How did CWILL BC members get their first big breaks in the publishing world? In this series of interviews with local writers and illustrators, we ask what advice they would offer and what mistakes they would never repeat — an inside look at the publishing process, from the creators’ point of view. Please feel free to tell your own publishing tales in the comments section below.
Did you have a mentor in the publishing world, or did you do it all on your own?
When I was twelve, my parents signed me up for a writing workshop with my favourite children’s author, and they drove me across Vancouver to hear Kit Pearson speak. I sat in awe for the full hour, and when our session finished, I worked up the courage to ask for her address. I wrote to her for years, and she answered every one of my letters, by hand. Not long ago, I met her again here in Victoria and was deeply touched when she attended one of my book launches. Even though we weren’t in contact while I was trying to get published, she was an important mentor: a real, live author who shared with me her frustrations and triumphs when I was first considering a career as a writer.
Along the way, many, many people have given me feedback on my writing and tips on how to get it published. Every one of my books feels like it’s been a group effort, and the more projects I do, the more I feel that way!
How did you handle early rejections?
Everything I’d read advised seeing rejection as a right of passage. I tried hard to do that, and each time I received a rejection slip, I revised or sent the associated manuscript somewhere else within a few days. I filed the slips in a folder because I felt they were important records. Mostly, though, that folder felt like proof that I was a hopeless writer. The day I tore up the whole thing was a great relief. These days, I shred or delete the rejection immediately and focus on revising the manuscript or finding it another home.
Do you have a favourite publishing moment? A career highlight?
This past July, I received a letter from a girl who’d read Out of the Box and wanted to tell me how much it meant to her. In one line in particular, she voiced exactly what I had hoped to communicate in the book. (“I learned children do not have to take care of their parents.”) Holding the girl’s letter in my hands, I thought back to my first letter to Kit Pearson when I was twelve, and I had one of those amazing full-circle moments. I’m so honoured to have my words published and read, and to be part of this kind of literary conversation.
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
When I finished writing Out of the Box, I was eager to get going on another project. Usually, halfway through one, I have an idea for another, but this time I’d had a baby in between, and my brain just wasn’t thinking up new ideas. Nervous that I’d drown in a sea of bibs and soothers, I tried to figure out what the book market wanted. I sent the resulting novel to a trusted editor friend, and after much back and forth and many revisions, she gently told me that the novel had no spark. Once the disappointment wore off, I was hugely relieved. Writing that novel was definitely a should, and not a pleasure. These days, I try to keep my audience in mind, and keep the market out of it. It’s a lot more fun this way, and if I’m having fun, I know the writing will have spark. My books may never make millions, but at least I’ll enjoy writing them!
What advice would you give an emerging writer?
Read as much as you can. Read stuff you love and stuff you hate. Figure out why you feel the way you do about everything you read. Write every day, and when you start a story, finish it, even if it’s awful. All of my early drafts are horrific, and I never show them to anyone. Rewriting is a wonderful — and necessary — thing. Sometimes, though, you can rewrite something so much that you’re sick of it. Set it aside until you’re interested in it again. The first three books I wrote have never been published, but I learned from each one. Have faith. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Do your research into publishing, and keep sending out those manuscripts.