After discovering we were pregnant with our first child 15 years ago, my husband Rob and I rushed out to the bookstore (remember those?) and picked up a stack of books on raising children. We were so excited to read them and learn everything we could about this business of having a child. We had books on childbirth, potty-training and everything in-between. But what they didn’t tell us to expect was the sheer panic that would ensue as we turned the pages. As far as I was concerned, they could have scrapped all of their pithy titles and compiled them all into one book called, 379 Ways to Accidentally Injure/Stunt/Emotionally Scar Your Child for Life. We would read one chapter on the benefits of co-sleeping, only to read the opposite research in another book. We were trying to educate ourselves, but instead, we read ourselves into a state of confusion. And that confusion intensified once our son actually appeared on the scene. We tried 17 different “proven” methods of getting that baby to go to sleep. None of them worked, which led us to believe that either A) We had the world’s most stubborn baby or B) We were the world’s worst parents. We would go back to the things we had read. ”But the book said…” In our confusion about why the baby wasn’t doing what the book said, we became paralyzed. We couldn’t make decisions! Does sticking with “crying it out” make us strong parents or cruel ones?
Things calmed down once our daughter Lucy showed up. We were a little more seasoned. We depended a little less on information in books and a little more on our life experience. My wise mother kept reminding us, “The baby hasn’t read the book!” And we finally heard her. We recognized cues in our little one and were more confident in our responses. We developed our own philosophies of parenting, and became more calm and consistent (most of the time). We took the information that was helpful to us and used it, but chucked the rest out the window. We came to realize that more information is not always better. Let me say that again. More information is not always better, because information overload can lead to confusion. And confusion leads to an inability to act or make decisions. And this, my friends, is not a good place to be…not as a parent, and not as a writer.
Submitting does require a lot of research. But sometimes, we can overdo it, yes? We read one article that says we MUST use an editor’s name in our submission, quickly followed by another that says to strictly follow submission guidelines. One blog post says finding an editor’s name shows you’ve done your homework, while another says that if you don’t have an actual connection to the editor you will look like a poser. So let’s see now, I will either come off as a consummate professional, OR…a stalker. Which is it? Maybe I should search the internet for MORE articles, spend five MORE hours swinging back and forth and spinning round and round until I am so dizzy I cannot see straight. Sound like a plan?
So what is the solution? First, I want to say, stay calm. Assuming we are all reasonable and well-intentioned people here, I don’t think most things you do or don’t do in a submission are going to injure/stunt/emotionally-scar your writing career. Some information is necessary and good, so spend a little time gathering it. The more you submit, the more seasoned you will become. You might actually interact with publishing professionals, and learn that they aren’t so scary. As you continue to sub, you will develop your own philosophies of submitting, which may be a little different from those around you. You will learn to recognize cues in the responses you receive from agents and editors, and will become more confident in your interactions. And don’t freak out if your submission isn’t doing “what the book said.” Your path in publishing may or may not follow all the “rules” you have read about.
Let me give you a little example from my writing life. Have you ever heard that publishing slows down in the summer? I sure have. Key people go on vacation, which means there is no forward motion in submissions. So everyone says, nothing happens in the summer, especially August. Don’t bother even submitting in August! Publishing basically shuts down in August.
Well, I have sold three picture books in the last few years and guess which month every single one of them sold in?
Marathon Mouse: August 17, 2011
Sophie’s Animal Parade: August 13, 2013
Maurice the Unbeastly: August 4, 2015
Weird, right? I guess publishing shuts down in August for everyone except MEEEEEE! I’ll take it!
I’ll take it because it’s my own weird and wonderful publishing path. Just like we love and embrace our weird and wonderful children, even if they are the most stubborn babies in the world!
Don’t let information overload confuse and paralyze you. Step away from those online interviews and write your query. Submit when your work is ready (even if it’s in August).
And when you become calm and confident in your submission philosophies, ignore all the things I just told you, and blaze your own weird and wonderful publishing trail.