I got the nicest rejection letter today. I’ve heard writers say that the sting begins to go away after so many. I think I am up to five and maybe they’re right.
No means not right now. I am still going. Send me good vibes, please.
I want an agent that believes in me, sees potential in me and isn’t afraid to support an unpopular opinion or belief. In my story, the main character learns not to be afraid of spiders. Seriously, what would happen if we responded to our fears with love and understanding instead of violence? That’s what my book is about.
The two worlds of publishing
For those of you who didn’t know, there are two different ways to publish. There is traditional publishing with major publishers (Simon & Schuster, Penguin, etc.), which is what I’m attempting to do now; and there is independent publishing aka vanity publishing aka self-publishing. Many black authors find more success self-publishing than they do in traditional publishing because of the access. You have to first find an agent, who then finds you a publisher and they have to like and believe in your story enough to make a business investment in it. They handle the costs and management of production, illustration, distribution to major chains, events and marketing. When you self-publish, you take all of this on yourself. Investment, management, day-to-day operations, events etc. This part I know from experience.
I didn’t even try to traditionally publish my first book. I listened to Zetta Elliot speak at a book fair about the disparities at publishing houses and in children’s literature altogether and I didn’t even attempt. Because I was afraid of the rejection and I just had to do it before I lost the nerve. I went straight to self-publishing walking on a bridge of faith along the way. I had no money, and no idea how much it would all cost. Because I had no capital I made a ton of mistakes with grocery money. Now that I know that route, know the cost, know the difficulty of getting my book beyond my personal network and their personal networks, I am dreaming of bigger. I want my story to touch a bigger audience, so this time I am seeking a traditional publisher.
What the publishers want vs. what the people want
In late 2020, I sat in a session put on by a literary agent. In so many words she explained: “Picture books have no more than 1000 words, don’t be too preachy, and also rhymes are usually hated by agents and publishers…”
Wayment…my first book is preachy and sing-songy but my people love it. I released it four years ago and I am still getting invitations to talk about it and why I wrote it.
So I wonder and I am still figuring out, is there a real science to this? Or is it just whatever the agents and publishers feel like doing at the time? I realize that investments in authors are based on numbers and how the book will perform but how do they know that?
In this same session, she told us to look at the top-selling books. I went to Target the next day and did this. I noticed that many of the top sellers have a little rhythm. I noticed also that many of them were about animals or dinosaurs. Hmm…what do we do about this representation issue? There’s so much good talk, not as much action behind it. I mean I don’t know what is in the works but I know at least today, it’s not my book.