The Dark Side of Publishing for Children: The Why, Where, What and When

In last week’s post, The 1st Roadblock, we answered that you ARE a children’s book author once you get passed the mental roadblock of doubting your credentials and are actively engaged with your writing. No, you don’t just magically become one. You have to put in the work, but believing you are, despite an uphill struggle and outsider opinion, is the challenge. Now, I’m sure there’s some snarky person out there that will sarcastically say, Oh, because I’m amazing at sales, I’m a comedian and an officiant, which helps to make me a great public speaker… but they’re missing the point. Being a writer isn’t like being a doctor. You don’t need to complete a 4-year undergraduate degree, then 4 years of medical school, and then 3-7 more years of residency training before you’re even eligible for medical licensing. Being a writer is a more intangible profession, not dependent upon your income necessarily, and definitely not upon your education or certifications. 

With that said, we’ve answered the WHO, now let’s answer the WHY, WHERE, WHAT and the WHEN.

Everyone has their own motivations for why they are WHO they are. Or, why they want to be who they hope to become. Do you know your WHY?

Let’s say an interviewer asks, “Why should we hire you?“ Quick, don’t freeze! You’re not only selling yourself to anyone who wants to know more about you, but (perhaps more importantly) you’re selling yourself to yourself as well. There will be many times in your career where you ask, “Why am I putting up with all of this?” “Am I good enough?” “Do people even care?” Do I even care?”

Don’t panic. When that time comes, you’ll have the answer, because the answer will be your WHY.

Let’s go a tad further and get a bit more colorful. We’ve already determined that you’re an author. You’ve drawn the line in the metaphorical sand and have made your stance and chosen your side, figuratively speaking. Now, indulge me. Imagine you’re on a ship, one of those old-timey, wooden ships that pirates sailed when they scoured the high seas for loot. You’re not just any sea dog either, you’re the captain and this ship is your prize possession.

But, shiver me timbers, there’s two massive holes in your ship where a cannon ball crashed through the port and out the starboard side. Your ship’s sinking… Some of your crew has already become shark bate, but most are escaping in smaller, rickety boats towards a distant island. You have a chance to escape, too, but your “dream”, a treasure you’ve searched for since you were a wee lil’ lad, lay stashed away beneath deck. It’s a treasure of untold riches and if your ship goes down, it goes down with it. What do you do? Do you assume all is lost and abandon your ship and your treasure (aka your writing dreams), or do you do what’s necessary and face your problems?

This is where your “why” factors in. Why does it matter so much? Why is it worth risking your life? Hopefully not really to the extreme of losing your life, but you get my point. Everyone’s answer is different. You still have to ask yourself the same questions, and you have to be honest with yourself when you answer. Why do you want to be a writer? More specifically, why do you want to write for children?

Let’s go back to imagining you’re a pirate captain again. Let’s say you abandon ship and sail away with your crew to forever look back on the treasure you let sink to the bottom of the sea. Or, let’s say you chose to stay with your ship. You’re working tirelessly, running yourself ragged doing what you can with the riggings to change the course of your sinking ship. Literally. You grab hold of the helm and turn, Heave, ho! The salty sea water has nearly filled the hold, and just as the weight of it begins to slow your seemingly doomed ship to a stop, the prow scrapes across a shallow shore, saving yourself and the treasure stashed away beneath deck.

Simply put, your WHY gave you purpose and led you to do everything in your power to do what you could even if the odds weren’t in your favor.

WHERE YOU ARE

Personally, I’m over ten years into my writing journey, and I’m just beginning. Yup, you heard that right. As most authors do, I floundered around early on trying to find myself and the writer I wanted to be. Ugh. So much wasted time, but I told myself that I wanted to learn as much as I could about writing before I “officially” started… I had good intentions, but that was a big mistake.

True, my writing wasn’t up to snuff, but I missed out on valuable learning opportunities by not planting myself more firmly in the writing world. Instead of putting my work out there for people to see, I stayed on the peripheral looking in, imagining the day I would be included, but not realizing that day would never come if I didn’t insert myself. I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you to admit to yourself that you’re a children’s book writer, and I want you to figure out your “why” so that you can begin powering through the unavoidable obstacles and begin you “when” sooner rather than later.

You need to learn the ins-and-outs of writing, but you don’t need a degree to be an author. Sure, I got one. I also got a certificate in creative writing, took a bunch of online courses, poured through writing related books, watched YouTube tutorials, listened to podcast and audiobooks, went to conferences, joined writing groups, read, read, read, and wrote, wrote, wrote… Nothing wrong with any of that. BUT, I should have been actively writing in the meantime. 

I believe that at the root of it all, the true reason I am just beginning is because I was reluctant to TRULY begin. I was reluctant to make the sacrifices necessary to chase my dreams and, as a result, lost valuable time.

Don’t let that be you.  

WHAT THIS IS

Despite everything I learned prior to “making the jump” to be a dedicated children’s book author & illustrator, I still saw things going much better and quicker in my mind. I saw my readers clambering over one another to get to my books. I saw the money flowing in and me being able to donate to all the children related causes I aimed to help. I saw positivity and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns eating Skittles. It was wonderful.

Only, it didn’t happen that way. Not even close. My readers hadn’t yet been established so the lines of people waiting were nonexistent. Shame on me for thinking it’d be different. I didn’t market. I didn’t advertise. I didn’t enlist beta-readers or hire editors. I had no professional covers or any of the other numerous things I could have benefited from. Just me making books and putting them out into the world with my fingers crossed that someone would care.

Long story short, they didn’t care. They didn’t even notice.

So, this series of posts is my attempt to demystify a lot of the self-publishing for children clutter, in order to help you escape having to learn it the hard way like I did. It’s also my attempt to show you, like the title says, the dark side of publishing for children so that you don’t go in thinking it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 and smells like cupcakes, because it’s not. That’s a lie. Successfully writing for children is hard. It takes dedication and determination, and there is a crap ton of problems that will hinder you along the way, so pay attention. 

Arr! That means I’ll have to be candid about certain things, which means you’re going to get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so far as I know it. I won’t be using my kid’s gloves or my kindergarten teacher-approved voice either. This will be adult to adult. Author to author. If you’re prepared to sail these treacherous seas, then awaken ye sea legs and read on, matey. There is no time for parley.

WHEN YOU KNOW IT'S YOUR TIME

This is the simplest portion to say, but the hardest to execute. Fear is powerful. Fear of the unknown. Fear of consequences. Fear of failure…

So to put it as simple as possible, you know it’s your time when your dreams outweigh your fears; when you can stop making excuses for all the reasons why you THINK you can’t; when you can dedicate the necessary time to learning the craft and to sitting down and doing the most important part. Writing.

If you can’t, no, if you’re unwilling to make sacrifices to make your dream of being a children’s book author come true, then stop reading. I can’t help you. But if you can, I commend you, it might just be your time after all.

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