I'm often asked questions on 'what to do' or 'how to be' something, and I love the challenge of answering these questions, but it's often the things we 'shouldn't' do that can have the most impact, and facilitate the most successful author journey. I've learned from many mistakes--both my own and the mistakes of others--and I continue to learn every day.
I hope this rundown on the types of author you don't want to be helps you avoid making common mistakes that may compromise your journey.
Be wary of being a foghorn. Be positive, promote your work, yes, but don't bombard, don't self-laud, don't use capital letters and exclamation points and inflated hyperbole, don't plug your work like it's a Demtel ad and never EVER describe your work as amazing. That's for other people to decide.
Kate Forsyth put it beautifully in a workshop I attended once, when she said 'if you are at a party, would you stand up on a chair and yell 'look at me! look at me! buy my work! my book is incredible! buy it now and you get this free set of steak knives!"? No? Then don't do it online, either'. It's a very fast way to lose respect and credibility.
You can ask questions. You can ask for support. You can lean on close industry friends or acquaintances, but don't become so demanding, draining and relentless that you morph into the dreaded leech. Yes, you can source information quickly and easily by asking things of people occasionally, but you also need to source things yourself and travel your own journey of learning and growth. You have to put the work in and not expect others to do it for you.
Never ever ask anyone if you can 'pick their brains' or ask them to 'check out my blog' or book or initiative or whatever, and then ask for feedback. Who would do this for you, and for what reason, unless they were a close friend or colleague who knew you and your work and would openly support you? Asking this kind of thing of people is really quite mindboggling and pretty unreasonable. Even if someone had the time and inclination to dedicate to you (more often than not a complete stranger) in such a way, why would they do it and why would you expect someone to give you their time and expertise for nothing?
If you want professional feedback, pay someone who offers it for a living. There are plenty of people who do this, in various incarnations.
If you wish to contact someone and ask them for information, support, a review, to 'pick their brains' or other favour, make sure you THANK them no matter their response. If they say yes, thank them. If they say no, thank them. It's a terrible slight and awfully petulant and unprofessional to ask someone for something and then dump them the moment you don't get what you want. Failing to respond at all let alone say 'thanks anyway' is a fast track to discrediting yourself and you'll find it ten times harder to find support in the future. Trust me when I say that person will remember you and it won't be in a positive light.
When people ask something of me, I do try to help if I can, but when I can't, easily 70 per cent or more never even respond. By contrast, those who show gratitude, even when faced with a no, are remembered in a positive light. Many of these people, I've gone on to help down the track or have even developed working relationships with. Relationships and respect are everything and it's only the foolish who don't realise this.
Do not become a drain on people's time. Be really mindful and be super efficient and organised. For example, don't ask someone to be a blog tour host and then let them do all the work. You'll be much more successful if you have everything planned and sorted and en point. Endless emailing and questions and confusion and faffing can compromise any relationship after a while. Be clear and succinct and pro.
THE ETERNAL STUDENT
Study, learning, expanding your skillset, is VITAL. But if you find yourself day-in, day-out, living the life of the eternal student, when will you ever create?
When submitting your work for competitions, never EVER contact the organisers to have a bitch and moan about your entry or feedback. Do not be passive aggressive and do not be openly hostile or threatening (this happens more than you'd believe). Take a deep breath and accept things, even if you disagree with them.
If you're intent on burning bridges and developing a bad reputation and exponentially lessening the possibility of being respected or even published, this is the way to do it. There's a saying in the industry--the bigger the moaner, the worse the writer.
Don't succumb to fear or anxiety or feeling overwhelmed or that you can't do something. Plow through and have faith in yourself. Take one small step at a time and you'll be amazed how things magically unfold at the right time. Remember the saying that if your goals aren't scaring you, they're not big enough.
When submitting manuscripts do not do any of the above (THE MOANER). Also, don't pester publishers for an outcome or feedback. They are maniacally busy and you simply cannot pester for a response. If you get no response in the allotted time, let it go and move on to the next work and sub your manuscript elsewhere. If you write a heck of a lot, you'll not only get better so all is not lost.
It's not all take, take, take. It's not all about you. There are many generous and wonderful people who are willing to give their time and energy to you--do the same for others. Karma is alive and well in this industry and what you give, is absolutely what you'll receive.
Don't be defensive about your work. If someone tells you it needs improving, hear them and then take what works for you. Opinion is so subjective--but it can also be enormously helpful. Be open-minded but always follow your own heart.
Bad writers are the first to believe their work is extraordinary or perfect, and find it intensely hard to take criticism. Good writers (most, anyway) have self-efficacy and know they could always improve. (see THE MOANER)
There's no need to defend your work. The most powerful way to defend it is with silence, even if you're writhing in agony over feedback or a review.
Whatever you do, you can't become aggressive or abusive. Never underestimate how small and tight knit the children's industry is. If you are difficult and demanding, people will very quickly learn about it. You never know who knows whom.
Everyone is at different stages on their journey. Like real life, we may not like certain colleagues or we may presume they are a certain person based only on their internet or media presence. None of these things are true to the Real Person, so don't be quick to judge or pigeon-hole. So, don't gossip or judge. Most of the time, it will get back to that person. It will.
Don't forget to stop and sharpen your axe. You will chop a lot more trees if you've taken time out to hone that blade.
This industry is based on relationships and networking. Don't be daunted by people you deem 'bigger' than you. They are just people, too, and most of them are humble and gorgeous and generous with their success. They are not 'better' than you and there is no need for obsequious behaviour (in fact, most successful authors find this very discomforting).
Get rid of that sense of entitlement. Most children's authors are charming, giving and extremely approachable but as with all industries, some do walk around like kings of their domain and some do look down on others, perhaps newcomers or self-publishers or people who are doing well. Remember, no one owes you anything. You are not 'special'. We are all in this together.
Don't expect anything. Ever. It will help with the disappointment that runs so consistently parallel with this career path.
Don't be nasty and don't ostracise or pigeon-hole. That 'up-and-coming nobody' can very quickly become someone you want to know or someone who provides opportunity for you. Heck, they might even be a good friend and you don't even know it. Be generous, welcoming and open to people from all 'levels' and groupings within the industry. And remember--you never know who knows who. (see THE GOSSIP)
Like the classic troll, the bull throws their weight around, oftentimes in person, but mostly in the virtual world. They opine at every given opportunity and are overwhelmed with the need to be all-knowing and 'right' all the time. Hammering other creators on social networking sites, boasting, correcting, patronising or proving people wrong and manipulating their words to suit their own agenda, is just horrendous behaviour and is one of the fastest ways to lose all credibility, squash existing or potential relationships, and develop a bad reputation. No one likes a troublemaker or a know-it-all.
I absolutely detest that term 'fake it till you make it'. Never fake anything. We are all on varying stages of our journey and where you are now is legitimate, and all you have learned is real and valuable. So speak (whether professionally or in conversation) on what you already know, then expand it as you go move along in your career. As you do this, always hold the idea of 'excellence' in your mind. Have your work proofread before subbing it or even before posting it online. Do an editing or grammar course. Observe trade books, websites, and authors who are successful and take careful note of how well they do things--even down to the finest details such as font use. Be current, operate with excellence and do everything you can to appear 'pro'.
Don't give up. Ever. It's not an option.
Also see How Not to Market Your Book