When I started the journey toward becoming an author, I had the same dreams that most authors have. I wanted to be published. I wanted to tell my stories and I wanted those stories to resonate with readers around the world.
I knew, from my years as a classroom teacher and school librarian, the
power of books. I knew that picture books, in particular, can have a
significant impact on students of all ages. As an educator, I've always
'taught' writing, but I never really considered myself an author. I
had written two self published books: one about my travels in Iceland
and another about my year-long journey as a photographer, but I still
did not consider myself an author.
It wasn't until I had a conversation with an author, Steve Barnes, who came to visit my school
that I began to think that I might be able to truly become a
'traditional' author. Steve has a child in our school and over the
course of a year, he and I discussed his journey. I began to imagine
what 'could be.'
Like most things I do now, I started by researching online. I very quickly learned about SCBWI. I immediately joined and began to lurk on the various writing websites and forums. I connected with my local chapter of SCBWI and found out about and signed up for upcoming events and programs. I started reaching out and exploring different author's individual websites. Soon I dug into the online profiles on such sites as Twitter and Facebook. I started joining a variety of writing groups and forums online. The one that really opened my eyes was Tara Lazar's: Picture Book Idea Month, and her blog: http://taralazar.com I started reading about the year before and fell into the rabbit hole of guest author's blogs and websites. However, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of when I learned that my favorite author of all time, Jane Yolen, was going to be a guest author this year! I also joined the WOW (Week of Writing Nonfiction Group). I did a lot of lurking.
And so it began. I became a member of the PiBoId Month. I signed the 'commitment form' and vowed to try to come up with at least one new idea for a picture book each day. In retrospect, I came up with way more; nearly 60 ideas. Many of those ideas stunk, but several have lead to full blown projects that I am in the middle of right now.
Now that I had all of these ideas, I needed to find a place where I could bounce them around in a safe environment. That's where my critique groups have come in. I joined a couple of online critique groups; one through SCBWI and one through the WOW Facebook Group. Learning to give constructive feedback helped me think about my own writing. It also helped me grow in confidence. I sought professional guidance and editing. I worked with Kristen Fulton and Lisa Mathews of Edit With a Pro, to make one of my pieces the best that I could.
From there, I started learning about different contests that are available for writers. I applied to several of them. In addition to applying to contests, I started researching and sharing my work with various agents. While I didn't win any of them, the process helped me refine my work and taught me to become my own advocate. I used The Book, a resource for learning about different authors/agents, to find a dozen agents to explore. I started by making a 'dream list.' I found out who represented Jane Yolen, Jon Muth, Jon Klassen, etc. I crafted the very best query letter I could, then sent it to my top three and waited. (I learned that you should only do a few at a time. The reason is that you might get some feedback from one of the agents about what you could do to make your work better and you don't want to have 'already' submitted without making those possible changes.) I made an elaborate spreadsheet of agents I wished to submit to and waited and waited. I received several rejection letters and then I sent out more. I waited and waited and waited.
In the meantime, I kept writing, editing, sharing and critiquing. One of my projects, a story about a fire, had a very sad ending. I wanted to toss around a few different ways to deal with the sad ending in a picture book geared toward kids ages 6-10 in a way that was 'sad' but not depressing. So I posted a fairly loose set of options and asked the members of the WOW Nonfiction group to help me think about them. One of the members of the group (of over 300 writers) was an agent, Jo Sadler. She was curious about how I was going to solve this conundrum. We ended up trading a few emails and a draft or two of the story. She said she would be interested in reading more of my work. Of course I was appropriately flattered and elated.
I sent her a couple of more pieces and then I waited.
In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to find a way to work with 'like-minded' people. So, I put out a call to all the folks I knew on Facebook. I wanted to form a group blog. There was a lot of interest. Together, we came up with the name GROG or Group Blog. We are sixteen writers at all different stages of the journey. We've been writing weekly blog posts about different aspects of authorship. This group has become my core support group. In addition to the blog, we keep in touch via our Facebook Group and 'Group Chats' on Google Hangout.
After some more waiting, I politely followed up again with Jo. I sent her her another piece of work, one I thought was my very best piece of work. She was very interested in the piece. We had a terrific conversation about my work and about where she saw me fitting into the market. By the week's end, I had an agent!
So, what do I hope you will take away from this? I guess the biggest lesson I learned is that you never know where your connections will lead you: make as many of them as you can. Second: be genuinely nice to everyone. You never know how one path will connect to another further on down the road.
Thirdly, because all good stories have the magical number three in them, Ask for help. Showing a willingness to think about my ending, I believe, showed that I was open to suggestions and feedback. We often think that we have to know all the answers, or at least look like we do. Find a group, or if you can't find one that fits your needs, make your own! I think that the world is a pretty wonderful place full of people who want to connect and grow together. Find them!