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  • Writer's pictureTERRY ANN MARSH


As in any profession or discipline, writing has its own unique learning curve. Obviously, much can be learned through education, but so much also, is learned through just doing it, and perseverance through trial and error. After all, writing is as much about rewriting as it is about creating.

I love this quote concerning rejection slips from Stephen King’s book On Writing:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Of course, rejection slips today come more in the form of emails, but you get the point. Everyone gets them—keep going.

Following along the well-worn path of other writers, I have picked up many ideas and tips along the way, helping to make my learning curve a little less steep. Maybe a few of these will help you as well.

5 Things You Might Not Know

#1. The writing community is extremely helpful. There are a lot of hands that reach back to help others. Take advantage of it. You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to go to a conference if you can’t afford it. There are online writer’s groups, newsletters, and websites you can follow. Facebook, Instagram and twitter are chock-full of ideas, opinions, and how-to articles. Find your genre, jump in and have fun.

#2. Finding an agent is as hard as finding a publisher. The same level of professionalism needed to submit to a publisher needs to be shown to the agent. It would be a mistake to send an agent your diamond-in-the-rough project, figuring they would recognize your brilliance and help you polish it for submission. It’s best if you polish it yourself and send them your best work.

#3. Follow the submission guidelines. Submission guidelines give you the specifics of what an agent/editor is looking for. It’s a waste of time to send a picture book to an editor who only wants YA novels. It’s a waste of time to snail mail a manuscript if it says email only. If the instructions say to put your genre/word count/title in the subject line—do it. Unlike the Pirate’s Code of Conduct, these guidelines are specific, and you should follow them.

#4. Every word counts. Yeah, this is a tough one. Writers love their words like sopranos love their high notes. Very simply: don’t use 15 words when 8 will do. In children’s books especially, the word count is crucial. At the first writer’s conference I attended, I was advised to pare down my picture book from 1600 words to 800 words before submitting to anyone. Not possible, I thought. But it was possible, and the book was all the stronger for it.

#5. Don’t try to pair your writing with an illustrator. This, of course, is advice for picture book writers. Publishers have a bank of illustrators they have access to, and they will choose the illustrator they feel is best for your story. For my PB, The Three Little Sprigs, I was given several options to choose from, and I picked out three and then the editor and I agreed on the best of those three. Whereas your best friend, aunt or 5th grade art teacher may be just who you have in mind, you are better off sending in your manuscript text only and letting the publisher take it from there. And if you are a writer/illustrator, congratulations! You are, at this time in the literary world, in high demand.

It doesn’t matter where you are on that learning curve. The point is, you’re on it. Keep writing and rewriting, Grab hold of the hand in front of you. Pick up the shiny stones along the way that another writer has left for you to follow and leave a couple of your own for the writer behind you.

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

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