7 Things I’ve Learned so Far, by Julie Falatko

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Julie Falatko, author of SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK)) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

Julie Falatko writes about misunderstood characters trying to find their place in the world. She is the author of SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK), illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking, 2016); the upcoming SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR AND HIS BEST FRIEND FOREVER (PROBABLY) (Viking, 2017); THE SOCIETY OF UNDERREPRESENTED ANIMALS, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Viking, 2018); THE GREAT INDOORS, illustrated by Ruth Chan (Disney-Hyperion, 2019) and HELP WANTED: ONE ROOSTER (Viking, 2019). Julie lives in Maine with her husband, four children, and two dogs, where she maintains a Little Free Library in front of her house. You can find her online at TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Julie will be teaching a Writer’s Digest webinar on Nov. 29 entitled “How to Succeed as a Children’s Book Writer.” See the website for more details.

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1. The writing process is different every time. I should know how to write by now. But each new book requires a completely different process than previous ones. Some need outlining, some need brainstorming, some want me write meanderingly. It’s ok. They all get written, and they get written by writing them. The process is interesting in retrospect, but all that matters is that the book gets finished.

2. A regular period of insecurity is normal, and maybe even necessary. Every six weeks, I spend several days wallowing in misery, agonized by what a terrible writer I am and my utter failure. I was flummoxed by how quickly my mood could turn from one of giddy writerly happiness to horrified despair. And then I realized that I always come out of these blue periods stronger, determined to keep going, and also with a teaspoon more awareness that I’m doing okay in all this.

3. Editors and agents are ridiculously busy. They are so busy I don’t even know how to put into words how busy they are. Imagine having a dozen full-length novels that you have to read and fix, and then every week someone gives you dozens more full-length novels to read and decide if you want them or not. And that’s just one part of their job. The author’s job is to keep writing while you’re waiting for the agents and editors to read your book. Practice your waiting skills. You’ll need them. Don’t bug the agents and editors. They’re reading.

4. There’s no magical fairy dust. Being successful takes hard work.You write a lot, you fail a lot, then you fail some more. It never happens overnight. Yet people say, “You’re so lucky!” or “It’s like you’re sprinkled in pixie glitter!” You get magical fairy dust by working your fingers to the bone for years. Which isn’t very magical. But can be dusty.

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5. Kindness matters. Be nice. Celebrate the books you love. Help others when you can. Be gracious when you can’t. It never hurts to be kind to others. I suppose sometimes being mean might get you something, but mostly it gets you a reputation as a jerkface that no one wants to work with or buy books from.

6. Getting an agent changed my writing. I spent so long focused on one goal (getting an agent) that when it happened, I wondered what to do next. Before I had an agent, everything I wrote wore the mantle of “Is this it? Is this the one that gets me an agent?” I was wary of being too weird or too trite or too plotless. I wish I’d played more with writing before. I wish I’d realized that the things that you write for fun, for no particular audience except yourself, are the stories that end up being the best.

7. Real-life in-person impromptu marketing is awkward. It was almost three years between when I got my first book deal and when that book came out. That’s a lot of time to fantasize about how many books you’re going to sell, and how you’re going to do it. Could I make a float in the Memorial Day Parade? Get a giant Snappsy painted on the side of my car? At any rate, I should definitely carry my book with me everywhere I go and tell everyone about it—you never know when someone might be looking for a metafiction alligator book! Except….no. That’s actually weird and uncomfortable. Here’s what happens when you tell a random stranger about your book:

Me: I’m a children’s book author! My book comes out in 2 years!

Stranger: I wrote a children’s book too! We should team up! How much was your advance? Let me tell you about my book!

Me [nine hours later]: I have to go. My children have been waiting in the car for a long time.

In the end, I made some bookmarks, and if, on occasion, the subject of my book does come up, I give the person a bookmark, and don’t say anything more. One time—once—I gave a bookmark to a stranger out of nowhere. The lady’s kid was having a meltdown. I offered a bookmark. I still feel really bad about this. It was creepy. I don’t want to sell my book by being creepy. You don’t want people to think, “This weird lady in the supermarket told me she wrote an alligator book. I pretended to be fascinated by cheddar cheese potato chips until she went away.” You know who is really good at selling my book to strangers, though? My mom. It’s a top-notch Mom Job. My mom brought copies of my book on vacation and handed them out to people. Moms can get away with this. They look adorable and charming. You keep writing. Mom’s got this one.

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