Often when I finish a long work of fiction, I’ll spend some time working on short stuff, sort of like a brain cleanser while I research or cogitate on the details of the next big project. Early in my career, writing magazine stories also helped me obtain publishing credits for that I’m-the-real-deal paragraph in my query letter.
Contests are another great way to pump up that last query letter paragraph. I’ve tried many times to win the Highlights For Children contest. I’d brainstorm a list of ten ideas and write ten magazine stories, quickly. I’d work on the best ones and submit them to the contest. While I never won, I did end up with pieces I could submit to other children’s magazines. Some of those have been published.
So far, so good. But here’s where the mistake occurs:
In 2003, once again, I failed to win the Highlights contest. No biggie. I popped the piece into the mail again.
Magazine #1 said, no.
Magazine #2 said, no.
Magazine #3 said, maybe this should be a picture book?
Me: YAY!!!! I’ve written a picture book!!!! (I immediately popped it back into the mail.)
Book Editors #1-#6 said, NO!!!!
So I filed the manuscript and moved on to other things. No lesson learned. Yet.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across a book publisher looking for just the kind of story that’s been sitting in my file cabinet for the last decade. YAY!!! I rushed to the file, ready to submit my picture book.
But I hadn’t written a picture book, I’d written a magazine story. No wonder all those publishers said, no. Magazine stories have a few spot illustrations, but the description in the text provides most of the details. Picture book text leaves much more to the illustrator–and it needs a dose of magic to inspire reading over and over again. That kind magazine editor wasn’t telling me that I had a picture book manuscript, only that I had an idea that could be developed into a picture book.
The thing about me in 2003? I wasn’t fond of revision. I wanted to be published NOW, NOW, NOW!
Thus, Newbie Mistake #1.79: Not taking time to revise (always mistake #1, combined with not knowing the difference between two writing genres .7, plus rushing the process and sending stuff out too soon, .09).
I have now scrapped everything but the idea, and, wow, writing picture books is hard. Maybe that’s why I write short stuff–it makes me really excited to delve into something long again!