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Retracing the Steps: What This Rookie Did
by Bryan W. Fields

I recently sold my first work, a children’s novel, to the only publisher I contacted. When I marveled at the serendipity of it all, a writer friend reminded me that I had taken "all of the right steps." While I won’t discount beginner’s luck completely, I believe an analysis of the steps I took will shed some light on how a novice like me landed a decent first book contract.

I joined a writers’ critique group.

Being required to have something to share every week forced me to stick to a writing schedule. The comments from other writers, both positive and negative, provided the instruction and motivation I needed to keep going.

I found a mentor.

Our group’s "den mother," veteran children’s author and five-time Newberry nominee Berniece Rabe, was best suited to guide me. While everyone’s comments were helpful, I took hers as gospel.

I entered a writing contest.

The first sample chapters of my novel won third place in its category, which convinced me I was headed in the right direction.

I attended a writers’ conference.

The Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. sponsors one of the finest conferences in the Midwest. Through various seminars and workshops, as well as informal chats, I got to schmooze with an enormous number of writers, many of them very successful. I took several pages of notes that I immediately applied to my writing.

I thoroughly researched my first prospect.

Berniece gave me the name of an editor whom she felt would be a good fit for my book. Rather than fire off the manuscript right away, I went to the web and "Googled" the editor. I found several interviews and a short biography, as well as references to books she had edited. I had a good idea of what she was looking for, as well as some hints about her personality.

I spent a lot of time on the cover letter.

Using everything I had learned, I wrote a one-page cover letter with lots of "white space." I invoked my mentor’s name, mentioned my contest award, and gave a VERY BRIEF synopsis of the story, more of a "back-cover blurb" than a synopsis.

When the manuscript came back some weeks later, I expected a form rejection. Instead I found a two-page letter of encouragement, suggesting revisions and inviting me to submit it again. The next step was definitely a no-brainer:

I took the editor’s advice immediately!

Who was I to argue with an editor at a major publisher? I went right to work revising my story, following her advice nearly 100%. I spent a month on the revisions and re-submitted the manuscript. Eight weeks later came the phone call of my dreams!

I’m not suggesting that everyone will duplicate my experience exactly, but I’m convinced that taking constructive steps such as these will increase the chance of acceptance significantly. I will definitely follow the same steps with my next book!

© Copyright 2005, Bryan W. Fields

Bryan W. Fields is the author of Lunchbox and the Aliens (2006 Henry Holt and Co,), the story of a basset hound abducted by a pair of clueless aliens. The sequel, Froonga Planet, is scheduled for release in September of 2008. He is currently working on a third book in the series. Visit his website at www.bryanwfields.com.

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