Children’s author, child-friendly?

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Considering I’m a children’s book author, I thought I was a pretty kid-friendly person. I may not feel comfortable taking care of kids, but surely I’m capable of interacting with them, right? But the more I interact with kids, the more I learn. If you’re a writer who’s conscious about being kid-friendly but aren’t around kids regularly, maybe my musings here can be of use. On the other hand, if you’re a parent, teacher, or otherwise interact with kids often, feel free to add your own insights in the comments! I appreciate all the help I can get. 😉

  1. Do not put yourself down in front of kids, such as calling yourself stupid. Sometimes I don’t feel on top of the world, either, but these negative thoughts and emotions are better shared with trusted adults. The little ones in your life might look up to you more than you know and dream about someday attaining your level of coolness. If you beat yourself up in front of them, you may inadvertently discourage them from their own dreams.
  2. That said, do be real with them. Haul out that binder bursting with rejection letters and let them see how many you got before your first publication. I think some people (not just kids) like the idea of being a writer more than actually writing. The path to producing good work isn’t always easy, but it’s also part of growing up.
  3. Even if kids think you’re incredibly cool and see you as a role model, they might not articulate how they feel. Don’t let this discourage you. While some kids might react to you in fangirl or fanboy mode, others might feel intimidated and/or become shy around you. Others may simply express themselves in a way that you are not expecting.
  4. Be considerate to parents, too! If a seller calls out to kids and gets them interested in an item for an inexpensive price, the parent might look like a bad guy for not buying the item for the kids. If kids wander up to your table at a signing or a convention, be friendly and interact, but when parents are present, pitch to the parents and respect their decisions.
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What to call it?

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I’ve noticed that when I tell people I’ve published a book, they don’t always realize that it was picked up by a publishing house. Should I call publishing something else?

Maybe I should say that I sold a book. However, this might sound like I only sold one copy or that I sold a copy of someone else’s book. What if I said that I got a book contract? I like this one because it implies that two parties are involved, and it sounds more official.

Or I guess I could simply say that I wrote a book. That’s what it is, after all, whether I joined forces with a large publishing house or uploaded a self-published manuscript online.

But I feel that there’s still a dividing line between being published by a publishing house and being self-published. Traditional publishing seems to add an extra layer of validation to an author and a book even though a self-published work can be as good as a professionally-published one.

I’m curious to see how perceptions of self-publishing and traditional publishing change or blur in the future. But for the here and now, when you finish a piece of writing and share it with the world, what do you call it? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

A Disagreement with the Editor

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Before publishing my first book, Nick Newton Is Not a Genius, my editor and I disagreed about how the last paragraph of the last chapter should end. She commented that the ending would “gild the lily,” but I thought those last few sentences added a sense of closure and finality.

The extra sentences stayed in until the copyedit, where my editor again recommended leaving them out. I finally went along with her suggestion despite liking those extra sentences.

Why did I finally give up those last sentences? Not merely because she’s my editor. She’s also more experienced than I am. Maybe she sees something I can’t. And maybe one day I’ll see it, too. But leaving or including those last few lines didn’t diminish the story’s theme or overall plot, so it was no big deal either way.

I suppose the publishing relationship is a lot like any other relationship in that I have to pick my battles wisely. A friend, relative, coworker, or another person in my life may hold a differing opinion, but that doesn’t mean that I need to argue about it. Being willing to let go of the little things frees me up for discussion about more important things—and, in this case, maybe even helps encourage a second book contract. ~_^

Gone Fishing

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In some ways trying to get published is like fishing. It needn’t be terribly expensive, but along with the basic equipment to start, you should also possess patience and a desire to do it. You have to make time for it, and you might want to get some friends in on the hobby to swap stories with.

When you fish, as well as when you write, you have to cast out a line and wait. Sometimes you don’t catch anything, so you send out the line again. Maybe you try casting multiple lines at the same time.

If you still don’t get anything, perhaps it’s time to try a different spot, like testing your skills in a new genre, or perhaps you’re using the wrong bait, such as submitting a story that doesn’t quite fit the publisher you sent it to.

But writing, unlike fishing, is always catch and release. Reeling in a contract isn’t like landing the big one for you to keep. Rather, it’s more like a tag that these words are yours, and now a team has come alongside you to share your writing with a world that’s as vast as the sea.

Writing isn’t about seeing a glossy cover with your name on the front, appearing on store shelves like a prize fish mounted on a wall.  Release your words and watch them find homes in hearts and imaginations. And when you’re ready for another adventure, take up your equipment, walk out onto the beach, and cast your line again.

The Publishing Relationship

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Before experiencing book publication, I braced myself for an Orwellian dictatorship to which I’d acquiesce lest my book gets thrown into the oblivion of the next market’s slush pile. With the difficulty of breaking into the industry and grasping a paying contract, I thought to unquestioningly obey whatever your editor commands. Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength!

        Thankfully my actual publishing experience has been quite the contrary to my dystopian visions. Instead, it reminded me more of a healthy dating relationship. We didn’t want to push each other away, so we were careful to treat each other well. My editor and I have a mutual respect.

        We are a team working together to produce a quality product from which we can both profit. If a romantic interest or a publisher turns into a dictator who runs you into the ground and demands unflinching fealty with no room for reasonable compromise, that’s a red flag to end the relationship.

        All in all, I guess I’m trying to tell new authors not to sell themselves short. If a publisher or editor treats you like I initially imagined they might, that’s an indication to avoid working with that organization. If a publisher expresses interest in your work, that indicates you and your writing are a valuable commodity worth the respect of the interested party. You are not an exploitable, expendable item. A market may look tempting, but if they don’t treat you well, they’re not worth the hassle and heartache. However, when you find a good publisher that offers you a good contract, consider making a commitment and getting ready for the journey ahead!

Lessons from Selling at My First Convention

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Photo of author at convention table.

Earlier this year, I sold my book at a convention for the first time. I learned a few things:

  • Attend the convention before selling at it. Because many conventions occur only once a year, attending before selling sounds inconvenient. However, buying a table at a convention can cost hundreds of dollars. Depending on your location in relation to the event, you may also need to account for travel, hotel, and food expenses. If you have a day job, you may need to use valuable vacation time to take off from work. Costs in both money and time can add up quickly, so make sure as much as possible that your adventure will be profitable. Experiencing the convention for yourself can show you that it’s too small or that it attracts a slightly different audience from what you write.
  • Selling a wide range of items can be an advantage or a disadvantage. If you’re selling your book along with figurines, handmade plush dolls, t-shirts, and art prints that have nothing to do with your story, you might attract a wide range of people to your table, but they might overlook your book.
  • It’s dangerous to go alone—bring a friend! Even if a convention is small, and even if you have great neighbors at the table next to you, don’t sell by yourself if you can help it. Someone should watch your table at all times when the room is open for business, and you’ll need breaks. Plus it’s nice to mingle with other sellers, do some shopping, and attend a few panels. Don’t burden the nice folks at the table beside you to watch your table for you. They have their own table to keep track of. Bring someone to back you up and prevent you from burning out and losing profits.
  • Vendor table + panel = winning combo. Be a panelist or presenter to generate interest in yourself and your work. At the end of your session, mention your table and its location. After the panel, audience members can visit you at your table and purchase your book.
  • Be pleasant but firm when necessary. One of my favorite parts of attending conventions is meeting others who have similar interests. However, not everyone understands what it takes to create. Sooner or later you may encounter that person who offers $10 for your original painting that took 70 hours to complete. Do not take the person’s offer as a personal insult. Do not punch the person in the face. Simply decline the offer and wait for a serious buyer who will truly appreciate your art.
  • Trade stuff. When I sold my book at a convention, I didn’t buy other books—I traded copies of my own book for them. Trading can be fun, and you might make some new friends, too!

Reasonable Standards

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           Sometimes publishers seem harsh. Maybe they reject your work with an ambiguous form letter. Maybe they didn’t give a response at all.

        On an online forum, I saw a participant who didn’t understand why faulty spelling and grammar, of all things, were legitimate reasons for a publisher’s rejection. Why must your writing be so polished before you can be considered for a contract? Doesn’t the story matter most?

        Story is certainly important. But after seeing a professional publishing team put so much work into my book and also after hearing from self-published authors who had to do that work themselves, I find it acceptable for publishers to require quality work from authors, especially in regards to spelling and grammar. It’s actually a reasonable request.

        Publishers don’t just print your book. Even if the book doesn’t need illustrations, it still needs a cover, designing, and formatting. It needs editing. It needs advertising. My publisher has more connections and a larger network than I do. As a new author, I didn’t have an existing readership, but a good publisher will.

        I understand that writers’ guidelines can be daunting. I have a growing collection of rejection letters, too. Publishers might seem brutal. But after I signed my contract, the publisher did more work on my book than I did during that time. I can at least start by submitting a solid manuscript.

photo of 3-D printed mechanical bird

Above and beyond. The first of these models resides with the publisher, but the second resides with me.

Why You Should Write Short Stories

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I tell pretty much every aspiring writer to start with short stories. Here’s why:

    • Short stories force you to be concise. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like writing short stories because they don’t like the word limit. Although I appreciate an immersive reading experience filled with rich descriptions, concision is an art that is worth mastering. Plus, no matter what you publish, you’re likely going to have some form of word limit.
    • Short stories are faster. You should be able to produce more short stories in the same amount of time as you could produce a single novel. Write multiple short stories and send them out to different publishers at the same time. Some publishers don’t want simultaneous submissions, meaning that they don’t want you to submit the same story to different publications at the same time. Instead, submit different stories to different publications simultaneously.
    • Short stories often don’t require an agent. Some publishing houses will only look at your work if you have an agent, but many short story publishers allow you to submit work to them without one.
    • Short stories are good practice. Want to explore a certain theme or iron out a specific skill? Write a short story for just that. You could practice the skill alone, such as writing descriptions, but if you use a short story to practice with, it forces you to practice other skills at the same time, and when you’re done, you may have a product to submit to a publisher.
    • Short stories can look good on your cover letter. As much as you might want to get accepted by a big publishing house (I do, too), some short story publications also have notable reputations and have won awards, so please don’t dismiss them. A book is a sizeable investment for a publisher, and showing that your work has sold in other markets may give your book pitch a boost.
    • Short stories allow you to explore other genres. Just because you have a favorite genre doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. If you want to play in another genre, consider starting with short stories to test the waters. If you don’t know where to start in a new genre, consider finding a market first and then writing a story tailored specifically to that publisher’s submission guidelines.
    • Short stories are fun! Once you start a short story, it may surprise you how much fun you can have with only a few pages.