Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of the other judges for the Tamson Weston pitch contest. Mira Reisberg is here to talk about what it takes to get published.  She is also generously giving away a one-hour Skype consultation to help one 12 x 12 participant polish his/her picture book draft.  To enter, read this post and then comment on this post on Mira’s blog telling her which “P” is the most challenging for you and why.  The deadline to enter is March 30th, and Mira will announce the winner on her blog on April 2nd. Welcome Mira!

I’ve been making, teaching, and mentoring others for over 20 years and realized recently that my own books had sold over 600,000 copies while my former students have sold well over a million copies of their books, including two New York Times best sellers. Needless to say, this made me very happy.

Over the years, I’ve developed what I call my 4 P’s. Until recently it was only 3 P’s, but after a wonderful conversation with master illustrator and author Ashley Wolff of the Miss Bindergarten, and Stella and Roy series fame, she pointed out that I was missing the word “Passion.” For me this is a given, but it needs to be included and spelled out loud and proud! So here are my four P’s and why they are so important for anyone who wants to get published.

Passion– You’ve got to really, really, truly, deeply care about making and loving picture books – if you don’t you’re never going to be able to do the other 3 P’s. If you’re not passionate about picture books, you’re not going to be haunting libraries and book stores getting excited about picture book discoveries or constantly reading and getting inspired and excited by picture   books and learning from them. If you’re not passionate about picture books, you’re also not going to have the willingness or joy or heart to do what it takes to create fantastic products.

Product – Your story and/or art has to be exceptional. Picture books are expensive and picture book publishing is a business. Often a business with tremendous heart (some publishers more than others) but the bottom line is that you have to both be and show that you are professional. That means revising, revising, revising. Reading, studying, taking courses, getting your work critiqued, using your passion, whatever it takes to have your work be the very best, most original, lyrical, funny, dramatic, heartfelt, adorable or whatever the major characteristics are. Your writing or illustrations have to sing, but it can sing in many different tunes. Send it out in a professional way with an appropriate cover or query letter, researching, researching, researching appropriate publishers and their submission policies (usually on their websites). Children’s book writing and/or illustrating is a craft; it takes practice and study to learn those skill to create a fantastic product that special publisher will love.

Patience – It takes a lot of patience to develop skills through practice and more practice. It also takes a lot of patience to redo something over and over until it’s as perfect as it gets. When I do school visits, I show and tell the students how in one of my books, Uncle Nacho’s Hat, I had some Brahmin cows common in Nicaragua (according to my research) in the background of the painting and because I was really tired, I didn’t redo them even though I should have. Now it’s 20 years later and I still have to live with what I call my “painting of sham,” (learn from me here).

The next two places requiring patience are in the rewriting or re-doing art – I’ve never heard of an editor or art director not wanting any revisions, but it is possible and I’ve never heard of it. Here’s where you really get to practice with your most gracious self – mostly agreeing to make this changes.

And the final pieces of patience necessary are waiting for the book to be illustrated and designed (if you’re not the artist or author/artist) and then for it to be printed and distributed. This is a whole subject in and of itself, but suffice to say it can take anywhere from six months to many years depending on many different factors. Waiting after submitting also requires A LOT of patience. It’s also a great time to research other editors or art directors or publishing houses to submit to and to start work on your next project.

Another place where patience is needed is if you get that magical call or email from an editor wanting to work with you. First, put your hand over the phone if they call you and then scream. Then listen to what they have to say and tell them that you are very interested but would like to see their contract first or if they offer you a number tell them you’d like to see the contract and think about it. Be patient, if they are contacting you, they’re interested and have probably already investing quite a bit of time and thought before contacting you. If you can afford it, join your area’s “Lawyers for the Arts” or see an intellectual property lawyer. Their contracts are set up to favor them, not you, no matter how nice they are. Sometimes, I think of patience as a form of surrender (not as in giving up) but as part of a spiritual practice of acceptance if that helps.

Persistence– Think J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss and just about every published author or illustrator out there. Persist in developing and honing your craft – join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org), which is an invaluable resource if you are serious. Attend their conferences and meet editors, agents, and art directors who you would not normally have access to as well as peers that you can network and connect with and learn from on this wondrous journey. Take classes and courses; keep working your craft and sending out to researched and specifically targeted editors. And most importantly, don’t give up!!! Fortunately, so many of the greats didn’t give up either : )

Mira Reisberg is the award-winning illustrator of 6 picture books and co-author of two award-winning anthologies of stories and art. Her books have sold over 600,000 copies world-wide. Mira received her MFA from Mills College in Painting and Digital Art. She received her PhD in Education and Cultural Studies from Washington State University writing a 370 page dissertation on children’s picture books and the healing power of art.

Mira is also an editor, art director, instructor/mentor and picture book consultant whose students’ award-winning  books have sold over a million copies. Mira’s passion for picture books spills out into her empowering online Hero’s Art Journey course, which features contributions from major picture book authors and illustrators  (www.herosartjourney.com) as well as in the courses that she is creating for the Picture Book Academy (www.picturebookacademy.com). The next Hero’s Art Journey course starts March 5th and will be amazing. Please feel free to contact her at miraguy@gmail.com with any questions.

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Creativity, Giveaway, Picture Books, Publishing, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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25 Comments

  1. Great post! Thank you so much Julie and Mira. Patience is my downfall. But I treasure your advice on this. I never thought about joining Lawyers for the Arts or seeing an intellectual property lawyer. I appreciate this and have it in a folder tucked neatly away for the time I will need it. Hopefully soon! *waving*

  2. Words of wisdom, Mira. Thank you!

  3. Excellent post. I have to agree about the SCBWI – the best thing I’ve done since starting to write more seriously is join this society. It beats everything for support, advice, contacts, resources…I could go on!
    Also interested in the Lawyers for the Arts suggestion. I will look in to that.

  4. I am so happy I stopped by and read this. What a great guest with wonderful advice. For a beginner, this post is quite beneficial. I’m heading over to Mira’s blog and post my “P” problem. Thanks Julie and Thanks Mira!

  5. Thanks for sharing with us Mira. My biggest “P” that I struggle with is patience, but I’m working on it.

  6. Great entry…thanks for the helpful information.

  7. Fantastic post. I love with Mira says about passion… Words to live and write by, regardless of the genre.

  8. Hi Mira,
    I really enjoyed this post. I think my problem is having all of the P’s working at full force at the same time. I’d love that!
    BTW, your class looks great. Hope to take it one of these days!

  9. Thank you for this great post, Mira! Patience, while it may be a virtue, is not my strong point. But I think I have the other 3 p’s pretty well in place, so on we go!
    Happy Writing!
    Jennifer

  10. Wonderful post. The “P” I struggle with the most is patience. In particular, the revising. I want to get it right the first or second time, but have learned that revisiting is unbelievably productive. It continues to amaze me how I see things differently after I let my manuscript “simmer” a few days or weeks.

  11. I needed to read this today – thank you for your perfect timing.

  12. Thanks for sharing your 4Ps, Mira. I think writing books is like practicing yoga; they are a journey not necessarily a destination.

  13. Julie…what are you doing here…shouldn’t you be packing? 🙂 🙂
    Seriously though, this was a wonderful post…thank you, Mira. Your 4 P’s are crucial…really for every goal that we strive towards. For me, the patience is no problem. 🙂 And my husband, who knows me very well after almost 50 years, calls me the most tenacious person he has ever met…so I guess I am ok with the persistance. I’ve been passionate about picture books for over 60 years…so I guess we come down to product…and that’s why I am so grateful to Julie, Susanna and this entire PB community for their challenges which got me writing picture books again, encouragement and great posts like this one which educate, motivate and inspire. Thanks, guys. 🙂

  14. Great post, thank you for sharing Mira!

  15. Excellent post, Mira! Thank you for sharing your 4 P’s.

  16. All of the p’s are crucial. I think that creating an exceptional product is the most challenging. It’s wonderful to have an idea, but to be willing to go back and rework, rewrite, and make it the best you can–and then seek and take in other’s critiques and make it even better–requires the most commitment from a writer. To create a book that stands out from the rest is a high achievement. I agree that SCBWI is an invaluable resource, as well as blogs like Julie’s that create opportunities for writers to connect with each other. Thanks, Mira, for sharing your expertise.

  17. I appreciate the tips I need to work on all four, but probably patience the most.

  18. Wonderful, helpful, informative post! Thank you, Mira!

  19. I don’t know if I can pick my most challenging P, because each one has its day. Probably persistence is the hardest, because I’ve had some close calls, and that can be discouraging after awhile.

    Thanks for the awesome P: post.

    : )

  20. Great wisdom of the 4 P’s. I left a message on Mira’s blog. Thanks, Julie and Mira!
    ~Tina Cho

  21. Jarm Del Boccio

    I’m sure I need to work on all the “P’s” while I am formulating my picture book manuscripts…thanks for the reminder, Mira!

  22. This blog is brought to you by the letter “P” which stands for POWERFUL advice! Thank you for the insight & wisdom. I posted it on my wall by the computer for extra PUNCH! 🙂

  23. This is a great post! I liked reading about the 4 Ps. WOW 600,000 books!!!

  24. Thanks Mira and Julie. I need to write these four P’s on the wall, Mira. Or tattoo them on my fingers. But PERSISTENCE needs to be in all caps for me. I am patient. I have a passion for writing which has driven me into this adventure. And I think–at least believe–I can make the product, although I’m still learning what I didn’t know from this enlightening community of writers.
    Even though semi-retired, there’s so much to detract me from my goals, so I must keep working. I’m planning to join SCBWI and attend the regional in Houston, but just this morning was arguing in my mind with the ‘other’ things I need to do instead this and next month.
    I guess you’ve convinced me to persist. Thanks, great counsel for a new writer.

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