Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Newbie Mistakes

A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I would help a new writer who was about to publish her first book. Could I answer her questions, or maybe connect her to others who might?

Everyone starts as a newbie. We were all there once.  “Of course,”I said.
Only moments later, the soon-to-be author made contact. All glowing with the radiance of first-time publication, she wanted to meet and talk. I, old fogy that I am, suggested she first email  the nature of her project and her questions to me.

Barely seconds later, a long and detailed Email came back. This writer’s enthusiasm was palpable. Her first book is coming out! Like now! She needs to market! She wants to show it to me! 
Some of her comments showed the cluelessness of a newbie. Well, maybe most of her comments. I've gotten wonderful advice in my newbie days, and continue to even now. I've given advice when friends ask, and on this blog- even when not prompted. I wanted to be helpful.

After a few hours’ thought, I sat down and composed a long Email congratulating this writer on her upcoming book. I suggested some links to places where I have learned a lot of useful things. I suggested the best chat-board in kid-lit as a good place to network, The Blue Board. I also included a link to the most informative professional organization for Children’s book writers. The  SCBWI also welcomes the yet-to-be published.

I confessed that I have no experience in self-publishing, which is the route she chose. I made a gentle suggestion that her intention to have her book be “picked up by a major publisher” is unlikely if she self-publishes it. It has happened. But, for the most part, self-publishing is a deterrent to eventual traditional publishing. I added that presenting her book as for age 0-6 would not advance her cause, as this is not, developmentally speaking, a real age category in publishing. Infants and six-year olds will not listen to the same stories. Rather, the established age categories might be toddler board books (1-3) and young picture books (3-5). [There is also an older picture book category for beginning readers, ages 5-8.]

After checking her book out, I enclosed links to similar books. Writers should know about what is on the market if they are also the marketers of their books.

All right, I spent some time, enclosed plenty of good links, and signed with very best wishes for the success of her book. I added that she may write back with any questions she has. I know I had plenty, and do to this day. We all have a lot to learn, and paying it forward is a privilege.

Which is why I posted it here. Someone may find a bit of it helpful.
The one thing I would add is that if someone bothers to think about your inquiry and respond, thank them even if you don't resonate or feel happy about their input. 
Maybe that should be Networking 101. Then pay it forward.


  1. Yes, we've all been newbies and it can be a good feeling to pass it forward by offering advice and tips to newbies once we've had a bit of experience. You have gone above and beyond, IMHO. Hope the newbie understands how much and appreciates it. :)

  2. I'm a big believer in paying it forward. On my event on Saturday, my table was across from a 17-yr-old girl who had self-published a books. She had a million questions during the five hours we spent selling books that day, and I answered every single one. Another author commended me on my patience later on, saying I was very nice to help this girl out the way I did. I see it as paying it forward. I had a lot of help when I was starting out, and I'm happy to help others.

  3. You are a classy person, all around, which I already knew! Yes, were all newbies once and I love the idea of paying forward the thoughtful advice we received as newbies in what has to be one of the most perplexing, confusing, career worlds out there. Good job!

  4. Oh, yes, we've all been newbies and there are days when I still feel like one .... but what astounds me is how many people fail to thank the person who helped them.

  5. I wish I'd had a long letter from someone like you to help me out back when I was just starting to write. Paying it forward is such a rewarding thing to do.

  6. You gave her such great advice--just hanging out at the Blueboards is an education. I had a writing teacher who mentored me when I first started writing. She answered a lot of my questions. I'm so thankful for that head start...although I'm still learning.

  7. And she picked a wise person for writing advice! I'm happy to glean from your advice as well :)

  8. Paying it forward is great for all parties involved. Kudos to you for taking the time to give her a thoughtful, comprehensive reply.

  9. I agree that it's important to help others in different stages of the writing journey -- it's been done for so many of us. :)


  10. There are so many people just rushing ahead, because self-publishing allows them to do so. I hope she took your words to heart, and I'm glad you had this chance to pay it forward. And I hope she thanks you!

  11. I hope this lucky lady appreciated your input, Mirka. I would have been incredibly thankful for that kind of advice as a new writer. I had lots of help from lots of different people, and plan to pay it forward myself one day!

  12. You are genuinely generous in sharing your thoughts, links, precious experience/analysis on picture book readership, and time with this lucky soon-to-be published author, Mirka. (I hope she finds it as useful as I do, and that her Thank-you note has arrived.) Bit by bit, I want to pay what I've received forward, too.