Write About Now

In high school I wrote my first “novel”. I sent the bits of typewritten onion skin off to a publisher. The largest publisher that I knew about, knowing nothing, was Zondervan. They published Bibles. They had to be huge.

I have kept the rejection letter. Rejected because it was too controversial.

That was in 1973. The story was my story about the year I went to an all black school. Now, if I rewrote that story, which I intend to do, it would be historical fiction. I don’t believe I would write it as a memoir. I think it would read better to put someone else on that stage. Someone else can ride on that bus across town, with the loony bus driver who insisted we girls take turns sitting on his lap as he drove.

As a child I have loved books. I dreamed of a future writing and illustrating children’s stories. My mixed media collage on the right is a girl reading in a tree-house. My father constructed a tree-house that stretched between two trees. I spent hours up there concocting stories which I would act out. My stories usually involved being chased by the bad guys or (for some strange Freudian reason) a gorilla.

I wrote and illustrated several stories before I discovered SCBWI where I learned more about the mechanics of picture books. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators provides tools to learn the craft of writing. They offer great advice about the publishing world, and provide conferences attended by other aspiring writers, published authors and illustrators, and acquiring editors.

I discovered a real joy in writing words on paper. I love writing. I love my words. All writers do, or they wouldn’t be writers.

What I soon discovered was that no matter how much I love my words – a lot of others do not. In order to write commercially, or for publication, one must craft a story. Sending out a first draft, or even a second draft, is not a good idea. Yes, enthusiasm sells. Poorly strung together bits of thought do not sell. Save the enthusiasm for the final draft. It is hard. Sometimes I’m so thrilled with my new “idea” that I am bursting to share it. That’s when I must “put the lid on the pot” so my idea doesn’t boil up all over the stove.

As most of you who have been following me here on WordPress or on Facebook know, my husband and I buy and sell houses. We love to buy old and renovate and sell. Well, at this point it is more like buy, renovate, and rent, but that is another story.

I would like to draw an analogy between selling a gorgeous property and selling a great manuscript (picture book or novel). Selling a property before it is perfect, is much the same as trying to sell a manuscript before it is as perfect as is possible to make it. (Though perfection is in the eye of the beholder in both cases. Yes, that is a cliché.) If you put your house on the market before the bathroom has been repainted or before the dog trail in front of the fence is re-sodded, then you risk those first lookers hating the yellow bathroom, and wondering what to do about the grassless trail in front of the fence. Those are unnecessary distractions.

By the same token if I send my manuscript out with two grammatical errors on the third page, the reader of that manuscript would toss it aside and send a post card rejection. Post card rejections have a little check mark next to the appropriate reason for rejection. Post card rejections are the ultimate rejection, right next to the rejection where you never hear anything. Ever.

When you lose your houses’ first lookers, you won’t get them back. If your manuscript is rejected by a publisher you can not send it back, even if your grammatical errors are corrected. For some reason known only to God that first reader at the publisher’s always remembers.

So no matter how enthusiastic one is about selling the gorgeous little doll house in the historic district or how enthusiastic one is about the adorable mouse story, stop! Wait. Learn patience. Learn to sit and get that manuscript right! Let it “cool off” and then re-read it. It is surprising what you see with a cold eye. Don’t use up all your publishers, don’t lose your opportunities. Polish. Polish. Polish. Get it critiqued by others who write in the same genre. Listen to their advice. It is okay if they find fault. Re-write. A gazillion times. Make your critique-folks glow with the same enthusiasm you have for your work.

Then and only then do your research on which publisher would most likely love your work. This is about writing now. Now is very different from 1973. Publishers are specific. They publish specific things, or at least a variety of specific things. Zondervan does not just publish Bibles, they have a massive range of things they publish. Match your work to work published by that company. It is unlikely if your research is thorough that you will get a postcard rejection. You may get rejected but there will be a handwritten note as to specifics. And that is all part of the learning curve. If you are like me – it still hurts. But I get up, dust off the rejection and keep on trying. You can’t stop me.

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