An Unexpected Role Model
After posting my speech from the first-books panel following the FL SCBWI Annual Meeting in Miami, I was swamped with emails, posts, tweets, and letters. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and generosity. And I was also a bit overwhelmed that I had become a role model of sorts to some people. Folks wrote things like:
“Way to stick up for your writing! That’s what I want to do.”
“So glad you didn’t let anyone talk you into changing your story!”
“My critique group always puts down my work, too. I’m going to stick to my guns like you did.”
“In a consultation someone suggested I change my story and I refused to—just like you.”
“I bet that woman who criticized your work is sorry now.”
To tell you the truth, I began to worry that I might have misspoken or not communicated clearly in my speech and subsequent post. So let me clear up a few things about that speech and post (just in case).
r The woman I met at SCBWI LA who shared so many pointers about what editors were and weren’t looking for in picture books was only trying to be helpful.
r Two critique groups had critiqued my story and I had paid for two critiques with one of my mentors before taking the manuscript for critique in LA. The manuscript had gone through major revisions several times.
r The fact that I found an editor who loved my story—despite it having three main characters, adult characters, being a holiday book, etc.—was totally serendipitous (some would even say lucky).
r The editor did require more revisions before and after acquiring the book.
r I believe in knowing the market and making my work marketable.
r I believe in critiques and always want to hear what others have to say in order to make my work better.
Years ago, when I worked for a publishing company that served a particular niche market, a new editor was added to our team. Matt was gung-ho, full of ideas, and always ready to point out what he didn’t think was working or what he thought wasn’t meeting the needs of our customers. Frankly, Matt didn’t know our customers or our history. He jumped on any bandwagon that rolled by. Though I pride myself on being a creative out-of-the-box thinker, I found myself needing to reign Matt in.
One day he said to me, “Rob, I just like to color outside the lines.” I replied, “You have to know where the lines are before you can color outside them.” Matt didn’t understand what I meant. I hope you do. If we don’t know the expected, the required, the norms of something, then we can’t push up to the limits and break through to new, uncharted territory. Aimless scribbling with our crayons isn’t the same as artfully drawing beyond the prescribed lines.
As I continue in my picture book journey, I want to remember to:
r Seek out critiques.
r Listen to my peers (and those who are one or more steps ahead of me in the field).
r Never think that I know more than others.
r Value editing and revision more than writing.
r Strive to be marketable, while pushing the creative boundaries of the market.