Monday, April 09, 2007

Getting Noticed in the Slush Pile

As an English Major who made sure to take a creative writing course every semester, I'm familiar with the terror of the blank page and try my best to bring to my work as a children's book editor sympathy and respect for those who trade in words.

Those many writing classes I took in college taught me firsthand that writers, especially unpublished ones, do not get a lot of encouragement. They are told that publishing is one of the most competitive industries around, that editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a day, and that you are more likely to be attacked by a grizzly bear than to publish a book. It’s a little offputting.

What I have found, working on the other side of the publishing business, is that things aren’t all that grim for those with talent and those who take their craft seriously. Good, careful writing and imaginative stories are not flooding publishers' mailrooms. It’s HARD to write and though at times it may feel like one cannot throw a rock through a Starbucks without hitting a novelist, as many people have a talent for writing as have a talent for painting a landscape or playing the piano---which is to say, not THAT many people can actually do it. What makes writing different is that everyone uses words everyday while, on the other hand, few people know how to wield paintbrushes or tame musical instruments. That means that many of the submissions my publisher receives were sent in by someone who saw their nephew making friends with a cat and dashed off the story in fifteen minutes. So, even though Tricycle may receive between twenty to thirty manuscripts a day, when reading day comes around, we editors may have to go through five or six HUNDRED manuscripts before coming across one writer who genuinely has a gift with words, and who has spent time honing their craft and their voice.

With children’s writing, however, it’s not simply a matter of knowing how to string words together. As an editor I also look for another talent that’s just as rare: that of understanding the child’s point of view. Between childhood and adulthood most of us pass through a veil of forgetfulness---as adults we often look on children as short aliens. They talk differently than we do, they value things differently than we do, they have weird fears and phobias, dislike foods for no good reason, and can spend hours entertaining themselves with a stick and a sandbox. It’s not often that an adult can access a child’s sensibility. When I see a writer capable of this, I, as an editor, sit up and take notice. Combine this ability with good writing and the author will most assuredly stand out from the hundreds of manuscripts in the unsolicited manuscript pile.


gail said...

Thanks for all the advice! Who did the elephant illo? I love it!


Melissa said...

This is some of the most sensible advice I've heard in a long time! I'm glad you're looking out for writer's interests. I find your site extremely useful.