Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Rebecca Colby has the courage to admit on her About page that she doesn’t like writing. *gasp* But then, really, who does? As Rebecca says, it’s the “having written” part that is so enjoyable. I feel a kinship with her just because of that statement. I can also relate to the story Rebecca shares in this post, as I’m sure many of you do. Still, I’m glad this talented woman is no longer a pantyhose inspector and has joined the ranks of picture book writers. Please welcome Rebecca!
It happened last month at a conference as I introduced myself to a fellow children’s writer. Her name was Lucy and she was lovely and easy to talk to, so I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed, but as soon as I learned that she wrote big books for big kids that are thousands and thousands of words long, I felt like I had to apologize.
“I’m just a picture book writer,” I said.
And that probably would have been the end of my story if two other published picture book writers hadn’t been in earshot.
“What do you mean you’re just a picture book writer?” said one.
“Not everyone can write a picture book,” said the other.
These two writers had every right to be upset. They both had more than one published picture book under their belts. My remark demeaned and diminished their accomplishments, not to mention my own. But this is precisely the opposite of what I believed when I first started writing for children–everyone could write a picture book. I mean honestly, the books are short. They’re less than 500 words. How difficult could it be?
Little did I know when I started out exactly how difficult it would be. I began writing picture books about the time my first child was nine months old. She was devouring them—literally—and what often started as a rescue mission, turned into a reading session. Before long, I was devouring picture books alongside her, but in a different way.
“Anyone can write a picture book,” I said to myself, often followed by, “I can do better than that.”
I quickly set out to prove it. That was six and a half years ago.
What I learned along the way is that anyone can write a picture book, but not everyone can do it well—including me. But the important thing was I believed I could. I hired a local artist to illustrate my first picture book. Not surprisingly, no one wanted it. While I’d managed to keep my text to picture book length, the illustrated book was five pages too long for industry standards. My characters weren’t overly likeable either. One was stubborn and the other was bossy. Nor did they experience any growth or change over the course of the story. By the end of the book, they were still stubborn and bossy.
While both my writing and my knowledge of the picture book market began to improve, I still couldn’t write picture books well. But self-belief is a great thing. I showed my poorly written manuscripts to anyone and everyone who would look at them. Thank goodness, anyone and everyone were polite and encouraging. Even after stumbling across a statistic (that I can’t find the origin of now, so if anyone knows, please share) that stated only 1 in every 20,000 picture book manuscripts get published, I still believed in myself.
Why? Not because I have a huge ego. Or because a psychic once told me I’d write a bestseller. Or even because I don’t like to give up. It’s because my writing friends believed in me—friends I met through the SCBWI, my fabulous critique partners in Picture Bookies, and now the wonderful support group I’ve found through the 12 X 12 in 2012 challenge. Anytime my own self-
belief waned, their belief in me and my writing bolstered me up again.
I’ve come to realize that writing picture books is not easy. I’ve completed only a third of my current work-in-progress and I started it back in July. Telling a complete story in 500 words or less is no small task. Okay, so Ernst Hemingway once did it in six words, but we’re not all Hemingway. I often compare it to dieting. It’s easy to put flab on but not so easy to take it off.
So six and a half years on and I’m still not published, but I do have some picture book credits to my name. Editors no longer avoid me at parties or slam doors in my face. Occasionally, they even invite me to send them further manuscripts. This tells me I’m getting closer. But most importantly, I’ve not given up along the way. Or turned to writing for other age groups or other media forms that don’t appeal to me as much.
Writing pictures books is what I do, and I’m proud of my ability to entertain our youngest of ‘readers’. I’m also proud of my dedication and determination to get published in one of the toughest book markets. Equally I’m proud of my ability to write concisely (this post being an obvious exception), and I’m pretty gosh-darn proud of the generous and supportive picture book writingcommunity who have fueled my dedication and determination.
Do I still believe anyone can write a picture book? Sure I do. What I don’t believe is that everyone can write a picture book well. That takes time and experience and loads of perseverance. The reprimand I received last month when I introduced myself to Lucy made me realize I need to stop apologizing for being solely a picture book writer. I’m not just a picture book writer. I am a picture book writer–and a proud one at that. I hope you are too!
(With thanks to Juliet Clare Bell and Anita Loughrey for the much-needed reprimand.)
Rebecca’s picture books have won numerous prizes including the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant and the 2012 Winchester Writers’ Conference ‘Writing for Children 4-7 years’ category. Most recently, one of her picture books won the Margaret Carey Scholarship to attend the 2012 British Isles SCBWI Conference where, she’s ashamed to say, she introduced herself to other attendees as just a picture book writer. You can learn more about Rebecca at her website: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com.Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Goals, Picture Books, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 in 2012, Author, Goals, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Rebecca Colby, SCBWI, Tuesday 12 x 12, Works in Progress, Writing