My second picture book Super Pizza & Kid Kale comes out this year! Reflecting on the upcoming release of this goofy story about friendship and food puns allowed me to see how far I’ve come in my writing journey. And by that, I mean how many mistakes I made in the beginning! While I think mistakes are a natural part of creative lives, I do want to save pre-published authors some time with a little advice. The advice is DON’T BE LIKE ME!
Here are a few ways you can avoid some heartbreak on your own publishing adventures:
DON’T Write Just One Story
Like many pre-published authors, I thought had an idea for a unique picture book. My goal was simply to get that one book published and then be a literary star. But I learned quickly just one book wouldn’t cut it. First of all, the book just wasn’t that good. My page count was wrong, my rhyming was forced, and the whole manuscript was flat. But how could it be good? I hadn’t learned how to write a good picture book yet! The only way to get good at writing picture books is to write a lot of picture books and be prepared to throw away most of them. Second, most literary agents want clients with multiple polished stories so they can represent you – not just your book.
DON’T Rely on Your Childhood Favorites
Corduroy by Don Freeman. The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel. Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. These were some of my favorite picture books and my only reference for what makes a good story. The problem? They all came out 50+ years ago! Picture books have changed—and will continue to change! Knowing what kind of books are being published right now is a critical step to writing a marketable book. Challenge yourself to read as many books from the past five years as possible—50 a month if you can. Study the language, the pace, the themes, the humor, the heart. Take what you like and apply it to your writing.
DON’T Try to Skip to the Head of the Line
I am going to be vulnerable, yet brave for a moment. After I had drafted my first book, I decided it was so good that I needed an agent ASAP. I looked up other authors who had written similar books and wrote them for advice about how to do just that. Every single author wrote me back (!!!) and, weirdly, did NOT offer to introduce me to their agents (!!!) But they all gave me the gift of incredible advice which boiled down to: DO THE WORK! Read more books, write more stories, get more feedback, get involved with organizations like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and work on your craft.
DON’T Forget Kid Lit Is a Business
Publishing seems glamorous, mysterious, and maybe a little magical. We all want to be plucked from obscurity and finally recognized as the geniuses we are. But at the end of the day, publishing is a business. Skills like writing a professional query letter, shrugging your shoulders at rejection, and taking tough feedback with grace will get you much further in this industry than being a difficult “genius.” Yes, you still need a well written, polished story – but this is a business of persistence, not luck. Act like a pro and you will eventually be a pro.
Some Other Don’ts
The four previous examples were all personal game changers, but here are a few bonus lessons that helped me on my way:
And One Do:
Super Pizza & Kid Kale (Viking Books, Sept 2022) is available for pre-order now.
Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) (Barefoot Books, June 2021) is available everywhere.