It took me seven full years of writing, revising, and querying before I landed my spectacular agent, and nearly another year before I sold my book. While I was living those seven, long years, I remember the range of emotions whenever I’d get a rejection letter. What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they see I’m good? When is this going to happen for me? I wasn’t aware yet of them yet, but I now see that these were a few of the problems:
1) My writing wasn’t ready. One rejection I received hurt. Really hurt. It was from the first agent to ever request a look at my work, and he wrote in response: “I don’t like your style of writing at all. There is a saying that goes show, don’t tell, and you are telling everything.” Ouch. That could have stopped my query process right then and there. Instead, I went back to look for this “telling” he was talking about—and saw he was right.
2) My sense of story wasn’t ready. Not only was my writing in need of finesse, so was my sense of story. I paid no attention to structure, to conflict, to rising tension, to resolution. I didn’t think about what the reader would experience at all. I was just writing for me. Only when I started doing #3 on this list (below) did I begin to understand I needed to change my outlook.
3) I hadn’t read YA or MG widely. I spent all my free time writing, how could I possibly read too? I must have read only about a dozen children’s books in my adult life before trying my hand at writing them. Linda Sue Park beat it into my head a few years back that a writer should read at least 100 books in the age group they are writing for before they begin to write. Why? Because the more you expose yourself, the better you will become. You’ll see structure and pacing and character development whereas before, you might not.
4) My query letter wasn’t targeted. So once I thought I had a great manuscript, filled with all the right stuff, I started to send it out. To just about everyone. Sure, sure, I used Writers Market, and only sent to agencies and houses that published children’s books, but I didn’t realize that it wasn’t enough. I needed to find specific editors, specific agents and the books and authors they worked with who were a little like me and my story. Man, that was hard! But it was worth the time, and paid off in the end.
5) I was in a vacuum. In other words, I was by myself. I knew no other children’s writers. I kept to myself and did my thing, and had no idea what I was missing. As soon as I started associating with other writers via SCBWI and Verla Kay (esp. Verla Kay), I started having more confidence in myself and my work. There were other people out there just like me! Wow. I firmly believe this attitude shift, this exposure to other aspiring authors, helped me reach the next level of my career. Now, I’m branching out into LiveJournal and Facebook, and this blog even, and love being surrounded by people who love the same things I do, and who support one another. Even though this is #5 on my Random list, networking is essential. Don’t be shy about it!