Monday, April 7, 2014

Nancy I. Sanders, Guest Blogger

Nany I. Sanders, Guest Blogger
 
Which Came First, The Chicken Or The Egg?
 
By: Nancy I. Sanders
 

If you’re in the children’s book industry long enough, you’ll find out there are two schools of thought. Some editors, authors, and agents believe the chicken came first. Others argue it was the egg.

 

Personally, after writing over 80 books for such publishers as Scholastic, Reader’s Digest, and Chicago Review Press, I’m a firm advocate of the egg.

 

What am I talking about? The “chicken” I’m referring to is a manuscript. The “egg” is a contract. If you want to have success, build a rewarding career, and earn a steady income from writing, which should come first, the manuscript or the contract?

 

There are countless articles interviewing successful writers who believe the chicken came first. These say, “Write the manuscript first and then get it published.” These articles explain how it took years for the author to hone her skills, revise her manuscript innumerable times until it was polished to perfection, and then catch an editor or agent’s eye. There are numerous conferences where editors and agents speak and repeat, “Send me a manuscript that knocks my socks off, and I’ll publish your book.”

           

What I want to know is, how did those authors pay the bills all those years? How did they maintain their sanity through the mountain of rejections? How did they build a career?

           

You see, I believe the egg came first. If you talk to career writers, those successful authors who earn a decent and steady living writing for children, you’ll find a surprise. More often than you realize, these writers land a contract before they write the manuscript.

           

How did I discover this? It happened at my very first conference. A friend said, “I signed you up for an appointment with an editor!” After I got over my shock, curiosity got the better of me. I went to the appointment. And listened. The editor told me about a new book idea she wanted. I found myself nodding my head and saying, “I’ll send you a proposal for that idea.” I went home, followed her directions, and sent her a sample of a potential manuscript. I landed a contract. And then I wrote the book. My very first book.

           

At that same conference, I stood in the lunch line next to a different editor. I asked her what she published. She said a series of Bible storybooks. I asked her if I could try to write one. She explained what to do. I went home and followed her directions. I landed a contract. And then I wrote the book.

           

And so the story continued. Time after time, I landed a contract first, and then wrote the book. I was starting to see a pattern here. It was exciting, and it sure helped pay the bills!

           

The story continues today. I found a blurb in a writer’s magazine saying Sleeping Bear Press was looking for alphabet books about multicultural topics. I studied their website, noted which topics their books already covered, and saw they didn’t yet have an alphabet book about African American history. I e-mailed a query asking if they’d like to see a proposal for such a book. They e-mailed back and said sure. After submitting the proposal, I landed the contract. Then I wrote the book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. Which came first in the picture book genre, the chicken or the egg? Once again, the egg. The same was true for my teacher’s book, Readers Theatre for African American History. Which came first in the educational market, the chicken or the egg? The egg, again!

           

My search for a new contract usually follows the same pattern. I look in market guides and writers’ magazines, browse bookstores and libraries, and network at conferences and writers’ groups. I look for a publisher who accepts queries. When I find one that interests me, I study their website, look at their catalog, and think of three to five ideas that could fit into their product line. Then I send a query asking the editor if she’d like a proposal on any of those ideas. When that query is in the mail, I look for another publisher to target. If an editor replies and asks for a proposal, I prepare one to submit. If I’ve never written for that genre and the editor requests a writing sample, I ask for a sample assignment so I’m submitting a sample targeted to that publisher. Once that’s in the mail, I continue the cycle again.

           

And so it goes. This method works in every genre. From middle-grade novels to nonfiction to novelty books to fiction picture books, I land the contract first and then write the manuscript. It’s daunting. It takes work. But it’s very, very rewarding. And it helps pay the bills.


 
 


 
Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books with publishing houses both big and small. She wrote a children’s writer’s column in The Writer’s online magazine, the Institute of Children’s Literature e-news, and The Christian Communicator. Nancy still lands the contract first before she writes the book. You can learn more about how she does it in her award-winning book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. http://yesyoucanlearn.wordpress.com

30 comments:

  1. THANK YOU Nancy! Great to meet you here.
    And kudos on your many many publications for young reders & for children's writers.
    I am especially thankful for your interest in less-covered topics.
    brava!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Jan! Great to e-meet you too.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for a really interesting and idea inspiring post, Nancy! This comes at a perfect time for me, and I'm going to get down to "the egg business" today. :) Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best wishes as you "feather your nest"! Hope to see lots of little "chicks" running around soon.

      Delete
  3. I always love reading wisdom from Nancy. Thanks!! And her strategies really work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind words, Tina. I love reading wisdom that YOU share, too!!!!

      Delete
  4. Ditto what Tina said. Nancy always has great advice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kudos, Kirsten. So glad you stopped by!

      Delete
  5. Thank you for sharing a different approach, Nancy. :0)

    ReplyDelete
  6. So smart Nancy - and super efficient!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like your approach Nancy. Thank you for sharing this story of your writing journey.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've given away your "Yes! You Can Learn how to Write Beggining Readers and Chapter Books" book away as a prize during the Chapter Book Challenge for two years running now. :) (I already have my own copy.) I might have to include the other book as a prize in next year's challenge. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Becky, thank you so much for including me like this in your awesome CHAPTER BOOK CHALLENGE. It's a joy to know I can be part of your writing journey like this!!!!

      Delete
    2. Thank you for writing one of the best books on the topic!

      Delete
  9. Thanks, Nancy, for a thought-provoking post and for details about your process. I've never tried this - not only have I been in a 'chicken' mindset, but I'm also a bit chicken about putting myself out there without something solid in hand. Your success may be the nudge that pushes me out there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Patricia, it does feel a little scary to try this, but in my first book, YES! YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO WRITE CHILDREN'S BOOKS, GET THEM PUBLISHED, AND BUILD A SUCCESSFUL WRITING CAREER, I share strategies that you can implement into your writing day that will help build confidence so that you can step out into this exciting adventure. Hope this method helps you leap to the next level of your writing career.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for your generous advice, Nancy.

      Delete
  10. Thanks so much, all you wonderful GROG members, for allowing me to join in the excitement of your awesome new site. It's a joy to be here and share from my nest in the "chicken coop"!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Okay, so this is an entirely new way of looking at the business. I've always been hesitant because I did not have a physical, polished product in my possession to show. I want your book Nancy. I WANT YOUR BOOK!! There is always fear of rejection. However, knowing exactly what is wanted and then setting your site on delivering exactly that, seems like an exercise in empowerment. LOVING this post! Thank you so much Nancy. Thank you Grog for the great resources you've offered so generously.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Pam, I'm so glad this post has helped you to look at this industry with different glasses on! I hope these strategies help you on your journey as a writer!!!!!

      Delete
  12. Great, inspiring post, Nancy (from another Nancy). I'll have to hop on over and purchase your YES! book to add to the eggs in my Easter basket!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, loving' the Easter basket visual!!! How creative!!!!

      Delete
  13. This is an enlightening post, Nancy I Sanders. I've had the pleasure of reviewing your books. I love your writing. I love that you are so willing to share so much to so many. You are a gem!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dear Mona, I feel the same way about you...what a gem you are! Thanks for your kind words today.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Nancy, do I order the book the same way I ordered the rest? Please let me know. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi Jackie, the best way to purchase any of my books is to either order them in at your local bookstore or purchase them at online bookstores such as Amazon. Just search for my name or the book's title and as long as my book's still in print, it will be available for you to get. Thanks for asking!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very interesting insight! Thanks for sharing, Nancy!

    ReplyDelete
  18. And Nancy your egg story is a soufflé! A wonderful story to share and inspire!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Another great article, Nancy! Sorry I wasn't here to join the fun on the day this was posted but you know where I was and that I had no internet access. :( I'm glad you're still sharing your ideas and inspiring other authors. That's how I originally connected with you--after your ICL 'workshop'--and what a blessing your friendship has been!

    ReplyDelete