As Big Ben struck midnight to mark the start of 2020, I had an extra reason to celebrate – my debut authored picture book, Superheroes Don’t Get Scared, is being published this year!
To have one of my picture books out in the world being read by real people is something I have dreamed of since I was a child. However, if I’m honest, I never thought it would actually happen. In fact, just over a year ago after endless rejections and with no idea of how to improve my writing, I was on the verge of giving up on my dream entirely. So, what changed?
1. Writing Magazine Picture Book Prize
In September 2018, I entered a picture book manuscript, Samuel Sebastian Smith – The Socked Super Sleuth, into the Writing Magazine Picture Book Prize. I had no expectations of achieving anything and promptly forgot all about it. So, imagine my surprise when my story was awarded 2nd place! This achievement gave me a huge confidence boost, and with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to spend 2019 improving my writing.
Make the most of any competition opportunities. Even if you don’t win, they provide you with additional focus to really make your manuscript shine.
2. Writing Magazine Writing for Children Course
In February 2019 I started Writing Magazine’s Writing for Children Course under the tuition of Amy Sparkes. The course helped me create a regular writing routine and fine-tune my writing techniques, including finally mastering scansion in rhyming stories (yay!). Additionally, the regular critiques of my work, helped me to get used to receiving criticism, absorbing it and acting upon it, without having a writer tantrum! This has been invaluable when subsequently working with my editor.
If you are an aspiring children’s writer, consider undertaking a writing course of some kind. There are lots of options out there to choose from!
3. Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
I invested in a SCBWI membership. Through SCBWI I attended the London Picture Book Day and the annual SCBWI Conference. I have also joined a SCBWI e-critique group, and joined my local SCBWI social group. In a few weeks I’m attending a SCBWI Debut Author Boot Camp, to help me make the most of my debut year.
I recommend joining SCBWI if you can afford to. It has provided me with a vital connection to the rest of the industry. I’ve also been told that SCBWI membership is something that publishers and agents like to see!
4. Twitter/Social Media
I took the plunge and created an author account on Twitter. The Twitter writing community has been a fantastic daily source of comradery and writing advice. I’ve made online connections with fellow authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians and book reviewers, which I’m sure will prove useful in my debut year and beyond.
Joining Twitter or some form of social media as an aspiring author allows you to make connections and establish a social media presence, which will place you in a strong position for promoting your books when they are published! Some smaller publishers ask about your social media activity when considering submissions, because they want to see that you will be able to promote your book.
5. Being in the right place at the right time
Having done all of the above, I then got lucky. In May 2019, it was announced on Twitter that Trigger Publishing was creating a new children’s imprint, Upside Down Books, to publish books with a focus on mental health, wellness, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness for children. I had just written a picture book, Superheroes Don’t Get Scared, that was all about fear and bravery. It was a spine-tingling moment. I felt sure that Upside Down was the perfect place for my book. I just had to hope that they felt the same.
Then in July 2019 I received the email that I thought I’d never receive - Upside Down wanted to publish my book in September 2020! What happened next is for a future blog post!
Superheroes Don’t Get Scared was rejected (albeit nicely) by a number of agents and other publishers. So, if you are an aspiring author with a polished manuscript that you love, keep researching publishers and agents and submitting your work. What’s not quite right for one editor/agent, may be perfect for the next one!