5 Face-Palm Moments of a Newbie Children's Author
Yep, I did THAT. Maybe sharing my mistakes will prevent them from happening to others!
As I noted in my debut blog post, I am still VERY early on this children’s publishing journey, and am still learning every day. I have reached a point, though, where I have learned enough to realize some of the absolutely ridiculous mistakes I made when I wrote and submitted my first story. In the hopes of preventing this ridiculousness for fellow aspiring authors, I thought I’d share some of my disasters. So here goes: 5 face-palm moments.
1. My kids love my story!
In my query letter, I talked about how much my family and friends liked my story. I now see that this particular move is on pretty much every list of “don’ts” for query letters—editors DO NOT CARE if my friends or my kids like my stories. I know now that I need to stick with describing the merits of the story and the writing, not on how much my son giggles when I get to “that part” (as precious as it may be!).
2. Taking a census…
One of the publishers I submitted to asked for me to comment on the “market” for my book. Now, if you’re a veteran of kidlit land, you’re going to laugh at this, but I literally looked up the population statistics to see how many kids in the US were in my target age demographic. Yes, I actually put a line in my query letter about how many kids were in the “market” for my book, and also enlightened the editor on the potential of all of the libraries that could acquire my book. Oy. I can just picture the intern or assistant who happened to read that letter sending it around to his/her buddies for a good laugh. Face. Palm. I now understand that what the publisher was asking for was my take on how my book would fit into the current market—what other books similar to it had been published and were successful, etc. Live and learn.
3. SO many blanks.
A couple of the publishers that I submitted my first story to used the platform Submittable, which has authors create a profile and fill out all kinds of information. Not only information about the submission, but about author experience and professional development activity—web presence, society memberships, conferences attended, magazine credits, contest awards—basically anything that highlights that the author is serious and taking steps to develop their skill. At the time I submitted my first story, I had NONE of these things. Zero. Nada. All of these fields were blank. I now know that this should have been a BIG red flag for me—and probably a sure sign to the editor that I WAS NOT ready to be a published author. I’ve now joined SCBWI, attended workshops, have plans to attend conferences, have entered contests, created this website and blog, and began working on some magazine submissions. The next time I submit a story, I’LL BE READY. Or at least, I won’t have a neon sign that screams “NEWBIE” flashing across my submission profile.
4. My rhyme..oh, my rhyme.
Now, my rhyme wasn’t terrible, but when I look back at it now, after studying the intricacies of meter and rhyme with more intention and learning how to spot a bad rhyme, I see that my first story was riddled with rhyming “don’ts”—slant rhymes, awkwardly twisted phrasing to fit a rhyme, emphases on the wrong words/syllables, too many (or too few) counts in a line…you name it, I did it. Basically, what I submitted was what I now recognize as an early draft. It’s a process, and rushing rhyme = rejection central. Posts like this one by Vivian Kirkfield helped me see the error of my ways, and have vastly improved my verse writing.
5. I didn’t think about the take-home message.
My first story was fun, action-packed, incorporated sound words, was imaginative, had a beginning, middle, end, had a story arc, had a main character—it was cute and fun. But I never thought about the message the story sent to readers until I took a workshop on lessons/messaging and realized that the “lesson” some might take away from my story is not a great one. Specifically, my story basically led to the conclusion that you shouldn’t try new things, because you might mess up--instead, you should stay where you are, where it's safe. Yep. Not really the makings of a best-seller in a society where independence, curiosity, exploration, persistence, and finding your own path are valued. I am now much more intentional about figuring out the take-home message of each story early on in the drafting process!
So, there you have it. Five face-palm moments of a newbie. No matter who you are, there are going to be these moments when first starting out in a new field—each business/profession has its own language and norms, and learning them simply takes immersion and practice. I’m sure I will realize other face-palm moments as I continue learning about the industry and developing my skill, but for now, this post is a testament to my learning curve—hooray for progress!
Do you have any face-palm moments of your own to share? Post a comment!