7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sam Zuppardi

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Sam Zuppardi, author of THE NOWHERE BOX) 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.

GIVEAWAY: Sam is excited to give away a free copy of His book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks. Since Sam is based in the UK, he is happy to open the contest to writers there, as well as writers in Canada/US. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Casey James won.)



Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 9.49.19 AM       Sam-Zuppardi

Sam Zuppardi used to draw pictures at school when he was supposed to be
doing work. Since then he’s worked in a book warehouse, as a student, as a
nursery worker, a bookshop assistant, a toyshop assistant and a care worker.
At the moment he works with children. He still draws pictures. He is the illustrator
of the middle grade series The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe by Gordon
McAlpine. His debut picture book THE NOWHERE BOX is out this November 2013
and has been given a starred review by Kirkus. He lives in York, England.


1. Getting published and being creative are two different things. Making that distinction, between  being creative and being published, may seem a simple lesson to learn but it’s an important one, I think. Being published should not be the be-all and end-all of your creative endeavours. Better to see your journey towards getting published as a kind of game you play with your creativity rather than the marker of your creative worth. I think that even when you know that rationally there is still something very difficult to shake off about the idea that being published = creative success and validation. It’s a lesson you have to work at, but it pays dividends if you can learn it.

2. You can work easily with people just about anywhere in the world. While in the olden days you’d be heavily reliant on face-to-face contact it’s now possible, thanks to technology, to conduct business with people hundreds and hundreds of miles away. The most encouraging feedback I received when first sending out my work was from an agent halfway round the world. In spite of that huge geographical distance we have managed to forge a very effective working relationship.  When searching for agents don’t limit yourself to geographical proximity or familiarity – there’s a whole world out there and nothing to stop you exploring it.

(Hear a dozen agents explain exactly what they want to see the slush pile. See if your work is a match.)

3. Listen to feedback. You can create something and preserve it exactly as it is, without seeking or respondng to any feedback, but if you want to play the publishing game you have to allow yourself to listen to feedback and you have to accept that changes will be made. Agents and editors will often have a broader knowledge of any number of practical publishing considerations you’re not wholly aware of as you sit quietly crafting your art. You have to be willing to take that on board, so any project you submit to an agent or publisher has to be something you’re very happy with but also happy to play around with.

4. Saying ‘Yes’ along the way is good. While searching for an agent or publisher, you’re often waiting for that elusive ‘yes.’ But along the way you may find opportunities when you can be the one saying ‘yes.’ Being open to other opportunities to illlustrate for a project can get you a lot of good practice in working to deadlines, negotiating fees and contracts and generally getting used to the feel of working professionally as an illustrator. They can also be great chances to stretch your artistic muscles and to experience working collaboratively on illustration projects that involve others okaying your work and giving feedback where required, not to mention a chance to get your artwork out there, to experiment with differnet styles and to build a bit of a CV.

5. Keep drawing and writing for yourself. While you’re working on projects that involve collaboration or a need to respond to and incorporate feedback, make sure you keep some creative time or space for just doing whatever the heck you like, for making things that are ‘just yours.’ Doing that  can help diffuse any creative tension that may arise when you feel you’re having to negotiate with other agendas. Getting something published is a collaborative process involving compromise and negotiation: keep yourself some creative space where you can continue to be entirely selfish.

(Why writers who don’t have a basic website are hurting their chances of success.)

6. Patience is needed. Things in the book world move slowly. Weeks and weeks can go by while you’re waiting for a response, or feedback on a submission, and after all that there’s no guarantee it’ll be good news. It’s worth learning to get used to that. In this madly busy and instant world it’s nice to be involved in an industry that just doesn’t set its clock by modern speed, but get used to hanging around, it’s part of the process. Spend the waiting time working on new projects or drawing for yourself. And be reassured: finding an agent or editor on the same wavelength as you is worth the wait (though it doesn’t necessarily speed things up).

7. Pat yourself on the back. It’s easy to get caught up in looking ahead as you progress along your journey towards finding an agent and getting published. Every goal you achieve merely reveals a vista of further goals. So do keep one eye ahead but make sure you give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back every time you get somewhere, rather than looking immmediately ahead to the next goal. And it could be anything – a promising rejection from an agent; the next chapter of your book written; a picture printed in a local magazine; a dummy book completed; an agent signed; a publisher found; a book in the shops; anything, really. The point is, pause. Don’t go galloping off towards the next goal. Say ‘well done.’

GIVEAWAY: Sam is excited to give away a free copy of His book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks. Since Sam is based in the UK, he is happy to open the contest to writers there, as well as writers in Canada/US. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Casey James won.)



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11 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sam Zuppardi

  1. TPorch

    SZ, one thing I’d add to your excellent article is to draw AND write EVERY day (or night for you night owl types). I hate to suggest using a schedule but it can help; discipline helps keep you on track. I’d also recommend a good, healthy relationship that keeps you happy. Of course, a bad and insane relationship can also focus some very creative juices as well. My first writing is finished! Now I’ve got to do up some draft story boards and that begins manana. If it’s nice out I’ll be working at my local beach. Cheers to all, TP

  2. Casey James

    Thank you for the advice. The one the spoke to me loudest was to remember patience. This reminds me to start my days off with no news is good news! I appreciate your time and encouragement 🙂

  3. Elibet1

    Love The Nowhere Box!

    The advice on listening to feedback struck me most. I do SO protect my babies. Listening to and accepting creative feedback has always been tough for me. I tend to reply, “Yes, yes, but you just don’t understand…” Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

  4. Andi W

    Awesome advice! Although I’m nowhere near the publishing level, I appreciate and understand your comment that “publishing is a collaborative process.” That one needs to compromise and negotiate, but there also times when it’s important to be creativity selfish. Thanks so much!

  5. Debbie

    You’re so right about looking ahead. First and foremost, I write for myself. But, then, I’m ready to share what I feel is enjoyed reading. How fulfilling that would be.


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