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What I’ve Learned So Far as a Debut Author

My fellow classmates have already said many of the things I wanted to say on this topic. Several have talked about how important it is to reach out to other debut authors, to build a community, and to support each other.

So I thought I’d head off in a different direction. I’ve learned I simply do NOT have time to do it all. It’s hard to keep my children and hubby in clean clothes, put edible food on the table, AND write books and promote them. (Actually it’s always been a challenge for me to produce edible dinners. I’m a terrible cook, and deadlines do NOT improve my culinary skills!)

But I finally found a cheap source of help:  high school and college student labor. I hired my own kids and other high schoolers in the neighborhood to make swag. I paid a college kid who is interested in becoming a publicist a measly $8 an hour to find and compile the email addresses of every elementary and middle school librarian within a two hour drive of my home. Then I found a talented teen artist who will be studying animation in LA in the fall. I paid him $200 create a series of funny undersea illustrations I can use in school presentations and aquarium talks. My artist was thrilled to be able to say he created illustrations for a Disney Hyperion author, and the would-be publicist is going to say she was an author’s assistant on her resume.

My young art student created some hilarious cartoons for my school presentations....

My young art student created some hilarious cartoons for my school presentations…

Similarly, I used a high school volunteer actress to star in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT book trailer, and my own daughter, who is very handy with a video camera, shot most of the footage. I paid them with a round at Starbucks, and if you take the time to watch my trailer, I think you’d agree I got a pretty good deal!

I have to admit that not all of my hires worked out. One young woman whom I didn’t know very well dropped the ball and never completed her project for me. But the rest came through big time — until they had to head back to school.

I can hardly wait for next summer. I’m already compiling a list of tasks I want my volunteer and cheap helpers to tackle so that I can focus on the chores only I can do, such as writing my next book!

Thinking Outside the Box: One Smart Thing I Did To Sell GOLDEN BOY

One smart thing I did to sell GOLDEN BOY was to dance just a little bit around the edges of the traditional lock-step route to publishing… and it’s what got me my agent!

uuw3btb1m6deb9dm3xs6A few years ago, a member of my writer’s group had the fantastic idea of submitting for a writers group development from our local New England chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). For a while we debated what to do with it, but we finally agreed: the agent query process terrified and mystified us. We were a group of six, all with YA & MG manuscripts at different stages. So, I went to work researching agents that listed all of our genres. When I found one, I approached her and asked if she would be willing to accept the grant money to do an informational Skype interview about the agenting process. She agreed and offered, in addition, to critique each of our query letters. A few weeks later we had the session and learned a lot… and she ended up extending an offer to two of us (one third of the group!) to formally query her when we finished our manuscripts. Two years later, we’re both represented by her.

So, as you try to shop your baby out in the big bad world, try to think outside the traditional lock-step for ways to actively develop yourself and gain the skills you need for whatever step of the process you’re on… you never know what unintended awesomeness might come of it!

(Disclaimer: My story in this post is intended to be illustrative only. Please do not use it as a launching-off point to bother my agent. I like her. I like that she likes me. Please don’t make her dislike me. It might make me dislike you.)

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