At my school visits and public appearances as an author as well as in my online interactions as a freelance editor, I often encounter people who remind me of myself from 20-plus years ago.

When I first realized that I wanted to write books for young readers, I was excited, enthusiastic, unsure of where to start, and very much unaware of how much there was to learn.

Y’all, I thought I was on my way to winning a Caldecott Medal. (It’s an award for illustrators, not for authors.)

When I first began submitting my picture book manuscript for The Day-Glo Brothers, it was over 6,000 words long. (I eventually trimmed it to around 2,000 words, and 1,500 words has been much more common for my nonfiction picture books since then.)

And those are just the rookie misconceptions that I’m the least sheepish about sharing!

All authors make mistakes and missteps — should I ever stop doing that, I’ll let you know — and we can all learn from those. But we’re more likely to learn from them if they’re relevant to what we actually want to achieve.

When someone tells me that they want to write a book and asks me for my advice, the best answer I have for them is, “What is your objective for the book?” There are many possible answers, and each can call for a different path forward.

Take my nonfiction books for young readers, for example. For such books, widespread distribution of physical copies to schools and libraries is essential, only traditional publishers have the necessary structures and connections for making that happen, and the process typically takes years.

If writing that type of book is my objective, then working with that type of publisher — and being OK with that sort of timeline — is a must for me. That’s the path.

But if I just want to write something that someone can read on their phone a month from now? Well, that’s a different path entirely.

So, if you ever happen to be the one asking an author or editor how to proceed, first ask yourself, “Am I aiming for publication by a traditional publisher, self-publishing a physical book, self-publishing a digital-only book, creating a family keepsake, or something else?”

Once you know how to answer that question — bonus points if you know why that’s your answer — that’s when someone like me will be better able to guide you forward. And I’d love to hear from you, either right here through my website or via the Reedsy platform.