Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Most children’s book writers fail… here’s why you don’t have to.

It’s easy to see why so many authors fail:  the market is flooded like no time before in history.  What will keep you afloat above the deluge? 

It’s not enough to just write something that’s never been written before… you have to make your book extraordinary.  But even that’s not enough. 

The secret?  Quit showing your book to family and friends.

Ditch the cheering squad and your odds of success will shoot through the roof.

That’s it. 

That is the difference between you and 90% of the failed kids’-book writers out there.

Are you fooling yourself into failure? 

You are if you’re…

  • The writer who says, “everybody I tell the title to smiles.” (a weird title doth not a Great Book make)
  • The writer who says, “the kids in my Sunday-school class clapped at the end!” (they may enjoy your reading, or just be glad class was over)
  • The writer who says, “my family loves the little rhymes I come up with!” (your rhymes are probably very cute & personal… but family isn’t who will buy your book)
  • The writer who says, “my kids and I wrote and illustrated this together!” (sweet for anyone who knows you; nearly worthless in the marketplace)
  • The writer who says, “my brother cried when he read my book about our mother.” (your family is too close to your personal stories to know how well they stand up in the retelling)

I know this sounds harsh.  Maybe one of these really hit home and you want to slap me a little.  Bear with me; read on a bit.

Get rid of the “yes men”

(c) Evil Erin, courtesy WikimediaFamily and friends can be your biggest supporters.  And who doesn’t need support?  Of course you do, but at some point, you need to grow up, get the “yes men” out of your life and find yourself some serious criticism.

Some other categories of well-meaning folks to avoid:

  • Other writers who are just trying to be nice. 
  • Coworkers, clients, or anyone who offers to “take a look at your book” without offering something concrete in return.
  • People who are selling writing-related services (illustrators, publishers).
  • People who offer to review your book in return for a review of THEIR book.

OMG, this last one... okay, if you have already published a great book, by all means, enlist reviewers.  But en route, this is not the place to go for honest criticism.

And honest criticism is what YOU need.

Me, too!  I need honest criticism.  We ALL need honest criticism.  And we all need to get those dishonest (but well-meaning) critics out of our lives for the relatively brief interim between writing and publication.

Instead, start showing your book to people who will be honest.

Are these readers lying about your book?

I hear a million variations on this:  “my kids love it,” “my writers’ group thought it was terrific.”  And yeah, I’m guilty of this myself.  It feels good, good, GOOD to get that validation and approval from people you know and love.

But let’s be honest:  those people aren’t reacting to the book on its own merits.  They’re responding, at least in part, to you and any relationship they have with you. 

It’s not that they’re necessarily being dishonest (though they might be, in order to keep peace that relationship!).  It’s just that their perception of the book is strongly coloured by what they know of you.

You’ve got to aim higher, aim for readers who don’t know you and (sorry to be harsh) don’t care about you or your life or the story behind your book.  You’ve got to aim for readers who are going to love your book, period.

And if they don’t, you’ve got to fix your book.

That is a painful, painful process.

imageTo craft the perfect sentence and have a reader or proofer or editor email you to say, “what exactly are you trying to do here?  I don’t get it.”  Ouch!  I have been there and done that, too many times to count.

More than one is best.  When you have two or three people tell you something similar about something you’ve written… it’s probably true.  You need to fix your book, or even (maybe, for now) scrap your book.

Giving up – or making it perfect?

But think about it.  Putting your book aside after negative criticism isn’t the giving up that leads to failure… it’s the “setting on a back burner” that can ultimately lead to success.  Pick up a new project instead.  Continue creating, and let ideas for the “failure” simmer and steep until they’re ready. 

Remember, Nora Ephron almost gave up on When Harry Met Sally… but she didn’t stop writing, and I, for one, am glad she came back to it and made it great.

If publishing is all about ego, or about getting your story out into the world, or about “beating the odds,” then go ahead and ignore what I’m telling you.  Ignore your honest critics and self-publish anyway.

You may still succeed!  But probably, you’ll drown in the deluge.  Nice knowing you!!!

As harsh as those honest critiques may feel at the time, they are your life-vest, guiding you and your book into much, much safer waters.

Find good critics and listen to them; make your book perfect.  You will stand out from the crowd of hasty, ill-conceived, single-topic, vanity-project books.  All of which were undoubtedly approved by friends and family… and none of which is worth buying, reading, or passing down to the next generation.

That’s the book you want to write.  Find someone who can help you get there.

And when you do succeed?  That’s when you hand your friends and family your book, triumphantly.  That’s when they look at it, and tell you honestly how great it is that you’ve followed your dreams.

Who’s given you great writing advice, even if – at the time – you didn’t want to hear it?


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