Ask Elaw: Must I Tweet? and Picture Book Authors' Particular Pain

Dear Elaw,

My friends tell me that no agent or editor will consider my manuscript unless I’m on Twitter and have a Facebook page. Is this true? I find it hard enough to make time to write every day; having to post on Twitter and Facebook feels completely daunting. And who cares that I just walked the dog, anyway?

Dear Daunted,

You don't have to Tweet, Tweet Tweet, Tweet Tweet

You don't have to Tweet, Tweet Tweet, Tweet Tweet

It’s not true (but I bet your dog is glad he got a walk). Yes, Social Media is great IF you enjoy it because it helps more people get to know you. I always advise people to do what works for them: some illustrators like Instagram, some writers are comfortable with short posts on Twitter but hate Facebook, some are comfortable creating a Facebook page about their work because they don’t have to share anything personal. 

If you have a lot of people following you on one of these platforms, publishers will consider that a positive, because it means there are already people who will be interested when you publish your book. But I PROMISE you, if your work is interesting, original, moving, talented or exciting, that’s what matters the most. The book’s the thing. Not the number of people who read your tweets.

Dear Elaw,

I had one of the best days of my life when I learned my picture book had been accepted for publication. The editor told me she had several ideas for artists and she would be in touch with a schedule for the book. I got a contract, and my check due on signing. But that was eleven months ago, and I’ve heard nothing else—not even when my book is going to come out. Is this normal, or have I been totally forgotten?

Dear Did I Make a Hat?

No. you haven’t been forgotten, and the situation is normal, still…everyone who has been there feels your pain.  Literary agent Brenda Bowen, who is also a picture book author and used to be a picture book editor, writes, “A picture book writer has very little control over when her book is published. The editor must choose an artist and send the text (and other things are competing for the editor’s time and attention, of course, so she might not get to your book right away). If the first choice artist declines, the process starts again. When the third or fourth artist -- who may ultimately prove to be the perfect one for the book -- says she wants to illustrate the book, a deal must be struck with the artist's agent, and a contract must be signed and paid. And we all know that that can take a long time. Then, the artist must put the book in her own schedule. If the aritst's deadlines slip on the book she is finishing before it, if she moves to Costa Rica, if she wins the Caldecott and she has to write a speech...your book is delayed. ...

When I queried my publishing friends for their experience in this situation, all the writers and agents, including Wendy Watson, Tracey Adams, and Sandy Asher, responded with variations on the theme of “make sure you have other projects going to help alleviate the torture of waiting.” 

You can also write a polite note to the editor from time to time asking for a progress report. This may or may not speed things up a little, but it may at least generate a reply about where they are in the process.

And remember, you haven’t picked an easy path to walk. But the rewards of writing a picture book? Years from now a parent might pick up a book to read to his child and suddenly find himself reciting from memory, “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines..."

Great neighbors! But don't ask them to illustrate.

Great neighbors! But don't ask them to illustrate.

Dear Elaw,

Why can’t I submit my neighbor’s illustrations with my manuscript?  She was an art major and her art is as good as a lot of the stuff I see out there.  

Dear Matisse’s friend,

This “don’t submit illustrations with your manuscript” rule came about because editors are experienced professionals who can envision illustrations just from reading a page of typed text—we don’t need art notes or samples of what you have in mind.   And, candidly, it’s possible that your neighbor’s art, which looks great to your eye, might not appeal to the editor at all—and you always want to put your best food forward in a submission. 

Finally, remember that publishing houses work with tremendously talented, award-winning artists, and are always on the look out for great manuscripts to pair them with.  Wouldn't you love to have Lane Smith, Dan Santat or Sophie Blackall illustrate your story?  Just as I advised the writer above, take a breath and trust the process.

 

Elizabeth Law is available for consultation on your manuscript and career and for social networking tutorials, among other services. See her website, ELawReads.com, for more information.