This month we’re talking about what smart things we did to sell our manuscripts. For me, the best thing I ever did for my writing career was to focus on the writing more than the career. I started out going to SCBWI conferences. While there is a wealth of information there, I found myself submitting to editors and agents way before I should have, and that caused a lot of stress. The advice is to send your very best work. I did that! At the time, it was my best work.
However, my best wasn’t good enough.
After I accumulated a pile of rejections, I gave up. Not on writing, though—I couldn’t do that—but on submitting. Instead I focused on becoming a better writer. While there are lots of ways to do that, I started attending Highlights Foundation workshops, about two per year for about four years. They were low-commitment—between two days to a week—and very affordable for the quality. The faculty is accomplished and smart and extremely supportive. The setting is idyllic and inspirational. I learned so much and met lots of wonderful people.
Some of those wonderful people were affiliated with another great place to immerse in craft: Vermont College of Fine Arts, which offers several low-residency master’s programs. This was a much higher commitment, of both time and money, and even though I was in my late thirties, I decided to go for it. I have not regretted it for a minute. For two years, I fully immersed myself in writing, reading, and critically analyzing works for children and teens, and I did it among top industry professionals. I didn’t pay attention to trends or who was accepting queries or who wasn’t. I loved the freedom to let go of the submission stress. As a result, the quality of my work significantly improved, as did my confidence.
I still get rejected sometimes—it’s an unavoidable part of the publishing process—but now if I get stumped and need to regroup, I have a vast toolbox at my disposal. I love knowing that I can always go to a Highlights or a VCFA workshop, or even an SCBWI conference, and brush up on some skills, get some valuable feedback, or simply jumpstart the creative juices. Learning to write isn’t something I did; it’s something I will always do.