CAROL GORDON EKSTER: I met the talented author/illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulemba at the wonderful writers’ retreat, Kindling Words a few years ago. When I read a post of hers, I copied part of it so I could reread it from time to time. I believe it to be an essential read for those of us who write and illustrate for children. With Elizabeth’s permission, I am sharing it with you here at Writers’ Rumpus, and if you’d like to read it in its entirety, you can find it here.
ELIZABETH O. DULEMBA:
Dr. Seuss was at a cocktail party where he met a brain surgeon.
“Oh, you’re that man who writes those children’s books,” the Doctor said. “Some Saturday, when I have a little extra time, I am going to write one of those.”
Dr. Seuss replied, “Ahh yes. And someday when I have a little free time, I’ll do brain surgery.”
Many people assume that writing children’s books is easy and that getting them published is too. I held the same misconceptions before I tried to break into the industry.
One of my favorite quotes is by Mem Fox, “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.”
You do need to know the facts — it wouldn’t be kind of me not to share them. Reality is less than 1% of the manuscripts received by publishing houses actually become books. I know it’s depressing. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Here are the stats:
“81% of the population feels they have a book inside them . . .
20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
6 million have written a manuscript.
6 million manuscripts are making the rounds.
Out of every 10,000 children’s books, 3 get published.”
– Jerrold Jenkins. 15 May 99.
More tough news. A common misconception is that all published authors must be rich. So, is there money in it? The stats are as follows. In all the arts:
3% make the ‘big bucks’ (these are the creators most people have heard of).
12% make enough to live on (and boy is that relative).
85% make under $10-12k a year.
As author and marketing consultant Seth Godin says, “The only people who should plan on making money from writing a book are people who made money on their last book. Everyone else should either be in it for passion, … or joy.”
In other words, don’t quit your day job, and expect lots of rejection. But also know, there are such things as “good rejections.” If you receive a hand-written note, or requests to see future works, that is a very good sign. Even Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) received 27 rejections before his first book was published. (And Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected 60 times before that best-seller finally sold.)
In children’s books, you realistically cannot expect your one-time whimsical project to go anywhere, but you can expect your 10th toiled over manuscript to finally grow some legs.
All that said, it is possible to break in. If you have lots of stories in you, and you’re willing to work very hard, this may be a valid career path for you. But please, don’t take it lightly. Almost every published author or illustrator you meet has jumped unbelievable hurdles to get their work out there. You’ll quickly understand that when you try it yourself. This business is for the stubborn and the persistent (to an extreme). Many call it “The 4 P’s”: Passion, Patience, Perseverance, and Postage.
So why would anybody go into this crazy, manic-depressive business? Because there is no feeling like seeing a child joyfully dive into a book you created. And there’s no equal to creating and sharing your stories with the world. In my opinion, people need three things to survive–food, shelter, and wonder. Storytellers have been providing that wonder throughout history – it is a long and proud tradition. As far as the unbelievable hurdles that must be jumped to make it in this business? Personally, I like to set my dreams high. That way, even if I only make it half way there, it’s still pretty darned good.
You can follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @dulemba
Check out her books.