Monday, August 15, 2011

Breaking Into (and Out Of) Print

You want to see your name in print. You’ve been working on a novel or picture book. You have submitted chapters and summaries or an entire manuscript. It takes forever to get an answer from the super-busy editors and their assistants.

What can you do in the mean time?

This week and next I’d like to share how-to-get-and-stay published information while wearing two hats: that of a published writer and also as a publisher.

First, Mur-the-writer:

I firmly believe that it is psychologically helpful to get some kind of by-line—even before that first big break. I remember being told that if I was going to be a writer, I had to think of myself as a writer. However, it’s not easy for many of us to do so because of conversations like the following:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“What have you written?”

The correct answer, of course, is, “Lots and lots of stuff that nobody’s printed yet.” But who wants to say that? To avoid that whole conversation, I used to tell people I did word-processing at home. It was true (I was using a word-processor) and the job sounded boring so no one ever asked me to elaborate. But there’s a way around that issue. Don’t limit yourself to one concept about the kind of writer you should be. Open yourself to other possibilities. That’s what the Write Sisters have done and following our suggestions just might work for you, too.

I’m going to start with suggestion #2 since I’m going to assume that if you’ve been following this blog you’re already doing # 1 (Writing). So….

#2 Collect some publishing credits or clips. Any credits. Any clips. If you have to, do it for free. It’ll make you feel like a writer.

a) Volunteer to write short articles for church bulletins (as I did), school or business newsletters.

b) Send fillers, sports team news, or press releases about school activities to your local newspapers. What do these pieces have to do with writing for kids? Sometimes, nothing, BUT you are proving that you can be counted on to complete a project. You are practicing your craft. You are working within a time limit. Some of Diane’s early clips included puzzles for the Christian Science Monitor’s children’s page. Puzzles are not picture books you say. True, but a by-line is a by-line is a by-line.

#3 Educate yourself about available markets.

a) Subscribe to newsletters like the SCBWI Bulletin and the Children’s Writer.
While reading one of these newsletters, I noticed that Capstone Press was looking for writers. I put together a package of clips. I included pieces written for various age groups. A few weeks later, I got a call and an assignment.

b) Read current children’s magazines. Pay attention to style, word count, types of articles. Early in her career, Kathy sold some rebus stories to Highlights. I sold a health puzzle to Jack & Jill. These fillers are an important part of a magazine’s monthly output. Child readers need breaks between longer stories. Puzzles, games, poems, and short fillers give kids that break.

c) Pay attention to themes. Magazine themes are usually planned a year in advance. Holiday pieces need to be sent 6 months to a year ahead of publication. Do you have an unusual holiday craft, tradition, or recipe? Write it up. Have you traveled somewhere interesting? Write it up.

d) Use your research and writing activities more than once. Say you’re writing a picture book about black bears. Your book is fiction but you’ve done some research on what black bears eat. Maybe you can produce a short piece on some of the odd things these omnivores have been known to eat. When I was writing my Sarah Hale biography, I sold a story about Hale’s determination to get a national Thanksgiving holiday to Highlights. I sold a piece on her methods of editing to Writers’ Digest.

More on this topic tomorrow.


I'm Jet . . . said...

Spot-on, Mur!

Sally said...

I remember when you told us about the "word-processing" gambit - I thought it was BRILLIANT!