|Photo: Gus Ruballo
Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writerA HUGE MISTAKE
Many years ago when I was an aspiring writer, I made a mistake. A huge mistake. A costly mistake. But first, the backstory:
Ever since I was a teen, I wanted to write, but my career path took a different direction and I became a medical technologist. After graduating, I landed a good-paying job at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. However, as the years rolled on, the work environment grew stressful due to downsizing and poor management. Luckily, I was able to retire early.
At that time, I decided to take a writing class. My desire to write for kids had been simmering for quite some time as my husband read picture books to our young daughter. But it wasn't because of the delightful stories that drew me to writing. It was because of an unimaginative story he had read to her. I wondered how it ever got published. This sad little picture book pushed me to learn how to write for children. If something like this could be published, then surely I could write a picture book.
So, I enrolled in a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning to discover how to write for kids. Towards the end of the course, all of the participants had written a picture book manuscript. Many of us hoped to get our work published. As it was, I had already begun sending out my manuscript to publishing houses...and it was getting rejected time after time.
On the last day of class, our instructor had a surprise for us. She invited a literary agent to speak to us. This was an amazing opportunity. The agent gave a brief lecture and then after a question and answer period, she handed out her business cards.
I wasted no time in contacting her and we arranged a time to get together. A few weeks later, I drove about 30 miles from Lexington to her farmhouse in central Kentucky. She served a light snack and then she discussed which agents she would contact and how she would present my book to them. I was so ready to work with an agent and this was the ticket to getting published. The timing seemed perfect to me.
But I was so naive. This situation was all wrong because:
|Just pretend this was me, shelling out beaucoup de money to an agent.
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
2. I paid her a fee—a whopping three hundred dollars to be represented. Ouch! I took for it for granted that this was the way agents worked and that writers paid them upfront.
Since then, I've grown as a writer. I took more classes, read books on the craft of writing for kids, and joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). And through SCBWI, I learned about the Association of Authors' Representatives. Founded in 1991, the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) is a nonprofit membership organization which has more than 400 professional literary and dramatic agents as members. Members must meet the AAR's minimum experience requirements and agree to adhere to its bylaws and the canon of ethics. Agents do not charge a writer a flat fee for signing a contract—they are paid for their work through the commission they make when they sell a book.
Looking back to the time when I began seriously writing for children, I see a starry-eyed dreamer who made lots of mistakes because she desperately wanted to publish beautifully illustrated books for kids. I'm still this starry-eyed dreamer, but a tad smarter. Now, I do things differently. Before querying an agent, I revise my manuscript countless times and I have a second reader critique the piece. In addition, I shop around for reputable agents that represent picture books.
I have no regrets about the blunders I made in regards to writing. And no doubt I'll make more mistakes. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Mistakes can be great teachers. We must recognize that as painful they may be, mistakes are part of any journey, part of anything we wish to excel at, and part of anything we wish achieve. Mistakes have the power to turn us into something even better than we were before.
"The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." Henry Ford
À la prochaine!
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Great article! But shame on your instructor for not checking out the agent she invited to class.
Why wouldn't a student trust someone who their teacher had invited? Harold U.