Talk about being in good company…

At the Austin SCBWI conference this coming Saturday, I’ll be participating in the picture book/chapter book panel discussion, “How I Got Published/Continue to Get Published.” I’ll get to pass the microphone back and forth with Christy Stallop, Brian Anderson, Jane Ann Peddicord and Lila Guzman. Not a bad bunch at all.

Moderator Julie Lake gave us a preview of her questions, and I’ve been mulling over some of those this morning. If you don’t mind, I believe I’ll take this opportunity to think my responses through out loud.

Real quickly-like, what did I do to get published?

In the case of The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009), I found a story that I thought would be fun to research, fun to tell, and fun to read. (Note: I kept the audience in mind, but I kept my own tastes in mind even more.)

Easy to sell? Well, there weren’t a whole bunch of books out there about obscure entrepreneurs researching fluorescence during the Depression — nothing I could point to and say, “See? These books are big!” But I did learn the market well enough to know that publishers were open to picture book biographies of such unconventional subjects as Waterhouse Hawkins and Fannie Farmer.

I researched, and I wrote, and I submitted. And I submitted. And I cut my manuscript by 2/3. And I submitted some more. And my 23rd submission (approximately) of this manuscript coincided with having a couple of local acquaintances put in a good word for me with their friend, the Charlesbridge editor. I would not have had those acquaintances without SCBWI, and it just goes to show how important personal contacts are in this business.

What trends/changes do I see now vs. when I first started trying to get published?

The avenues for making professional connections and learning the industry and expanding one’s awareness of what children’s literature can be have been greatly expanded by the kidlitosphere (and keep in mind that the avenues that existed within the children’s literature community were already pretty impressive when I started seven years ago). But writers, beware: The potential for distractions from the actual work of reading and writing children’s books has become just as vast. Strike a balance, and be vigilant about sticking to it.

What would I do differently if I could do it over again?

I would have waited a lot longer before I began submitting my work to agents. To that agent who received my very bad batch of first manuscripts — which no editor or critique partner had laid eyes on — I apologize.