Saturday, September 17, 2011

39 and Counting: My First Contest!

No, it's not my age, although it's pretty darn close to that number, too -- I turn the illustrious 39 this year

It is in fact the official number of rejection letters that I have racked up.  Over the years, I've gotten the:
  • run-of-the-mill signature-only letters, (a lot of these from the first year or so, when I fully deserved the standard rejection because my writing was yuck-o and I didn't know enough to know it);
  • the letters that rejected the enclosed submission but came with a really nice personalized note (even the occassional advice on how to improve the manuscript -- yeah!);
  • and the ONE letter from an editor who loved my manuscript but discovered that her publisher just bought another one like it (DOH!).
Maybe I should be sad about so many rejections, but I'm not.  In addition to all the rejection letters, I have two acceptance letters (for magazine contracts), and that's something worth being happy about. 

But mainly, I like to think the next rejection letter brings me closer to the big one -- the submission that breaks through the postal service and gets a phone call or email response (ah, heaven!).   One of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, says she got nearly 400 rejection letters before getting a contract!

So if I hang in there and give just 10 times more effort than what I have done so far, then maybe, just maybe, I can break through!

Writer friends,  if you dare, tell me how many rejections you've collected so far.  Let's celebrate how close we are to the one that counts...

In honor of persistent authors everywhere, every comment to this blog entry will go into a random drawing for a copy of Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Followers of my blog get one extra entry.   The drawing will be held October 2, so spread the word!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Complete Picture Book Experience

For those of you writing picture book manuscripts, you know the answer to the following question before I even ask it.  Which is harder to write: picture books or novels (or novellas, or short stories, etc.)?

Yep.  Picture books.  The only thing harder perhaps is poetry.  Why?  Because picture books are poetry.  Not because they rhyme (because some of the best picture books don't as well as some of the best poetry), but because they are concise and beautiful.  Every word counts, and the words have to create pictures in your mind.  And if your picture book doesn't rhyme, your words have to have a built-in rhythm that pulls you through the story and makes you want to read it the twentieth time to your adoring preschooler.

Sooooooo, after many years of trying to write great picture books, I'm now considering the whole picture book experience.  When I first started writing, I was all about the story and the plot.  A great story will always produce a great picture book, right?  Well, not quite.  A great story needs a great main character, and a great main character needs a great voice, and a great voice needs a beautiful rendering that melts like butter on the tongue.  All that, plus, the picture book needs to flow from page to page. 

To mimic this experience, I now dummy book all my picture books before submitting.  I don't necessarily do it in the early stages, to which my patient critique partners will attest, but somewhere along the line it happens.  My story gets cut and pasted (yes, this is tedious) onto 28 pages (32 standard pages minus 4 for front and end matter), and it gets read aloud, just like a picture book.  If each page has a wonderful pause, and if a picture is brought to mind for every single page, then it passes my test and gets submitted.  If not, then back it goes to the drawing board.

Be warned....most editors don't like you to build in these page breaks in the manuscript.  Take out the breaks before submitting.  But definitely make sure you have an idea what your picture book feels like before you submit.  Know the whole experience of your book, not just the story on the page.