June 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Mahkeo 

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Author wannabes crave instant gratification.  They want to get published and they want to get published NOW.

How do I know?  I've learned that many of my mentees submit their manuscripts before they are thoroughly edited.  These writers revise, but they believe a second draft is good enough to submit.  They can't wrap their heads around the fact that it may take multiple drafts to shape a manuscript.

I want to shake some sense into my dear sweet mentees.  Many of them don't have the patience to hone their craft.  On top of that, they are so confident and enamored with their stories that they brush off sound advice.  They want to get published as fast as possible, regardless of the quality of their submissions.

Below are two mentoring situations that I've handled recently.

Case #1:  One of my mentees wrote a picture book with a conflict that only older children can understand and appreciate.  She felt that since her children understood the advanced concept in her story, other young children should be able to grasp the concept, too.

I suggested that she keep the characters and plot of the story, but create a conflict that the very young could grasp more easily.  After all, picture books are generally for ages 4 - 8.  Unfortunately, the story sends a red flag to an agent or publisher because the conflict is too advanced for young readers.  But this writer stood firm on her beliefs.

Case #2:  Another one of my mentees wrote a story where the main character's want is weak and vague.  So, here we have a story where there is nothing at stake.  As much as I tried to impress upon this writer how a protagonist needs to develop a compelling want, he refused to change his story.  He failed to understand that an audience (and publishers) want to root for and cheer on the main character.  But when the want is trivial, readers are not going to give a sh*t.

Sadly, that was not the only problem with the story.  The resolution was the second problem.  In this story, the main character relies on an adult for help.  In picture books however, the main character must solve a problem (overcome the conflict) by himself.  According to Writingworld.com  https://www.writing-world.com/children/picture.shtml,  "You need a main character (preferably a child or animal), who has a problem that he needs to solve.  Along the way, the child has obstacles that he must overcome.  Finally, he solves his problem by himself without the aid of an adult."

Photo:  Annie Spratt
In both of these cases, the mentees resisted meticulous revision and submitted their work to publishers.
Several weeks later, one wrote to me wanting to understand why his submission was rejected.  It's hard to know the exact reason, but I had a feeling that on top of having a problematic manuscript, he probably failed to follow the submission guidelines. Oh là là!  

Writers love their manuscripts and many don't like making changes to their work.  They don't want others to tweak it.  It's their baby.   But there comes a time when it is necessary to listen and not be defensive and stubborn.  Writers need to see their manuscripts objectively like an agent or publisher would view their work.  They need to be open to revision and send their very best because the competition is steep in the world of publishing for kids.

It doesn't hurt my feelings when writers ignore my advice.  Ultimately, it's their choice whether they edit their stories.  However, while I may not know everything, I speak with authority and from the viewpoint of an author and an editor who has been writing and publishing for over twenty years.

I want writers to succeed.  My suggestions are tailored to help writers reach their publishing dreams by pointing out the essentials of writing and submitting a picture book manuscript.  But at times, I feel as if I'm beating my head against a wall.  It's like the saying...you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

And sometimes in the case of mentoring, you can take a writer to the path of success, but you can't make him take a step.

À la prochaine!