Clues for the Clueless about the Writing Life

Clues for the Clueless about the Writing Life


(I’m re-posting this bit of info here to the new website. I hope it informs.)


1. There is no substitute for good writing (Having “connections’ in the publishing world won’t help if the writing is not good.) The most useful thing you can do to push your publishing career forward is to hone your craft. That means practice writing—and yes, despite what you might have heard—grammar, syntax and punctuation are important.

2. You need to be a reader in the area in which you wish to write. Read! Compare readings, take notes, and read like a writer. Could you do brain surgery if you did not study the body? (‘Nuff said.)

3. No one can do your homework for you. You need to research children’s publishing and current award winners. You need to know what is already out there so you won’t waste your time, and so it will inform your writing. You’ll be building a base of knowledge about your craft. That knowledge cannot reside in the mind of someone else. And remember, these are “current” books you will be studying because you will be writing for the millennial (today’s) child, not the child you were fifty years ago.

4. No author will refer you to his/her agent or editor without falling in love with your manuscript. Relationships of this type are built on trust. No author would do damage to his or her agent/editor relationship without first reading and loving your manuscript. (Agents and editors are already inundated by thousands of manuscripts.) See # 5 for more info on this point.

5. Few authors have the time to mentor/read your manuscripts. (Thus they will have no time to fall in love with your writing.) This is because they are squeezing every second they can out of the day to work on their own books, and still retain a bit of a family life, and sanity. And don’t forget, many authors must write in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, because they hold down day jobs. (See #9 for how much writing pays.) Teachers/instructors and contest judges will, generally, read your whole manuscript. A few authors offer manuscript critiques for a fee. Also, you can hire an independent editor or book doctor. (Do NOT use a book doctor referred to you by an agent that you are not completely sure is on the up-and-up. There could be kick-backs involved.)

6. Everyone gets rejected. This applies to well-known authors, who may have just gotten a rejection from the same agent/editor to whom you are seeking an introduction. There are many reasons for rejections. Get used to it. A lot of authors had hundreds of rejections before an acceptance. (I did!)

7. No one is interested in your memoir unless you are in the public light already, or did something amazing that few know about. The only exception to this is your immediate family.

8. No one is interested in the family tales your grandchildren love. (The exception to this is #7.) That is, unless you have crafted elegant stories from these through the hard work of plotting and revising. Remember, just because something really happened a certain way is no indication that the story should be written to follow the facts. Unless you’re writing non-fiction, most good children’s books require shaping through plotting. (See #1.)

9. The majority of authors make very little money. Surprised? Do the math. The basic contract for a novel is 10%. That’s $1.50 for a $15 novel. Generally, first or second print runs are only few thousand copies. For picture books, it’s worse! 10% must be shared with the illustrator. (No one magically comes up with another 10% for the illustrator.) Thus, 5% of a $16 hard-cover picture book is only 80¢! So event organizers: most authors will not travel long distances for “the opportunity” to sell a few copies of their books—the price of gas would eat up any royalties made on sales. (Exceptions to this are bookstore signings/conferences when networking is of more importance than selling.)

10. Authors are rewarded in many other ways, however. The best things that happen to authors are often NOT quantifiable. Children write letters to us. These are fun! And sometimes moving. One child collected over $500 to donate to the Blind Babies Foundation in San Francisco after reading my novel, SPITTING IMAGE. And you never know the places you’ll go because of your books. I’ve been invited to the White House and to do a month-long tour of Japan. Wow! And of course, there is always the reward of a job well-done and recognition from people you admire. What more could anyone want from life?

I hope this list has given you some insight into a writer’s life. It’s not all rosy, but it is rewarding.
Write if you have a passion for it.

Write if you love how vision and thought combine to shape words on a page.
Write if you want your words to march forth and change the world in big, or small, ways.
Write if the artist within you says, “I am here. I make a difference.”


Be true to your talent . . .
Honor it by giving attention to it . . .


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