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: , , , , , , , , ,

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49 Comments

  1. thanks for helping me remember that this IS hard work…. and most of the work never shows up on the page.

  2. Thanks for your post, Rebecca. Close- Closer- Closest, so there!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Melanie Ellsworth

    Thanks – I appreciate your honesty and your story of persistence. It gives me hope!

    • Cheers, Melanie! I do believe the quote that goes ‘The only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is the unpublished writer gave up too soon.’ Keep the faith and keep writing!

  4. Rebecca, your post left me with a big happy sigh if being amongst those who understand. And, dang, congratulations on all those PICTURE BOOK prizes!

  5. Yes, indeed. You are dedicated and determined…and honest, too! Thanks for sharing your story, Rebecca. It will keep me going!

  6. Rebecca, so appreciate the honesty & admire the persistence. Sounds like you are edging ever closer to your goal – here’s to lucky 2013!

    • Here’s to a lucky 2013 for all 12 x 12ers! I’m thoroughly expecting Julie to receive loads of good news from participants this coming year! Cheers, Patricia.

  7. I’d say good luck in 2013, but I honestly don’t believe you’ll need it. Or want it. Your post just reinforces the notion that it isn’t all luck. Hard work plays a big role in success, and you’re doing that in spades.

  8. Rebecca, you’re so right!
    I often think of my passion for writing as shoelaces…stumbles, sticks, feisty pets, and just plain walking often loosen the knot, which requires a lot of re-tying. But persistence keeps my shoes on.

    (Hmmm….that really sounds like rambling…I need more coffee.)

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. I have to say, without a doubt, that Rebecca Colby writes picture books brilliantly. I am in Rebecca’s critique group, the Picture Bookies, so I get to read her manuscripts. I look forward to every manuscript she gives us to critique. They are awesome. She has such a great imagination. She is creative. Her characters are all kinds of fun. It is just a matter of time before we will be buying her books from the book stores. Go Rebecca!

    • Double yay! Another Picture Bookie! But stop making up stories, Penny. This is supposed to be factual. (Thank you so much to you, Mona and the gang for all the support. I won the critique buddies’ jackpot when Picture Bookies formed!)

  10. What a great post, Rebecca. I really enjoyed reading it. It is a journey. A tough one. But I can only imagine what it feels like to hold that book I wrote and smell the pages. This journey is worth the work. *waves*

  11. Worth the work and worth the wait! I agree! I remember attending my first SCBWI conference when the presenter said it would take most of us in the room about 10 years to get published. Oh, how I laughed—then. Now I’ve settled in for the long haul. All the best on your journey, Robyn!

  12. Thank you for your candor and your example of persistence, Rebecca! And congratulations on all those prizes! Obviously it won’t be long now before we see your books on bookstore shelves! Thanks for the encouragement to keep on keeping on!

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Beth! I’ve been on the receiving end of so much encouragement from my writing friends in 12 x 12 and in the kidlit community in general. Glad to be able to give some back.

  13. Taking flab off is the WORST! Literally and figuratively! So true!

    • If only our writing buddies could wave their magic red pens and make the weight come off our bodies as well as our manuscripts! Alas! I blame the sedentary act of writing for helping me pile on some of my extra flab. 🙂

  14. Great post, have to share this! I too look forward to reading your books in the very near future!

  15. Lovely post! It sounds like you are a whisker away from publication. Best wishes!

  16. Rebecca – I loved your post! When I first started this journey, I underestimated how difficult writing picture books could be too!

  17. Thank you, Rebecca. It’s probably just as well that we underestimated how difficult it would be. Btw, nice to hear from another expat.

  18. Hi Rebecca- It’s good to see you here! I agree with the others — it’s just a matter of time before your manuscripts are winning not just prizes but contracts, and we are all buying your books in the shops. Thanks for the reminder that picture books are important, relevant, and hard work!

  19. Another awesome crit buddy–this one from the Poets’ Garage. Thank you, Carrie! I’m embarking on a research project at the moment and, all going well, I hope to investigate the relevance of picture books in teaching writing to older children.

  20. Thanks,Rebecca. And for everyone else, Rebecca is one of the reasons I LOVE SCBWI! We sat next to each other at a dinner four or five years ago and got talking about our picture book manuscripts. When she showed me hers, I fell in love immediately. Rebecca’s only put up some of her prizes/competitions -she wins loads (including ones with published authors too, including me). We’ve been critique buddies both in and out of critique groups since we met and everything I ever write is better for Rebecca’s input. I can’t wait to hold a book of Rebecca’s in my hands. PS When I reprimanded Rebecca at the SCBWI conference recently for describing herself as ‘just’ writing picture books, I wasn’t upset on my part -that didn’t even register (you’ve got to be very thick skinned in this industry) -but for her as I know she’s not ‘just’ *anything*. Thanks again -for everything!

  21. This was lovely to read Rebecca and I agree with Carrie, you’ll be winning contracts, not just prizes, very soon. Good luck for 2013, looking forward to hearing and reading of your success!

  22. Thank you, Clare!–another Picture Bookie who has been my crit buddy since well before Picture Bookies started. I’m so glad we met four years ago at that conference. That goes both ways–I fell in love with your work immediately as well. And I’m glad to hear you weren’t upset or offended at all for yourself by what I said. Thank you for everything!

  23. Oops, replied in the wrong place! Thank you too, Diane! I so enjoyed reading your story last week on Tuesday 12 X 12 and wish you much success for 2013!

  24. This was very encouraging! I hope you get published soon! 🙂

  25. Rebecca I so agree that picture books are hard. In fact after years of failure I finally gave up and decided to try my luck at novels. It was somehow easier. Good luck … It’s clear to me that it’s only a matter of time before someone discovers you!

  26. Nice to see you here, Candy. You write novels beautifully! It was obviously meant to be for you to write novels. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  27. What a beautiful post. Thank you. I am still in the uphill portion of my learning curve in writing Picture Books. But it is my passion and I will keep forging ahead. Forever! Thanks for sharing your personal journey.

  28. That’s the attitude! I see you’re also an artist. Absolutely beautiful work at your website! All the best with your own personal journey, Wendy.

  29. Rebecca, I’m super-duper late to this post, but wanted to say…yay for you! For sticking with it, for putting yourself out there, and for reaping the rewards for your efforts. I’m impressed!

  30. Thanks, Renee! Later messages are often the nicest–not least because they are unexpected surprises as this was. Nice to see you here and Happy New Year!

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