Below are excerpts from interviews which outline my path to publication and beyond. No two paths are exactly the same, but hopefully, you can glean some knowledge from my own trials and tribulations.
Kevin, how did you get started writing for children?
I fell into this genre somewhat by accident. I’ve been writing since I was a child myself, but I always had my sights set on writing the next Great American Novel. Over the years, I managed to complete a chapter or two for various book ideas that were rolling around my head or to jot down a short story. But nothing would ever come of it. My novels would bog down with some plot related problem that I couldn’t work out. Then I would usually come down with a terminal case of writer’s block. So I shelved writing and focused my attention on something that actually paid the bills, like my day job. That’s the way it stayed for many years.
I finally caught the writing bug again by reading the children’s books that my wife would bring home. She is a reading teacher for an elementary school and would constantly bring home books that she was using in her lessons. I started flipping through these books and after a while, I thought that I’d like to try writing one.
Did you find writing for children easier?
No, I did not. My first attempt at writing a picture book yielded this six page single-spaced monstrosity that had just about every blunder you could make when writing for children. It was too long, too meandering and too adult. Basically, I was still trying to write the Great American Novel, only mine had a talking hamster in it.
So what did you do from there?
I had the feeling that if I didn’t seriously try to learn all that I could about writing, nothing would happen…ever. Since I seemed to be gravitating towards children’s lit, that’s where I focused my energies. I bought The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Children, followed by Writing Children’s Book for Dummies. Despite their titles, they held a wealth of information about the business of children’s writing as well as the craft itself. I also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). I found two terrific critique groups through the message boards, where I rewrote and polished my stories and then sent them out to various publishers.
What happened then?
Well I kept writing, revising and submitting my stories and after a while, I had amassed a rather impressive collection of form rejection letters. But I kept at it. I had learned AND accepted that writing is a highly competitive field and that editors had no shortage of material coming in to them (both good and bad). Also, I was an unknown and unpublished writer and that didn’t help matters any.
Fortunately, my work eventually fell across the desk of the right editor. I sold a short story titled, It Will Never Work. It was about an ill-fated teen romance between a mermaid and a human. I originally wrote it for a writing contest and lost. This story had a humorous twist to it as well as mythical beings, so it seemed like a good fit for this one particular magazine. I sent it off and it got rejected, but with a very nice rejection letter containing all the particular reasons why it was being rejected. I offered to rewrite it with those comments in mind and (drum roll please), I sold First Run North American rights for this story for $2.00.
It wasn’t much, but I was finally published (whoo hoo!). But when I received my contributor’s copy of the magazine along with the acceptance letter, I was wondering where the $2.00 check was. Then I opened the magazine and two dollar bills floated unceremoniously out of it. It was a pretty funny lack of fanfare considering that this was such a monumental occasion for me. But instead of using this money to buy a celebratory slice of pizza, I decided to do following:
How did you get your first book contract?
Well, once I was armed with my first publication credit, I submitted more of my work to various publishers, and they continued to send me back rejection letters to add to my collection.
I finally got my break by attending a conference. I’m a firm believer in conferences and I try to go to one whenever possible. The networking opportunities are fantastic and you get to meet plenty of people who get what you are trying to do.
I heard good things about the Muse Online Conference, so I signed up for it. Boy, am I glad I did. It was there that I found my dream publisher. I attended a lecture and the publisher offered to accept submissions from the attendees. I sent a rhyming picture book manuscript titled, The Soggy Town of Hilltop, which eventually became one of the books you see below. More followed…(grin)
Has anything changed since you’ve been published?
Once I was published, I joined a few marketing groups where I learned about the necessity of promoting my work and exactly how much effort it involved. I can now say that it’s not so bad once I broke things down into manageable levels, but at first, I was a little overwhelmed. But after I uncurled from the fetal position, I was finally able to put things in perspective.
Another thing I’ve noticed… I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been published or because I have become a better writer, or if it’s a combination of both, but I’ve had a few more successes since then. Also, my rejection letters seem to be getting nicer.