By Carol Ekster
When I first started writing twelve years ago I was naïve and uninformed about the publishing industry. I thought I knew about picture books. After all, I was a teacher. I used picture books to enhance my curriculum on a daily basis. I knew which ones worked, and which ones didn’t, for my students. What more was there TO know? Turns out–a lot! Luckily, within weeks of my putting pen to paper, a good friend steered me in the right direction–toward SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And that was a step toward success.
If you read lots of kidlit blogs you’ll find this advice to newbies: “Join SCBWI.” That’s because it’s the best and most important advice for people who want to write for children. It isn’t free, but it’s worth it. SCBWI gives you the basics, connects you with other writers and illustrators, and it can even help you to find a publisher for your work, too.
A few years into my writing life, I saw a call for submissions in the January-February 2006 SCBWI Bulletin. Boulden Publishing was looking for picture books on divorce and other subjects.
At the time I happened to have a manuscript in the drawer: Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce. I sent it in and just six weeks later heard, “Is this still available?” Wow! Until that point I’d received twelve rejections.
That first sale is sweet, but the joy doesn’t stop with each new baby. Emotions continue to run high! A few years after that, I was scouring the SCBWI discussion boards and saw a call for submissions by a new publisher, Character Publishing. What they were looking for was right up my Writer’s Alley.
I had many manuscripts that fit their criteria, and I sent off Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room. I heard seven months later that they wanted to acquire it for their debut list.
Of course, both of those manuscripts were tightened and polished with help from my SCBWI critique groups. And then in one of those groups, a member was asked to write a picture book about forgiveness. As we worked on her manuscript at that meeting, I thought to myself, I have a story about gratitude. I ought to send it to that same publisher. And I did! Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You has its book birthday with Pauline Books and Media this coming January 1, 2015.
And then I got an e-mail, passed on by the leader of a different critique group, telling us that Schoolwide, Inc. was looking for submissions for their new digital library. The directions said, “Put SCBWI in the subject line.” I submitted five manuscripts. Four were rejected, but Hip Hopping Books was accepted! Interested in finding out more about this publisher, I searched the SCBWI Blueboards, and sure enough there was a conversation about Schoolwide. This is another wonderful thing about SCBWI–members generously share their experiences in publishing with each other. I was reassured by what others had said about Schoolwide and signed the contract. My first e-book should be out March 2015.
Happily I have a couple of other stories being considered right now. Those leads might not have come directly from an SCBWI source, but the manuscripts became stronger thanks to what I’ve learned at yearly conferences encouraging me and guiding me to work on craft. And SCBWI hooked me up with my five critique groups, which I depend on for support, ideas, and improving my writing. Thank you, SCBWI. I most certainly would not have these successes without you!
And I most definitely would not have books out there touching children’s lives if I didn’t submit. And oh yes, to prepare those submissions I use THE BOOK: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children under the “Resource Library” on the SCBWI web site.
I’ve had over 1,000 rejections in my writing life. But perseverance is my mantra and I recommend it highly. Reach for success and you too shall achieve it…with a little help from your friends at SCBWI. It’s well worth the annual dues! SCBWI has chapters all over the world. Log onto their site at SCBWI.org and look for yours.