Thursday, December 14, 2017

I get knocked down, should I get up again? A ReadItTorial

"Come on, ReadItDaddy, let's hear your pitch!!!"
Another sneaky ReadItTorial just before we have a bit of a break (and it'll be just a 'bit' - C'mon, even hard working book bloggers need SOME time off!)

This Christmas Holiday it's going to be make or break time for my writing once and for all. Lately I've been wondering whether the whole 'getting something published' thing is ever going to happen. Time and time again I see lovely folk getting publishing deals, folk working through their SCBWI memberships and actually seeing their subscription fees proving to be worth their weight, but with any open submission calls, my wave of enthusiastic emails with manuscripts and the (sadly) eventual 'Sorry dude, you just don't got it!' emails, I'm rapidly losing heart.

That's really not a dig at anyone who has recently been signed, trust me on that. I love seeing other people get deals. No, really I do - because I'm the sort of person who knows that those people have something to contribute, will undoubtedly have that initial level of enthusiasm and gusto that the industry needs so much, and that those who have plugged away for years with their own work are more than ready for the resultant harder work to come.

But watching from the sidelines when someone gets a deal, gets ushered into that hallowed clique of 'published children's author' and suddenly transforms into something of a divine being, respected by other authors, educators, agents, illustrators, librarians and of course their intended reader audience (yep, basically all the people that matter when it comes to publishing children's books) it's hard not to feel a pang of jealousy. We're only human, after all.

As I've said in previous ReadItTorials on the subject, I don't have material reasons to want to get published - I mean what on earth would be the point in chucking away a fairly respectable career in IT to earn less than £10K per annum (which is, reportedly, what most authors struggle to make per year). No, my reasons are varied and complex, but have a lot to do with something I'll come to by the end of this post.

I've read and digested so many 'helpful' nuggets of advice on how to get published, how to win agents over, how to get to the top of the slush pile when publishers have open submissions - to the point where I'm beginning to wonder what exactly it is that folk are looking for any more? It feels like the creative explosive and yes, the chaotic elements that go towards making a children's book that truly stands out are being lost completely in a slightly comfy fuzz of 'sameyness'.

That's the bit I get really grumpy about. When I see yet another bloody dreadful 'cookie cutter' book getting published with a huge PR buzz, I shake my head and wonder how that came to happen.

I won't mention specific titles but looking ahead to our schedule for early 2018 I'm once again wondering whether half the problem I've got is that I just cannot stick to the rules of writing effectively for children - I want to write and get something published that isn't just another fluffy bunny story about having a friend, losing a friend, getting that friend back, and realising that friendship is EVERYTHINGGG.

Moral tales, more than anything else, are really beginning to stick in my craw a bit, like every story absolutely has to have some sort of lorded 'example' to live up to (note that I'm talking predominantly about picture books here, there seems to be a little less of a rule book when it comes to middle grade but again there are way too many MG books that rely on shallow laughs and extremely samey characters, I like to call this "The Walliams Effect" though that's not a dig at his work, more a dig at the many, many other books that try to follow his example to the letter).

I'm very realistic about harming my own chances of being published by not attracting an agent, and again the odds seem stacked against me there too.

I know that nearly-50-year-old baldy blokes really aren't as 'marketable' when it comes to being children's author material (sorry fellas, but we really do look horrible on most pressers don't we!)

I also know that working full time for a living leaves absolutely no time to engage with what you'd need to do in order to be your own PR when your book finally gets a green light. Nor do I have the luxury of time to sit there tweaking manuscripts, soaking up the really useful advice and feedback I've had from a select few folk who do 'get' the rules and requirements for kids books. So is there any point in carrying on trying?

Then I slap myself around the face a bit. From this year's crop of children's books, the ones that have inevitably ended up as Book of the Week winners are definitely the sort of books I'd want to emulate - or to list as influences.

More often than not their core ideas are blisteringly original, they don't try to cram a life lesson down your throat. My inner voice tells me that these books were read, edited and accepted. These books were published, have been marketed, are selling and reviewing well.


Over the last weekend I'd really made up my mind to completely jack it in. Ditch the writing, continue on with the blog as long as C was interested in it, maybe scribble a few drawings here and there and blat them out on Twitter.

But completely can the writing and the ambition to be published. If the ideas I've put out there are no good, and not attracting agent or publisher attention, they're obviously just no bloody good and that's that.

There was only one thing that stopped me from dragging all of my current manuscripts into the trash and hitting 'delete' for good and that was a purely unprompted statement from C.

"Are you still writing stories, Daddy? Because I think you should."

As hatefully cheesy as it sounds (and this had nothing to do with me ranting about the subject at all at home - I never do, purely because I have no audience whatsoever for my rants along those lines at home and I'm pretty sure I don't have one here either, but if you've stuck with me so far, I LOVE YOU).

If there's ever a reason to carry on writing, to keep trying, to never give up, it's because someone who loves, respects and looks up to you wants YOU to set them the one example that cheesy children's stories or other authors can't capture the essence of. They want to see their own parents digging the hell in and refusing to lie down and take a defeat. Get up, get back up, and get the damned job done!

So I need to be a better person than the one who momentarily took over at the weekend and got completely downhearted with the whole attempt to bring my stories to others.

I need to be strong enough to take every setback, putdown, irritating niggle about the business and drag THAT into the trash bin instead. I need to keep on keeping on, because until I'm finally unable to hold a pencil, type on a keyboard, or dream and daydream stories, I should never say I'm done. Never say I'm finished.

Well, at least until next weekend.


  1. I can relate to so much you have said in this post as I'm getting to the end of the year somewhat downhearted about all the rejections too. I also wonder why some of the books we receive for Story Snug get published and what I'm doing wrong with my own writing. But looking back over stories that I wrote several years ago I can see that all the workshops, all the conferences and all the comments from my critique group are helping me to learn the craft.

    Charlotte is right, you should keep going. Writing is a journey and next year I hope that we will be much further along the road. Hopefully this time next year we'll both be celebrating publication news :o)

    And now I need to get back to the story I'm writing!

  2. Don't stop! C is wise ☺️ Organising another Picture Book Club special in Oxford and definitely hope you can come to that one with some of your stories! You have so much experience and knowledge. My crit group and PBC have been amazing. I've started writing for them really. Sometimes I just write stories for one of them or for other friends or for A and it's become less about getting published and more about the fun of writing for them. Bizarrely that's when things have started to happen a little bit. Still tons of rejection though (got one yesterday!) Take the pressure off a bit and make it about the fun of writing/drawing. Easy to say, I know! But do keep going, for the fun, not the glory because the secret is that after the nice congratulations tweets/posts, there isn't any glory, but there can still be lots of fun 😀

  3. Don’t stop. I can guarantee most published authors have felt this way on the journey to publication and equally on the other side of the book deal. It’s a tough slog and once you get a book deal, it’s not any easier. It’s a rejecting business but when you finally see your book in print (and you will if you can perserve) it is worth it, I promise. Not in any monetary sense but worth it because of everything C has said. I hope you don’t give up.

  4. Thanks folks for the comments, both here and on Twitter. It does seem like a completely 'random' industry at times and the more anecdotal stories you hear from folk about their own / friends experiences with children's publishing, the more it does help you accept that it's massively, massively down to persistence, a stroke of luck and a bit of clever networking here and there but above all else, having solid and fantastic stories you believe in and are prepared to keep polishing and working on.

    I will keep at it - not just for C but because I really feel like it's something I'd finally and actually be good at, and that in a life where my career / jobs have never felt like 'what I wanted to do when I grew up'

    Telling stories though, that's always been something I've wanted to do and given the opportunity I'd be like a writing MACHINE!

    Anyway we'll see what 2018 holds. Thanks again all, means a great deal that so many read this post and equally that folk took the time to comment and offer advice.

  5. Oh goodness, reading this I felt like you'd been reading my mind. I've been trying to get published too for a while, after completing a novella as part of my MA in Children's Lit. My supervisor encouraged me to develop the story into a novel which I did but I've had no luck and I've sunk into a fug of hopelessness. I thought at one point that if no one wanted to publish it, I would self-publish, because why not? I still haven't though.

    I often also feel this way about my blog. Hardly anyone comments and I wonder if I'm just blabbing away to myself half the time.

    Maybe we can start up a group called The Unpublished (rather like a Clint Eastwood Western but Southern England writers).

    Keep writing - for yourself, for C.

  6. Absolutely don't stop. But maybe try something completely different; if you're writing picture books, move on to middle grade, if you're writing YA, turn to poetry. It took me years to find a genre that I was good at, and in which I had an authentic voice. Rejection, whether you're an aspiring author or published one, is all par for the course. If you believe in your own work - really passionately believe in it, rather than merely thinking it's better than some of the crap out there - you will get there in the end. Hang on in there.


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