Go Pro: The Path to Publication, Part One
The quickest way to draw aspiring authors in your circles out of the woodwork is to become a published author yourself. The second your book hits the shelves (or even before), the questions from friends, relatives, and that guy who sat behind you in Pre-Algebra who want to figure out how to generate their own form of passive income* come rolling in.
You're about to find out just how un-passive earning money as a children's author really is. But I digress.
The most common question that rolls through my inbox is some variant of this:
"I've written a children's book. What are the next steps?"
Well. Let's break down that question, shall we?
What people are usually really asking when they ask this is: "How do I get this assemblage of words into the hands of an editor who will turn them into a published book?" And the short and honest answer to that question is: you don't. That particular assemblage of words is, in all likelihood, never going to become a book. And if you want to become a published author, you have to accept this truth.
First drafts don't get published.
So, if you've written a children's book, and you're wondering what the next step is, it's this. Step 1: Come to an understanding that what you have written is a first draft, and that you will need to revise it several times over before any literary agent or editor sees it.
And then what you need to do is find a critique group. What's a critique group? It's a group of people who are:
writing for the same age group as you
at around the same point on the journey to publication as you
willing and able to exchange feedback
not your relatives
Before you do that, though, there's one more preliminary step. Step 2: Get over your fear that someone is going to steal your work. This requires that I tell you about that time I found my words in someone else's published book.
It was February, 2011. I had written a first draft of something that I thought was pretty good, and I posted it to a public forum for feedback. I got a lot of feedback, which ranged from "This is lovely, but it has x issue" (i.e. Good Feedback) to "This is how I would have written this if I had written this story" (i.e. Bad and Unhelpful Feedback). I revised it a few times, changing the POV and experimenting in other ways, before finally setting it aside for a few years. I wrote other things, became a better writer, got an agent, went on sub with a different project which didn't sell, and needed some other stuff to work on, so I pulled this story out and revised it one more time and sent it to my agent. She loved it, made a suggestion about the ending (which was boring, and therefore, terrible), I revised, and it went on sub and sold at auction in August of 2016. That book became Small World, which I love with all my heart. Shortly after Small World sold, I was paging through a stack of picture books I had borrowed from the library, and lo and behold, in one of those picture books, I found... That original ending. Almost word for word. Frankly, it was still terrible.
Can I prove absolutely that this person plagiarized my first draft lo, those many years ago? I mean... Maybe? If I those old public forum posts are archived, and I took the time to page through them, and I found my original post, and that person had happened to leave a comment on the post, then I might have a case. Did that person actually intentionally plagiarize my first draft? Maybe, maybe not. I honestly don't care, because my first draft was terrible, and that ending was no better in this person's book. Which leads to my point about people stealing your ideas: It's rare, but it happens. At this stage of the game, your ideas are all Baby Ideas. They suck equally, no matter whose book they're in. The ideas you have later will be better. But avoid posting your work in public forums just to be safe. Find a private critique group.
There are lots of ways to find a critique group! If you join SCBWI, your local chapter might already have groups organized who exchange work via email that you can join. Or, your local chapter might have regular get-togethers, where you can meet other writers and you can ask them if they're looking for a critique group or if they know someone who is. Or, you can put up a sign in your local library branch. If you live in Canada, reach out to CANSCAIP, and see if there are meetings happening regularly near you where you can meet people. Ask around! But do the thing. Finding a critique group is Step 3.
While you do that, and while you revise your crappy drafts into less-crappy drafts and write new crappy drafts of new stories, you need to learn how the industry works. There are plenty of places to do that:
literary agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford has an excellent blog
this blog, by me, that you're reading right now
You'll notice that there's a lot of reading and research involved. That's fine; you have time. Your first drafts are much worse than you think they are. I know that sounds terrible, but it really is fine. It's like that for all of us.
That's the end of Part One. Part Two will follow next week. In the meantime, drop your thoughts in the comments and let's continue the conversation!