“Write about what you know,” says one writer.
“Oh, no, write only about what you don’t know,” argues another one.
“Never read anything related to the topic or the genre of the story you are writing,” says one writer. “Or you will end up writing a copycat.”
“Au contraire,” another one insists, “it will stimulate inspiration.”
“Go indie,” one writer says, swearing it’s the only way to publish now days.
“Don’t ignore the fabulous job agents can do for you,” affirms another one.
Confused? Me too.
Honestly, there are so many yes and as many no’s, so many do’s and as many don’ts for us, writers at large, that sometimes I feel like not even trying to try anymore.
For the last few months, I have taken a deep breath and have ignored almost everything about writing and selling writing, only focusing on my own stuff, new and old, plotting and revising.
It felt good to be free, away from so many rules, which too often contradict each other.
Here are three discoveries I made:
1- Writing about what you know or don’t know is as difficult.
2- Reading books similar to what you write is a good thing. The stories we end up writing are the ones we like to read. Why reading stories we don’t like? There is already so little time. And why writing stories we don’t like? It’s already hard enough. It’s like food. Eating what we hate would be a terrible useless punishment.
3- But the most important discovery? Regardless of the topic, of the way the work is published: The Reader.
Sounds obvious and yet among the writers I know – including me – it is common to forget that our focus should remain on our readers. In the race to publication – again I have been part of it – we want to please agents and editors more than the most important people at the end of the chain, again the readers.
Last week, my book and me were invited to attend a school family night/ice cream social at a book fair.
For a writer in training, a book fair is a place that stirs many feelings. It is hard to control and suppress the nasty pang of envy at the sight of so many books shelved and stacked. Ah the bestsellers! Oh the well-known authors! The beloved names that children and teens pronounce as if they were celebrities and also their best friends. Really, a book fair could be the last place to rekindle confidence.
And yet, it could also be the best place to meet – in person – the most important people for children’s literature writers.
Let’s face it: as much as most of us love bookstores, chances are that adults more than their children visit them. Parents, of course, matter a lot since they remain the money providers for many years. And they are willing to spend hard-earned dollars on a book written by a familiar or favorite author. But if you are neither one, a book fair where you welcome potential readers and – even better – readers who already have read your book, is a great place.
The only reason a book fair organized in a school is a fantastic opportunity for an unknown writer is simple: children and teens listen to their peers.
The opinion of a girl or a boy who has read your book will have much more impact than any other advertisement and promotion trick. Even more than your own presentation.
When my kids were still in elementary and middle school I ran many book fairs. I liked to enroll children and teens to talk about a book they liked. Every book they picked became an instant bestseller at the fair.
The odds to convince a boy or a girl to open your book and browse through a few chapters, are much higher at a book fair and the experience will often lead to a sale.
The added bonus: children and teens are much more tolerant than adults. They don’t care about do’s and don’ts, about landing an agent, finding a publisher, or going indie versus traditional publishing.
As long as they like your story, you are an author.
They even ask for a picture with you. How sweet is that?