Getting Published or E-published/Agent queries
QUESTION: Mr. Miller,
Hello there. I'm an aspiring picture book author seeking an agent, but I'm running into the usual roadblocks. As of this morning, I've received exactly 342 rejections from all the picture/children's book agents I can find online and in various publications. So far I've written and submitted 9 different picture books, but no joy yet. Many agents don't even send rejection email...why, I don't know.
Is this evidence that I basically have no chance, and that I'm doing something fundamentally wrong? I keep reading about these successful authors who found agents after 10-12 queries, and I'm starting to get pretty discouraged.
My friends and family encourage me to keep trying, telling me that writing is a tough business and breaking in is nearly impossible these days. Is 342 rejections sufficient evidence that I'm just not cut out for this business--that I just don't "have what it takes", or should I keep hammering out my manuscripts and keep fighting the good fight? I read that Harry Turtledove wrote and submitted ten novels before selling his first one....
I don't have any pro writing credentials, despite trying to get short stories published in children's magazines. I did get a BA in English with a concentration in children's literature, though, and took some children's writing workshops. I've heard that credentials or not, a "good story" always has a chance to get accepted by agents. Is this true, or just a myth?
The people I know (mostly parents with toddlers) adore my stories and beg me not to quit yet. Is this a good sign that I should keep trying? Most of these folks are right in my target audience range.
Do I have any chance at success after getting so many rejections, or am I just kidding myself? I truly love writing, I work hard at it, and I really want to share my stories with kids...does it seem like I still have a chance, or should I take these rejections as evidence of a necessary career change?
Thanks for your time. I'm hoping your reply will provide some much-needed encouragement.
ANSWER: Roberta -- You can always keep trying, but everyone has their limits of patience. These days there are options to simply quitting, though. You can approach small & independent publishers on your own, without an agent; a typical list is at http://www.aboonbooks.com/whoswho/summary.php
You may also want to consider self-publishing, as it's proving viable for more and authors. I've been published in the mainstream and still am, but if I weren't also an indie publisher I wouldn't have stayed alive in the writing biz. Full-color picture books can be expensive to produce on your own, but it's not out of the realm of possibility, and there is an increasing range of digital alternatives.
If you're not already involved with the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, I'd look them up online and investigate their resources. Look around for stories of those who have gone independent successfully, and how they're doing it.
If you want to invest in a professional assessment of your work, that would give you much more information about what's working or not in your books than rejection slips do, get in touch with us at Fearless Literary Services: http://www.fearlessbooks.com/Manuscripts.htm
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi again,
Thanks for that great reply. I'm encouraged by your belief that I may still have a chance at success. I won't be quitting just yet =)
Yep, I've just now checked out the SCBWI, and they're holding a regional conference this November--at my alma mater, as it turns out. So I'll be attending that! This seems like a step in the right direction. Thanks for that helpful advice.
About Fearless editing: does your staff include an experienced, qualified picture/children's book editor? Certainly your publishing credits speak for themselves, but does your staff's expertise include picture book editing?
One last little question, please. In your opinion, is writing a strong, rhythmic picture book more important, or is it more important to focus on gaining writing credits first?
What I mean is, are agents more likely to accept manuscripts from authors with better credentials (even if the story itself doesn't quite "wow" them), or does the actual manuscript make all the difference--even if one doesn't have any serious writing credentials?
I guess what I'm asking is: do "nobodies" like me stand any kind of chance at getting an agent, even if my manuscripts are GREAT? Is it a one-in-a-million shot for we "nobodies", or do we stand a good chance if the story is excellent?
Thanks again, Mr. Miller. You're a huge help!
Roberta -- My partner Sari is the one who handles the children's books; she's a long-time member of SCBWI and has co-written a YA short story (with a teen) that we published, and she regularly talks with and coaches writers in the field. Her bio is on the Manuscripts page that I sent you to. Feel free to write her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention our connection.
There's no simple answer to your other questions; yes, 'nobodies' sometimes get agents and sometimes they don't. Agents occasionally take on unpublished talent that they especially like, but that doesn't mean the agents can place the work. More and more, what makes a difference in publishing is "platform," meaning how well known you are before you approach a publisher. Publishing credits are always helpful, but these days you can also build platform with a blog, with building a name as a storyteller (i.e., if you have any performance skills, you can make yourself available to libraries and other public service organizations to do live stories for kids). You can also do that on YouTube, if you put together some basic video skills or know someone with them.
I'm always advising writers that they need to reframe the way they think of themselves. You're not an unpublished writer looking for a book deal; you're a source of stories, ideas, and inspirations that can lend themselves to a variety of media that may include a book as a centerpiece. So it's useful to sit down and make a list of all the things you could possibly do to spread your ideas and stories along the way to getting a book published. You can read stories aloud, record them as an mp3 album and get them onto iTunes; you can blog and/or do videos; you can volunteer to do storytelling or help kids with their own writing and creativity; you can do your own e-books, and so on. Think outside the book, as it were.
BTW I think you'll find the SCBWI conference very helpful. Sari tells me that this is an unusually non-competitive field where writers help out each other freely. Also, in writing as in any business, "who you know" is key. At conferences you'll casually meet agents, and people with agents, and people who are eager to offer advice to newbies. I used to be married to a literary agent and have thus been to many conferences, and I saw people who got their first agent at a conference, after many rejections by other means.