I’ve never publicly shared my “how I got started as a kidlit writer” story. Why? Well… If I’m honest, it’s because my story starts with a lot of dumb luck and divine intervention. In fact, I never even considered myself to be a writer, let alone a good one. Let’s start at the beginning.
How I Got Started
In 2010, I had my first child. Even from the beginning, she was a reader (yay!) and piled up stacks of board books for me to read. I quickly realized that there were few Orthodox children’s books and very none for toddlers and young children.
So somewhere between new mommy fog and a cross country move, I decided to write my own book just for my daughter. I would laminate it and lash it together for a do-it-yourself book. I dashed off a draft in 2011 or 2012, sketched a character, and set it on my desk to finish later.
After a few months, it was clear that “later” wasn’t coming. My husband suggested that I send it in to a publisher and let them figure out the illustrations.
That didn’t sound like a bad idea. I spent some time reading up on children’s book publishing on the internet, revised as best I could, and sent off a submission to Ancient Faith Publishing. They liked it, but told me it wasn’t long enough and would I consider revising. Of course!
In 2013, I got the call that they had decided to publish my board book, Goodnight Jesus.
Dumb Luck and Divine Intervention
Sounds like a fairy tale, right? It pretty much was.
I joke that either divine intervention or sheer dumb luck must have played a part in getting that book published. Most authors spend a lot of time refining their craft before they get published. In the decade I have been doing this I have never heard of someone getting published on their first-ever submission. Ever.
But you could argue that I was able to draw on some related skills. I had just left graduate school with a degree in Cognitive Psychology – a far cry from creative writing, but my area of specialty was language, neuroscience, and child development.
So I couldn’t tell you what trochaic trimeter was, but I knew a lot about how language works – the accents and rhythms that have a lot to do with poetry. And I knew a lot about how kids minds work at different ages. I was also used to revision. Revising journal articles with my advisor was a master class in revision.
How I Kept Going
Whatever led to that first book, I was hooked.
So I dove in. I read lots of kidlit books with my bookwormy children, joined the Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators, joined my local kidlit critique group, attended conferences, took classes, wrote really awful first drafts and revised them into less awful manuscripts.
In 2016, Goodnight Jesus was published 5(ish) years after I started on it and when that baby who inspired the book was now a rambunctious 6-year-old who had long ago moved on to meatier books.
Dumb luck got me that first book, but everything since has come from the hard work I put in afterwards.
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Eeeek! First printed copy of this series I wrote. There are three books and they’ve already been translated to Spanish. I was brought on by a team of educational researchers to create books based on their findings in early childhood math education. This small print run will be used to test out the materials in classrooms next year. Once the details are hammered out, they’ll be available more widely. #amwriting #kidlit #writersofinstagram #education #earlychildhoodeducation
Also, in 2016 I was approached to write The Little Elephants’ Big Adventures series of picture books. (To be published this year, pending coronavirus delays.) It was extremely challenging and technical writing. I absolutely could not have done that without the intervening years of hard work.
In 2017, I dusted another Orthodox book idea from way back in 2011. At the time I had tried to write a draft and couldn’t get more than a couple of (truly terrible) stanzas.
I started from scratch and knocked out a draft that was far better than anything I wrote in 2011. (Divine intervention aside.) I worked with my critique partners to revise it for a few months and sent it off to Ancient Faith.
August 2017, they accepted it without revision and fast-tracked it for speedy publication.
In September 2018, I Pray Today, was published.
I’ve now written six books total in The Little Elephants’ Big Adventures series, plus 3 additional picture books for their internal use.
How I Will Keep moving forward
Way back when I got started as a writer, I thought I was a bad writer because I couldn’t knock out a perfect piece. It took work for me to put together something.
Oh how naive I was.
Click through to see the full comic.
Now I know that all writers go through awful first drafts and have to revise (and revise and revise and revise) to get to something worthwhile. The silver lining is that you do grow over time. My drafts start out stronger than they were. I’m better at revising.
I doubt it will ever be easy, but I know how to settle in to do the hard work of growing and learning. And if I want to continue to be published, then that’s what it will take.