I am about to publish a book, one that has been in the making for a long, long time. The original idea for it was sparked on the floor of my kindergarten classroom at East Park School in Fairmont, WV and first penned with a friend and colleague around 1980, over 40 years ago! Much has changed in my life and in the publishing industry in that time period. Luckily the topic, the alphabet, hasn’t changed in all those years. There is comfort in knowing that some things will never change. (I hesitate to use the word never here.)
I have accepted that one of my life’s lessons is learning patience enough to live in the moment. And in the publishing process, nothing could be more valuable than patience. Patience enough to wait for the creative juices to flow and the ability to recognize them when they come. At a writing workshop I once learned that creativity ebbs and flows. Sometimes your cup is full and sometimes it is empty. Respond when creativity strikes and refrain from forcing it when it is absent. Patience.
Navigating the publishing industry is beyond formidable for a creative soul. It takes patience for artists, who often suffer from little business savvy, to persist to get a book published. It’s insulting to hear that your book has an interesting concept, but has too many words and is therefore not marketable. It’s insulting to hear that you need to rewrite your story without the essence you intended. It’s insulting to be told that your text will be illustrated by an artist of the publisher’s choice. It’s insulting to be held at arm’s length of the industry with only vague and sparse information about the process. Some deep breathing, laced with patience, is required to give you the space needed to reflect on your creation and its future.
Every time I thought that the manuscript was perfect and mustered the courage (or audacity) to submit it to someone, I received valuable feedback, but it took time and patience to absorb the true value of the critique. That the text needed to be shorter and simplified, which I heard many times from many sources, finally sunk in.
I worked, not so patiently, paring it down from 26,000 words to 15,600 words and shopped it around for feedback. The concept was praised, but it was still too long and complicated! The average children’s picture book is under 1,000 words I was told. One writer friend commented that it reminded her of Shel Silverstein, a most amazing poet, and that comment struck a chord with me. Writing it in verse would definitely shorten it, and it did to 8,966 words and with less blood, sweat, and fewer tears than the previous rewrites. Still too long, leaving no room on the page for illustrations, which I knew it needed to help tell the story. Patience was waning. Lethargy was setting in. My co-author had lost interest in pursuing the project. I officially gave it up and moved on to other things, where in conversation after conversation, the book seemed to come up. It would not go away.
I pulled it up and again pared it down to 1,914 words, which flowed like it was channeled. Finally, I got rave responses and decided it was time to seek an illustrator and publish. Turning the baby over to a big publishing house and giving up the rights to collaborate on the illustrations was not an option at that point, even if a publisher had wanted it. (I didn’t try.) It was still over the average word limit for a children’s picture book, their first criteria, so I decided to be the publisher, and dictate the process. Patience had given me power! My story that would not die had to have almost 2,000 words to maintain its essence.
Being patient all those years had allowed me the time to learn how to do it and rekindle the enthusiasm and audacity felt at its inception. But, the process remains slow and intense. I have been working diligently with my illustrator since May, have set up a business, applied for all the identifying numbers, and reached an agreement with a local hybrid publisher to release said book on December 1, 2017, the year of my 70th birthday.
However, the wait to hold it in my hands feels so long. Patience for that moment.