Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 6, 2011

Road to Publication – Baby Steps

So you have decided you want to write or illustrate a book and get it published. So what do you do? How are you going to make that happen? Well, you have just taken your first baby step down the road to publication – the same road and the same baby steps all the great authors have taken. So go for it. We all would like to have a GPS to get us there quickly, but this road is full of land mines, sink-holes, curves in the road, detours, bridges to nowhere, lakes to swim over or drive around.  How you get there differs for everyone, but it is the same road. Just remember that success can come in many forms.  Savor the successes.  Toss off the rejections and keep reminding yourself it all starts with baby steps.

Read – If you want to write fiction for children in middle grades, then start reading fiction books for children in middle grades. If you want to write Sci-Fi, then read Sci-Fi.  Start with the award-winning books. Analyze what you read. What worked for you? What didn’t?

(Illustrators: Look at the illustrations in picture books, on covers, graphic novels, chapter books and text books.)

Write – Write something. Write anything. It doesn’t have to be good, but the more you write, the better your writing will become. Like anything, practice makes perfect. You wouldn’t expect to sit down at the piano and immediately play a concerto. That would take years of practice, so why would you think you could do that with a book?

(Illustrators: illustrate something you have written or text from a published picture book. Make a book dummy.)

Make a goal – Life is funny. It keeps trying to get in the way. Don’t make it a lofty goal. You will be setting yourself up for failure. You’ll get discouraged and quit. As much as you want to run, think baby steps. Remember the tortoise and the hare.
Build Your Writing Muscle – You could make a goal to write one page per day or 5 pages a week. The page can be about anything that comes into your mind.

You could even start out by re-writing a page from a book someone else has written. Maybe a page from one of the books you are reading that you felt the author could have written better. Or, you could rewrite the page from another characters point of view. Or perhaps change it to third person, if it is written in first person. What would happen if you changed the gender of the MC?

Doing things like this will help you build your writing muscle. Maybe you hear a funny story on the news. What would your family have done in that situation? Just sit down and write a page. It doesn’t have to be good. You are working on developing your writing muscles. If this is taking you longer than a half hour to write a page for this exercise, you are thinking too much. Just write whatever comes into your head. This is practice, but the more you write the more you will develop. It will also spurs new ideas. Ideas are like rabbits, get a couple and suddenly they are everywhere.

(Illustrators: sketch, draw, paint, over and over again. Keep an eye out for expressions on people’s faces and their body language.)

Keep a Journal of Ideas – Not only good for those “at least one page days,” but also will help spur ideas for books. You will need to write them down, because they will start popping up all over the place and at the strangest times. I can guarantee if you don’t write them down, you will forget and not be able to bring them back.

(Illustrators: Keep a drawing pad with you to sketch things that you see.)

READNo this isn’t a repeat, this is where you start reading books on writing. Why not learn from someone who has written or taught writing to learn what you can about the craft of writing? This will help you when you have to trudge through a muddy section on that publication road.

(Illustrators: This applies to you, too, but besides reading think about taking a class with an artist that you admire.)

Join an Association – The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an example of an International association for writers. You will meet other authors that might help you when you slip off the side of the road. Usually, they will give you a hand to pull you back up.

Find a Critique Group – Once you have managed to write a few stories, you will need to find a critique group. Believe me when I say this; at this point on the road you will think everything you write is golden, but it isn’t and you will not be able to see it. Don’t embarrass yourself by submitting anything to a publisher at this point.

(Yes illustrators, there are illustrator critique groups, too.)

Attend Conferences and Workshops – This is the time you should start thinking about attending conference and workshops to help you develop and learn the things you did to know to navigate the road you are taking. This is a good place to find a critique group, if you haven’t been successful in finding one. Sign up to meet with and editor to get feedback on what you have written. This is part of developing your writing skills. An editor will point out what and why something is not working. Sing up for the workshops. Take notes from the experts on the subject of their talk. You need to learn about the industry besides learning how to write.

(Illustrators:  I know the NJSCBWI does lots of workshops and a couple illustrator days to help illustrators learn and get seen.  Try your local SCBWI chapter to see what they offer.)

Networking – Don’t poo poo the advantages of talking to other authors, illustrators. They have a lot to offer and can help you navigate your way around some bumpy patches in the terrain. Every year at the New Jersey conference, we offer author critiques. If you want a second editor critique, you must sign up for an author critique. Writers go into it not really wanting to get the critique, but 95% of the time I get e-mails letting me know how helpful the author was in the advice they gave them.
Also talk to everyone. Don’t be obnoxious. That won’t get you anywhere, but if you are at a conference talk to people tell them what you are working on and ask them what they are working on. Even if you are out at a store talk to people. I know people who have even run into people at a party, even people in a funeral line that have ended up getting them contracts. Sounds weird, but it is true.

(Illustrators you have the advantage here, since they can visually show off their talent quickly.)

Magazine articles – Write other things while you are writing your book. Magazine articles give you writing practice and will offer you successes to help you keep taking those baby steps forward. It will help develop your voice. It will get your name out there and bring in some money.

(Illustrators: Magazines are always looking for artwork.)

Contests – There are lots of writing contests. Take a chance and send something in. If you don’t win, so what? If you do win, then you will feel great, have made some money and you will have something to tout about in a cover letter. Someone could see your name and call you to write something for them. Many contests even offer publication to the winner.

(Illustrators: Exhibit your work. Work with your association to get exhibits going, so people can see your art.)

Book – Finish the book you are working on. Polish it up with the help of your writer’s group, the editors and authors you have met at conferences and workshops, and finish it. Let it sit; kind of like letting the dough rise, then go back and revise. Let it sit, let it rise and revise again.  Look through your journal of ideas and start writing another book.

(Illustrators: Keep illustrating. Try new techniques. Exhibit at conferences.)

Agent – Now is the time to decide if you would like to have an agent to represent you.  My personally answer is a big, “Yes”. The money they will take in my opinion is well worth it. I do not want to worry about who to send my manuscript out to. Agents have a better chance in getting your manuscript into the right hands. They are better equipped to negotiate the deal and will usually get you more money. Plus, you will hear back quicker and be get your writing seen by closed publishing houses.  But you can also decide to do it on your own.  Just don’t think it is going to be an easy job getting an agent.  It can be just as hard to find an agent who loves your book and wants to represent you, as it can be to find an editor who wants to offer you a contract for your book.

You also have to make the right descisions to not pick the wrong agent for you.  Picking the wrong agent will slow down the pace forward, so chose someone who you trust and who you feel will look out for your best interest.  Do not start submitting to editors, if you plan to look for an agent. Agents do not want to represent books that have already been shopped around.

(Illustrators:  More and more agents are looking for author/illustrators.  If you don’t write, then look for an artist rep.  You have a lot of options.)

Submit – Do you have a plan on who to submit to?  Are you going to try getting an agent?  Once you are sure you book is ready work your plan and submit.  It will never get published if you don’t submit it.  Don’t get discouraged. This is where some of the writing friends you have made come in handy. They can encourage you to keep sending it out and remind you it just has to find the right home.

(Illustrators: submit postcards and artwork to publishing houses.)

Keep Taking Baby Steps – Keep Writing – Keep keeping on – This is where people lose heart. Jerry Spinelli wrote five novels in the fifteen years he tried to get his first book published. Just image the books we would have missed reading if he had given up at year fourteen. He says it was those five novels that taught him to write. Just like I said write, write, write. Read, read, read. You will learn so much from reading good books. I guess it’s like osmosis. Whatever it is, it works, so don’t give up. Build up a thick skin, get yourself a good pair of shoes, so you can keep taking those baby steps to get to the finished line. Of course, the end is just the beginning, but we will talk about that another time.

Self Publishing – This is another avenue to take, but self-published books have gotten a bad reputation, because so many writers don’t want to spend the time needed to write a good book. All the steps listed still need to be done if you want to sell your book. If you have done that, have revised and revised and polished your book until it sparkles, then start doing your homework on the self-publishing industry. There are many potholes to avoid on this detour to publication. You can find success on this road, but be cautious before you veer off the main road.  If you are want to do a picture book and you are not an illustrator, beware, it is a very steep hill.  So many good ideas fall flat wth the wrong illustrations.

Good luck,



  1. Kathy, this was a fantastic post! It had to take a lot of time to put this all together and I (and I’m sure others) really appreciate it. Although I already know a lot of this stuff, there were some suggestions and tips I hadn’t heard before! It’s amazing how we continue to learn, even after years!

    Thanks, and btw, I LOVE the map/pic and the metaphor!


    • Donna,

      I had this great idea for drawing a map with all the little pitfalls shown on the map, but it turns out it would have taken too much time to do it, so everyone just got text.



  2. Excellent post, Kathy! Hated my writing this weekend, so your words have gotten me back on track. Thanks, Mary


    • Mary,

      Well, that is nice of you to let me know. I always hope what I put up helps someone.



  3. Great post. Adding it to my class wiki now!


    • Carol,

      Hope it helps your class.



  4. Whew! I think I got overwhelmed just reading that!! LOL. But you’re right –and at different times, different ones of those steps is more critical. Even if we keep on top of one or two consistently, we’re still ahead of the game. Thanks for spelling it out so clearly.


    • Jeanne,

      I just scheduled the post for tomorrow. I think you should talk to the guy to see if you could sell your notecards. Make sure you look.



  5. Kathy, it definitely WOULD have been a lot of work! I was even wondering if you were crazy enough to spend the time on the pic you have posted here! I just love it 🙂


  6. fabulous Kathy….. this is SO basic but so not understood by so many!!! (lots of ‘so-s’ there…. 🙂


    • Chris,

      It’s so good to know your out there. I need to get snother one of your illustrators to show off. Did you get any damage from the hurricane? It left me with 4 foot of water in my basement. It ruined so much, but in the big scheme of things, it isn’t so much. At least the power came back on before it destroyed the foundation. Hope you came out of it without any damage.



  7. Your article is so good I’ve bookmarked it already.


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