminder too! Some of this advice I've been telling myself as I start a new project, so coming across this post when I did was excellent timing!

  17. Always inspiring to hear how other people do it - it can be done. Thank you! And I love some of those book titles.

  18. All great advice! I've been brewing an idea for a children's book for the past six months or so - and as a teacher, have a trusted colleague (and reader!) who is giving me some appreciated feedback. True -never give up, and keep feeding the writing muse!

  19. Thanks.. I am fearful that writersinthestorm is my next wormhole that leads away from my writing desk. However it hopefully deposits me back at it too. I am reading while I print. I appreciate the overarching message to persevere.

  20. My granddaughter keeps asking me to write a story series I would tell her each night at bedtime. I haven't yet, because I really don't know the first thing to drafting a children's fantasy story, even though verbally telling her one after another was fun and easy. She's been after me to tell a new adventure for our little heroine. LOL

    This book might be the key to how I can write those children's stories successfully before she's too old to enjoy them. Thanks for these tips, Mr. Sambuchino.

  21. Mr. Personality (as my main character was spontaneously dubbed by an onlooker and so will be known by until he is fully foisted) is really curious about the inside of the CW&I Market 2016. As it is surely in his nature to lay on open pages ..or devices ...or laps /and/ he feels that the contents would be sublime for such usage--as well, he begrudges, much more. He supposes that he might deign to let me have an occasional looksee inside said pages, from which to garner well needed nuggets for that foisting. Sigh. Its so meta.

  22. Excellent article. Thanks so much for the advice. I really needed it 🙂
    I'm working on my first children's book.

  23. Such excellent advice about working hard, finding your own voice, and persisting in the face of rejection. Thanks for this, and for the opportunity to win the book.

  24. This is a wonderful, helpful article--and the comments are a lesson within themselves. Thank you, Katherine, for the insight, and bloggers for the comments. I'm doing rewrites on my middle-grade children's book and all of the advice/experience helps.

    Barbara Deming

  25. This advice from newly published writers is great! Makes me feel I'm on the right track. Loved Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

  26. I appreciate the tips, particularly about being involved in a writers community. I've recently begun reaching out to other writers and the response is amazing! Their suggestions and support already have helped to inspire me and encourage me to write on! Happy writing, everyone!

  27. My favorite is viewing criticism as a gift; for me, this is especially true of specific criticism. If someone tells you something that they didn't like or doesn't work for them, that's not an indictment of your talent--it's an opportunity to make your work better. (Also, I've found that nearly always it's something that I already knew was a problem and had been ignoring because it would be hard to fix... but that's when I know it's time to put on my big-kid pants and do something even if it's hard.)

  28. The idea of 'not yet' is what stood out the most from these quotes. Rejection doesn't mean you're not a writer, it just means your path to being a published writer is still a work-in-progress.

  29. Thanks for the advice. I bought last year's edition and would really like to win this year's as I have finished one novel and am working on a second.

  30. Even though my middle grade novel isn't published yet, I think the key has to be learning how to develop a thick skin, a pounds' worth of patience, and a 'never-give-up' attitude. Three really tough things, but I don't think you get there without it. I have to work on mine daily, sometimes by the minute. Chuck, a test edit you did for me a few years ago really set me on a great path--I highly recommend his services!

  31. Not really very helpful. Anyone could have come up with be tenacious, write what you're excited about, and work on your craft.

  32. Congratulations to our three winners - Susan, Gordon, Petry, Melissa Richeson. Chuck will be in touch.

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