Today I’m thrilled to host Tara Lazar for a guest post about what it’s like to publish your fifth picture book versus your first. Tara’s latest book, Way Past Bedtime, published this past Tuesday and she’s got two more forthcoming. Take it away, Tara!
Once a big publishing house offers you a contract, your struggles as a writer are over. Done. Kaput. It’s a smooth path, no potholes or detours…just red carpet lined with rose petals.
And if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn…
Publishing is never a smooth path. It’s a wild rollercoaster ride with thrilling dips, quick turns and barf-inducing upside-down corkscrews…and you need to hold on tight.
This week my fifth book WAY PAST BEDTIME was released, and after several years in the business, I feel like it is just as difficult as when I was a newbie. It’s hard to get in but it’s hard to stay in, too.
When you sign your first contract, you might look forward to working with the same editor again. But that is never a guarantee. Any one of these things can happen:
- Your editor leaves
- Your editor doesn’t love your next manuscript
- Your publisher already has a similar story on their list
- Your publishing house or imprint closes or changes direction
- Your first book doesn’t sell well
- A meteor strike launches the next ice age
Two months after THE MONSTORE was bought by Aladdin, my acquiring editor left publishing for another career. YIKES! Luckily the assistant editor was a huge fan of the story and has been editor on two of my subsequent books.
She actually passed on many stories—even ones that were eventually published elsewhere—because they weren’t her jam. (My words, not hers.) An editor is going to spend years with your story, so it’d better make them boogie down. Just because you’ve worked together before doesn’t sway them to your beat if they don’t LOVE the rhythm. (How many metaphors am I going to use in this piece?!)
However, if you have worked together before, some cool stuff can happen. I met my editor at an SCBWI conference and we set aside time to talk. I pitched her twenty ideas for picture books and she liked two of them. So I went home and wrote them both, but one turned out better than the other. That story was WAY PAST BEDTIME. She loved it (and so did the acquisitions committee), so she signed it.
I believe that was more luck. I have since pitched her another idea, but that manuscript has not come together in the way I envisioned—it took on a life of its own. I cannot wrangle it to my will. So I have put it aside and given her other work—which she has passed on. Again, past performance is no indication of future results. You have to WOW your editor anew every time.
The point is, keep your head down and write. The more manuscripts you polish, the better your chances that one or more will get picked up. This is the advice given to those trying to break in, but it is just as important to those who are already “in”. I write about ten manuscripts a year with the hopes that one or two will get signed. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I keep writing.
I receive rejections on a regular basis, at least a few a month, sometimes a few a week. I read them and either say to myself, “yes, that’s a good point” and revise appropriately…or I think, “I don’t agree” and move on. I spend less than a minute feeling disappointed. And then I keep writing. That is the only thing in this business you can control, so concentrate on that.
Once your books are released, they may have marketing support…or not much at all. They may be released from different publishers within a few weeks of each other. They may be in bookstores or they might not. They may be face out or tucked into the bottom shelf. Book events will be full, or empty, impossible to predict. Be professional either way. Be flexible, courteous and above all, grateful. Show everyone that you are committed to the book, the books, the career, and children’s literature as a whole.
You’re in it for love, right? That’s why you keep buying a ticket for another ride.
Thank you, Tara! (Ten manuscripts a year with the hope of selling one or two – that’s definitely something for picture book authors to take note of!)
Tara is the author of several picture books, including the forthcoming 7 Ate 9 (Disney-Hyperion, May 2017). Way Past Bedtime (Aladdin, April 2017) is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local indie bookstore. You can follow Tara on her blog or on Twitter at @taralazar.