7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Samantha Vamos

1. If your manuscript doesn’t sell and you’ve done all the editing you believe you are capable of doing, set the manuscript aside and begin another. My first two books, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking, 2009, illustrated by Santiago Cohen) and The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge, 2011, illustrated by Rafael López) were each written years before they sold to their respective publishing houses. GIVEAWAY: Samantha is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail with the comment or else we will not be able to contact you; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Colleen won.)
Publish date:

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

(What does it mean when an agent says "This isn't right for me"?)

Samantha Vamos is the author of The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred
(Charlesbridge, 2011), a spicy tribute to nursery rhymes that was
called "a wonderful read-aloud, filled with merriment and conviviality"
in a starred review from Kirkus. It also received a starred review from
School Library Journal. Samantha attended Georgetown University Law
Center and practiced law in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Illinois.
She and her family live near Seattle. See her author website here.
Find her in Twitter, as well, and learn more about all her books here.

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1. If your manuscript doesn’t sell and you’ve done all the editing you believe you are capable of doing, set the manuscript aside and begin another. My first two books, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking, 2009, illustrated by Santiago Cohen) and The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge, 2011, illustrated by Rafael López) were each written years before they sold to their respective publishing houses. During those years, I wrote at least eight other manuscripts, some of which I edit when the mood strikes or the literary marketplace seems particularly receptive to the type of story I have written. Now, because I have a young child, I juggle writing with parenting; consequently, my schedule usually dictates setting manuscripts aside. I know that my best writing is not only a result of copious rewriting, but also a product of allowing my manuscript to sit for a while. Often removing the manuscript from the proverbial “drawer” provides fresh perspective, allowing me to improve my writing again.

2. If you’re seeking an agent, consider attending a writer’s conference that offers meetings with agents. When I was in my early twenties, I sent multiple query letters to agents and ultimately, signed with an agent. We communicated infrequently via correspondence, yet never met in person. A year passed without a sale. The agent’s interest fizzled and our relationship ended. Years later, when I finally accepted my mother’s sage advice and attended a writer’s conference, I was fortunate to secure the representation of an agency that not only sold three of my children’s picture book manuscripts, but also stood beside me for years before I sold a manuscript. While I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to meet an agent in person, I do believe it can be helpful. In my case, the agency I am represented by (Andrea Brown Literary Agency (“ABLA”)) and in particular, my agent Jen Rofé, are a great match for my personality and writing style and I believe that I was able to discern that information far more quickly having met ABLA agents in person.

(How to pitch agents at a writers' conference.)

3. Build your platform. Consider building a foundation for your work and individual style even before publication. There are benefits to this kind of advance preparation including the fact that you may attract the attention of an agent if you are sharing your writing on-line via a blog, or other postings. I’m not recommending sharing an entire manuscript, but you can provide, among many other items, excerpts of a story, reprints or links to writing published elsewhere, as well as a statement that you welcome requests for writing (from established agents and publishers). Note that editors do review websites and a great platform can be a plus when assessing whether a writer is a promising candidate for publication. Above all, if you establish a successful platform, when you do sell, your publisher and/or agent will recognize that you understand the business of promotion, having established a unique presence and foundation from which to showcase your work, attract readers, and create book buzz. Ultimately, when you do sell, if you have already done a number of things to create a base from which to promote your work, you’ll have more time to write your next manuscript, which is exactly what you’ll want to begin doing (in addition to constantly promoting your work)!

Here are just a few items I’ll suggest to build your platform: create a website; write a blog and post regularly; establish a Facebook and Twitter presence; consider other social networking sites that would benefit your writing; develop your biography for posting on your website as well as other publications; order business cards; research blogs that would be appropriate for your particular manuscript for a book blog tour post-publication; contemplate future school, conference, and library presentations as well as the text and design of brochures explaining what you will offer when doing future presentations; and finally, attend industry meetings like those offered by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (“SCBWI”) for example, where you’ll receive tips and information regarding not only the craft of writing, but also the skills and suggestions for promotion.

(The term "platform" defined -- learn how to sell more books.)

4. Once published, acquire copies of your book. Bring these copies to events such as book signings and school appearances, for example, in the event a bookseller’s copies are depleted. You don’t want to run out of copies when you have interested and eager customers, hoping to acquire autographed copies.

5. Once published, never leave home without a Sharpie, business cards and/or book postcards (that list your website!), and if possible, a copy of your book. I will never forget standing outside in a light drizzle (I live near Seattle, Washington where sunshine is a rarity) with our realtor after touring a house for sale. As we were discussing the fine points of the house, a friend of the realtor’s happened to drive by. After introductions were made including the fact that I was a children’s author (my realtor was not only good with house sales, but also public relations!), the realtor’s friend surprised me by asking if I had any copies with me that I could autograph for her daughter and a nephew. Fortunately, I had a small box of copies in my trunk. I promptly sold two copies into which I inserted my book postcard, hoping that whoever received the book might share the postcard with someone else.

6. Assess your manuscript’s competition. Prior to submitting a manuscript for review, I survey the landscape to confirm that there isn’t a book that directly competes with my manuscript. My third children’s picture book, Alphabet Trucks (forthcoming Fall 2013, Charlesbridge) is a rhyming, alphabet book about twenty-six different trucks and how they serve their communities. In the case of Alphabet Trucks, I not only reviewed books, but also wrote notes distinguishing any books that sounded even remotely similar. When I submitted my final manuscript to my agent, I provided my notes so that my agent would have the greatest confidence that she was presenting a unique manuscript to editors.

7. Know your genre; keep abreast of relevant trends and topics. I regularly read children’s picture books. Of course, with a young child, picture books are standard fare. Nevertheless, I read picture books because I enjoy them and as the primary genre in which I write, it’s important for me to know the current publishing darling(s) as well as remain informed as to what constitutes good writing.


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