1. You Need More Than a Good Idea You come up with an idea or a character. Maybe it’s a line you overhear in the grocery store that inspires you. You go home to write. And you find that you don’t have a story or a structure that works. Ideas are impulses, triggers for the creative process; and often they need to be nurtured, seduced, and teased into life. Here’s what another creative professional—the artist Delacroix—wrote in his journal: “The original idea, the sketch, which is so to speak the egg or embryo of the idea, is usually far from being complete.” I love that quote because it captures the formlessness of generating ideas as well as the potential. Sometimes it takes years for the impulse to resolve into a manuscript. Years in which authors hold the idea in their unconscious minds or in their hearts. Years of revisiting, reexamining, re-creating the work. Sometimes the challenge will be a creati ve one; sometimes it’ll be a technical one. But published writers know they have to stick with the process. And if they do, they’re more likely to be rewarded. Expecting to create a superb picture book in one or two short sittings is about as realistic as growing blueberries during a Maine winter. Better to set yourself up for success by doing the work. Regularly. Consistently. Consciously.
2. Sometimes Good Manuscripts Don’t Get Published Publishers are in business to make money. They do so by publishing good books. But not all good books make money, and so publishers consider manuscripts not only in terms of aesthetic quality, but in terms of commercial potential. If you’re asking a publishing house to invest tens of thousands of dollars in your book, they need to believe their investment will pay off. Editors are evaluated by how well their books are received both critically and commercially, and astute editors are very aware of the “commercial” piece of the equation.
Here’s the part that’s really painful: even really good manuscripts sometimes get rejected. They’re rejected because “fantasy doesn’t sell,” “we’re looking for manuscripts targeting a younger audience (or an older one or girls or boys),” “folktales have been overpublished,” “talking pumpkins/cats/teapots don’t work for me,” “we only want very young picture books,” or any one of a myriad different and valid reasons. So published authors pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and submit their work to another editor; or they revise in accordance with the feedback they get, or they put the manuscript in a file folder and get on with the next manuscript. And they know that their value as a writer isn’t determined by the moods of the marketplace.
3. Important Feelings Don’t Necessarily Translate into Good Writing The great English poet William Wordsworth famously wrote: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” If an experience triggers a moment of connection with what you feel to be an eternal truth, that’s wonderful. But profound feeling can become didactic or heavy-handed when translated into words. It requires distance from the event, “emotion recollected in tranquility,” and consciously engaging the intellect to be able to articulate the impulse in the form, language, and structure required by a picture book. Although writers honor and love those moments of deep feeling and profound inspiration, it’s important to evaluate them with the same critical faculty that you bring to any other writing.
4. All Manuscripts Are Not Created Equal Some manuscripts are easier to write than others. There are many unfinished drafts and half-written, partially conceptualized manuscripts sitting in the file folders of even the most successful published authors. Not every idea develops into a full-fledged manuscript. You’ll probably start many more manuscripts than you’ll finish. Writing is a little bit like digging for gold. Digging won’t ensure that you’ll find gold, but if you don’t dig, you absolutely won’t find it. No manuscript is a waste. By writing in a thoughtful, considered way, you refine your craft, develop your ideas, and get better at doing both. And in time those unresolved plots, vexing characters, and impossible rhymes might resolve, focus, and reward you for your patience and perseverance. And even then they just might not be good enough to show to the world. No matter. Write on!
© 2012 Picture Book People, Inc.
This article appeared in this month’s Picture Book People Newsletter written by owner Simone Kaplan. Simone has more than two decades of insider experience at major publishing institutions such as Henry Holt and Company and HarperCollins Publishers, during which she’s personally accepted, edited, and rejected hundreds of children’s picture books. She knows how the words of your manuscript can jump off the page and spark the interest of an editor or agent. She has also learned about the process of creating picture books and can break it down so as to be most useful to authors at every stage of their development.
She provides creativity-enhancing, skill-building, heart-expanding support for the creators of picture books so they can write the best possible books they’re able to write.
Here is the link if you want to sign up to receive Simon’s monthly newsletter or if you would like to have Simone work with you on your picture. http://www.picturebookpeople.com/