In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about writing, and publishing, and why I feel so compelled to keep going despite so many setbacks and failures. Over the past eight years since I started writing fiction and trying to get my books published, I've discovered that the universe of children's books is vast, and it is only getting bigger. There are just SO MANY books out there! And more are published every single day!
In other words, competition is fierce. I don't mean children's books authors are competitive or mean to each other. Quite the contrary. In fact, being a writer of children's books means you are part of a wonderfully supportive and encouraging family.
With so many thousands of writers all vying to get their work in front of agents and editors, the odds of landing that dream deal with one of the Big 5 publishing houses feels a lot like winning the lottery. I have many friends who have been so lucky (and I don't think lucky is quite the right word, but who knows) and I used to think there was room for every good writer at the top, or at least somewhere in the middle.
I don't think that anymore.
Why not? Well, it's pretty simple. I've written a lot books. In eight years I've submitted six novels to well over 300 agents and editors. To date, I've had three "Yes"s. And "yes"s are good! But they represent about a 99% failure rate. And yet I've been very fortunate to have three books published with small presses, and my experiences with them has been very positive.
But let me be frank--for the majority of us, there is little money to be made in writing children's books. Unless you are fortunate enough to land a deal with one of the top traditional publishers via an agent, it is very likely going to cost you money to be an author. Sales are often dismal, royalties even more so, and promoting takes a lot of time and money. You can promote by visiting schools, but many school either can't afford to pay for author visits or are understandably only willing to pay for the big names.
The whole thing can be pretty discouraging.
Of course, now there is the whole self-publishing thing, which provides more control over the final book and greater potential for higher earnings--but the reality is self-publishing a book for middle grade readers runs into the same problems mentioned above, but on an even greater scale. Let's face it. Most kids are exposed to books through their schools Scholastic book fliers, and only a very, very minute percentage of books published end up in those, and those are usually titles written by famous authors or that have already proven themselves in the market.
MIDDLE SHELF MAGAZINE, the publication I work for, is trying to change that. We are doing our best to seek out great books for kids no matter who wrote or published them. We review books published by Random House, Holiday House, Candlewick, Tanglewood, and dozens of other large and small presses. We also include select independent titles. The goal is to help more kids discover the vast wealth of amazing books out there, books that are probably never going to end up in the Scholastic fliers or become mega-hits, but are really worth reading.
As a writer, this gives me hope, for myself and for my fellow writers. The whole point in writing a book is for people to read it, right? And how will anyone be able to read it if they never hear about it? Promotion and marketing are key. Promoting books to kids is always a challenge. They are dependent upon the adults in their lives to put those books in their hands--teachers, librarians, parents--it is our responsibility and privilege to introduce our kids to a variety of books to read, which means we need to know what's out there, what books are being published, and which ones will appeal to our kids.
Of course there the usual resources such as Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, and School Library Journal, but these cost money. Fortunately, there are several really great FREE resources for adults and kids to find new books. These are also great venues for authors of kids books to advertise and promote their books as well.
1. MIDDLE SHELF MAGAZINE
2. CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEWS
This incredible resource posts daily reviews and spotlights of books for children of all ages. They have an extensive list of recommended books, plus author interviews and regular giveaways.
3. MIDDLE GRADE MANIA
Middle Grade Mania is an online directory of blogs that regularly post about books for middle grade readers (ages 8 - 14). Well over 200 blogs are listed with links to each, and these blogs post book reviews, author interviews, excerpts and giveaways. The list is updated every few months, and samples from participating blogs are posted frequently.
4. THE CYBILS