If you want to self-publish, it’s really important to start with the basics and get the manuscript right. Easier said than done, I know. With traditional publishing, if a manuscript is not up to scratch, it gets rejected. When we self-publish, we have to be extremely honest with ourselves, and ask the question – is my manuscript good enough?Most of my previous picture book manuscripts probably haven’t been. But, I’m happy to say, now, I’m pretty sure I’m on to a winner. My first picture book, Rabbit’s Big Idea, is due to be released 22 November 2015 which is very exciting for me. However, I’ve been working towards the goal of having my work in print for over seven years now, and the following three recommendations have been fundamental in getting me there.
1. Read lots of books in the same genre as the one you are endeavouring to write in.
2. Write. A lot.
3. Join a critique group.So let’s look at each of these points individually.
Read lots of books in the same genre as the one you are endeavouring to write in.
My dream for many years has been to publish my own picture book. Fortunately, I have two girls under seven so I have seven years of nightly picture book reading under my belt. There are books I love to read my girls, and books that, after one reading, I refuse to ever read again. Reading Barbie books brings me physical pain. I’ve also read the stories that make my children laugh, touch their hearts, or ones that provoke thought and discussion. All that reading has helped me to understand the rhythm of picture books and what kind of picture book writer I would like to be.I also had a crack at writing a young adult fiction once. I did the same thing when doing that. I read as many YA novels as I could, all to get an understanding of the genre and what works and what doesn’t.
I met someone at a writing group once that said he never reads. I wondered how that was even possible. Maybe they didn’t want to ruin their style by improving it. A great writer has to be a great reader. The two can’t be separated, in my opinion.
Write. A lot.
You know, it doesn’t even matter what you write – just get Nike and do it! I’ve written speeches, an article for a parenting magazine, I’ve had a go at YA fiction, picture books, and now I’m working on a chapter book for under 13s. I’ve even started a blog! I never thought in my wildest dreams I would write a novel, but I did! And boy did I learn a lot. I don’t think it’s quite ready for publication, but it certainly wasn’t a waste of time.If you’ve never really written anything before, and suddenly you decide, gee, I’d like to write a picture book, I hate to say it, but it probably won’t be the next international best seller. It’s actually quite an art writing a picture book. Similarly, somebody that has never cooked a day in their life isn’t going to go on Masterchef and come home with the crown and glory. Writing takes practise.
When I look at my early attempts at writing, it’s actually kind of embarrassing. I really had no idea. But at the time I thought I did. There were some manuscripts that had flashes of brilliance, but missed it big time in other areas. Gradually, over the years I’ve refined my skills until I finally feel I’ve hit the nail on the head with Rabbit’s Big Idea. And even then, that’s only after at least 15 drafts and countless rereads.We don’t want to be negative, and doubt ourselves, but the quality of our writing will be a direct reflection of our commitment to improve it.
Join a Critique Group
I know some people think critique groups are a waste of time, but I don’t, especially if you are just starting out. You can read all you want about writing, and you can write all that your creative little heart inspires you to, but until you have someone else (who isn’t your BFF or your dear Aunt May) look over your work with a constructive yet critical eye, then you aren’t going to improve as quickly as you could.I joined a critique group through KiwiWrite4Kids. The group has now disbanded after many years, but there remains a core group of us who have decided to stay in touch and continue to help each other with our writing. These are people whose opinion I trust and value. They are published writers and know their stuff. They are honest enough to tell me not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. A good coach doesn’t just pat their players on the back and say, ‘Oh, you’re the best. That game was awesome.’ Okay, maybe when you were five that was helpful, but not if you’re planning to compete in the Olympics. You need your coach to say, ‘Hey, watch your lines, your missing passes.’ Or, ‘Great defending, but be more aggressive on attack.’ That’s the kind of direction we need with our writing, ‘I love where you’re going with this story, but where’s you third arch?’ So, I highly recommend finding some like-minded writers and get critiquing together.
This is especially important if you want to self-publish. You need that unattached, dispassionate point of view. Sometimes we miss things that are staring us in the face, but a fresh set of eyes sees the problem straight away. Offering your work up for critiquing is scary, believe me, I know, but it is only going to make you, and your manuscript, better.
Thanks for your time, and Happy Writing!