Nobody understands the power of words better than an author.
With so many books published each year, it can be difficult to make a living as a writer. However, three local authors are not only making it, they have had success. The Deseret Morning News profiled three authors in various stages in the process: Kristyn Crow, Mette Ivie Harrison and Shannon Hale. Here are their accounts of what it took to become published children's writers, plus advice they offer potential writers.
Success comes slowly
Kristyn Crow would say that becoming a published children's writer takes a lot of patience and waiting.
Although the Layton resident has now sold three picture book manuscripts to major publishing companies, it will be a year before she sees the fruits of her labor. "Cool Daddy Rat" is scheduled for release in April 2008, "Bedtime at the Swamp" comes out in the summer of 2008 and "Middle Child Blues" will be released in fall 2009. Even with success on the horizon, waiting is difficult.
"I've been waiting for the opportunity for so long to see books on the shelves that were mine that now that I've sold them and they're supposedly coming out, I battle these fears that at the last minute they're not going to come out, that some catastrophe is going to happen," she said. "I'm so close to the final moment I've been waiting for."
Crow said the writing bug bit her at a young age, and she has been producing stories ever since. She first wrote "Cool Daddy Rat" 10 years ago but didn't know how to go about getting it published. She decided if she was serious about becoming a writer, she needed to take classes on children's writing and attend the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop at BYU. It was at the conference that things finally started happening for Crow.
She met Rick Walton, a local children's book author who often mentors beginning children's writers. Walton set up an interview for Crow with an agent from New York attending the conference, but that agent didn't like her story.
"I was just devastated," she said. "Here I had my big chance with an agent (and it didn't go well)."
Crow went back to Walton, who referred her to his agent, suggesting she send four of her best stories. It wasn't until three months later that the agent called Crow to say she wanted to represent her.
A year passed without a single phone call or e-mail from the agent. Out of the blue the agent called one day to say she sold "Cool Daddy Rat" to Putnam Publishers.
"I jumped up and down and screamed," Crow said. "My kids were wondering what was going on. We all went out to dinner to celebrate."
The advice Crow offers to potential writers is to decide how serious they are in their quest to become a published author and to educate themselves on what it takes.
"I think a lot of writers have the misconception that writing for children is easy, that you can write a story in a matter of minutes, send it off and get it published," she said. "If they really knew how hard it is, the amount of rejections, criticism and the sheer amount of time you have to spend waiting, (they wouldn't take it so lightly)."
It's also important to examine what makes a good picture book. Taking classes is helpful.
"When you're missing that step and just try to write a story and send it in somewhere, you're greatly decreasing your chances of getting published," she said. "You're missing that foundation."
Even when one follows those steps, the process still involves a lot of waiting.
"It's constant waiting," Crow said. "It's not for the impatient."
Writing more precious than...
As a triathlete constantly in training and full-time mother of five kids ranging in age from 5 to 13, finding time to write is difficult for Mette Ivie Harrison.
However, Harrison, a Layton resident, is up for the challenge. Her third novel, "The Princess and the Hound," was released the first week in May, and her previous books "The Monster in Me" and "Mira, Mirror" have already been published.
"I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in kindergarten," she said. "I was afraid of that dream, and my parents were not super supportive of me being a writer."
It took years for Harrison to finally decide she wanted to live her dream. At that point she had a Ph.D. in German and had been teaching at BYU for four years. She also had three children under the age of 5.
Harrison followed rigid rituals to get her daily writing time while still being a full-time mom.
She woke all of her children in the morning to make certain they all napped at the same time. Sometimes she would wake up at 5 a.m. and write for a couple hours before she woke them up. She got to the point that she could write the first draft of an entire novel in a month, but it still took months, sometimes even years, to prepare the manuscript so it was suitable to submit to a publisher.
"After about five years of writing things that didn't sell, I sent a query letter and three chapters of my book off to no-name editors that I found in 'Writer's Market,"' Harrison said, noting this practice is discouraged because it's better for writers to work through an agent.
One of the editors sent a letter back three months later saying she wanted to see the entire manuscript, and two months after that, she made an offer. "The Monster in Me" was published through Holiday House.
Harrison sold "Mira, Mirror" after connecting with an editor at BYU's Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop. She now has an agent who helps her decide which of her project ideas she should work on and what content is appropriate for her target audience.
Finding writing time is a little simpler for Harrison this year because her youngest child is in kindergarten, so she can write for six to eight hours a day while her children are gone. She's discovered that her writing time often means she has to sacrifice other things, such as grocery shopping, cleaning her house and watching TV.
"You have to decide what you're going to give up to get your writing done," she said. "Everybody has the same 24 hours a day. You decide what you're going to (sacrifice) — whether it's sleep, doing your makeup, fixing your hair or shopping."
Harrison says many people get the idea that the life of a writer is easy when it's anything but.
"It takes an enormous amount of discipline when you don't leave the house to go down and put in the time," she said. "I love being a writer, but it's not easy because it takes a lot of self-discipline."
Persistence pays off
Getting published takes persistence, hard work and a certain amount of luck says Shannon Hale.
Hale, who lives in South Jordan, is the author of "Goose Girl" and "Princess Academy," which won a Newbery Honor award last year. Her newest novel, "Austenland," came out in May, and she has another book scheduled to be released in September. Although Hale is now considered an established author, success has come slowly and only with great persistence.
"A lot of publishing is just plain luck, but I really do believe if you stick with it, eventually every good book will find a home," she said.
"Goose Girl" began as a challenge with a friend to write a book over the summer during grad school. However, the 80 pages Hale produced at that time were so horrible that she had to toss them, she said. After she graduated, she started again, rewriting the story some 30 times before she was satisfied with the finished product.
The next hurdle was to find an agent to represent her.
"Most agents already have so many clients that they don't want any more," she said, noting they may receive up to 100 manuscripts a week. "Agents don't get paid until an author gets paid, so they take a real risk.... They really have to believe a book will sell to take it at all."
Through an acquaintance of Hale's living in New York, she found an agent who looked at her book — and liked it. Even with the agent's help "Goose Girl" was rejected nine times before it finally found a publisher. And the news couldn't have come at a better time.
Hale had been laid off from her job, and her husband, Dean, was going to be laid off two months later. She was at home doing yoga when her agent called to tell her that an editor at Bloomsbury had made an offer. It wasn't until two weeks later that Hale knew for sure her book would be published.
"It was seriously high anxiety. My stomach was constantly rolling in case it didn't really happen and then it finally did," she said. "There's nothing that can really happen that can equal the joy and excitement of getting your first book published."
Hale is now considered a house author since all of her books have been published with Bloomsbury. In total she has 11 books that have either been or are scheduled to be released or are under contract.
"(Bloomsbury) can go more into marketing and publicity of my books because they know I will be with them for a long time," she said. "It's in their best interest to help me develop my career as a writer, and I feel so blessed to have fallen into that with my first book."
The difficulty for Hale now is finding time to write. As a full-time mother with two children, Max, 3, and Maggie, 5 months, she does her best to write each day. Sometimes it takes writing before her children are awake or waiting until they go to bed, but she sets daily goals.
"It's hard because writing is not an easy task. Sometimes it's even tortuous," she said. "With two kids it's trickier ... but it's going to be OK because I like being a mom."
Hale's advice to anyone on the road to publishing a book is to read, set aside daily writing time and become familiar with the publishing industry.
"I think the key is to love to read. I've met writers who want to write but don't want to read, and you shoot yourself in the foot," she said. "Have some sort of writing goal.... It has to be a steady routine."