Apparently, there is a saying amoungst the SCWBI community that I was unaware of:


“Selling a first book takes ten years”



Really? This was surprising and yet, when I look at how long it has taken me to get to this point, I am not so surprised. Does that mean I’m nearly there? I smile to myself as I think about how much work a story takes. I settle in to take away as much as I can. There were so many nuggets of wisdom passed down from authors, editors, agents and illustrators who want us writers to succeed. I am so grateful for their input and I hope, that if you read this post, that you will be inspired, or that something passed on by them will catapult you to the next step in your writing journey.

My most favorite speaker of the conference had to be Jane Yolen. With three hundred and fifty published books under her belt, she was a delight to listen to, and she dropped these Yolenese phrases which were priceless. Here are her ten points of advice to writers:

  1. Have your buddy’s back.
    Share information with each other. If you read something in Publishers Weekly, share it with your critique group.
    Editors work to serve the interests of publishers, Editors, and then us.
    In the world of editors and publishers, they share and know information about agents and authors or illustrators. In the same way, authors and illustrators should share their experiences with agents, editors and publishers.
    If you get a contract, READ IT. Do you due diligence. Yes, your agent will advise you, but you need to read it yourself and change clauses if necessary.
  2. Good BIC. Butt In Chair.
    Research, rework, re-write, writing proposals etc.
    “If you are not sending out seven things in a year, what are you doing?”
    “Inspiration and perspiration are intimately intertwined”
  3. Yes I can.
    “If anyone asks you if you can do something, you say “Yes I Can”, and work it out from there”
    Jane gave the example of the Moses book she was asked to do to go hand-in-hand with the movie that came out…
  4. Patience.
    Money follows the author, not the other way around.
    Traditional publishing takes time, be patient.
    One needs to embrace revision and re-writing.
    A quote from someone else “…an egg needs to be hatched, not smashed.”
  5. “The author should murder you darling.”
    Sometimes we are too close to our story especially when it is written from personal experience.
    Our writing needs to be critiqued more than ever when this is the case.
    Perspective may need to change.
    Jane gave the example of “Owl Moon” which was a highly personal book.
  6. Onwordly.
    Some Critiquers will draw a line at the point where they stop reading, or lose interest in a story.
    The story needs to keep moving forward, turning pages.
  7. Versatility.
    Try something new every few years.
    Try a different genre.
    Keep learning.
    Look in your old files and see what stories can be resurrected.
  8. Telling the truth.
    Just because something is actual, does not make it true.
    Emily Dickenson – “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”
    Truth is stronger than fiction, but fiction needs to make sense – it has to be crafted.
  9. Don’t be that bore.
    “Truth in art that is boring is not true”
    If what you write is boring then no-one will listen.
  10. Listen to your heart.
    Heart books are the most difficult one to write.
    Jane’s heart books were “Owl Moon” and “Devils Arithmetic”.
  11. Conclusion: SHOW UP. JUST WRITE. DO THE WORK.
    Basically, “writing is all wrapped up in hard work that you need to make look like it was easy.”

There was so much to unpack from her talk and was unable to get it all down. I was very happy to find out afterwards that Jane has a book that she used as a basis for the talk. “Sister Foxes Fieldguide to Writing” by Jane Yolen. You can request a copy by email or

I was able to attend two other sessions where both Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple (Jane’s daughter) spoke. Here are more tips and advice:

From Jane Yolen:

  1. Be flexible.
    Don’t be a pushover with editors. Know when to say no, but also be flexible when asked to do revisions.
    Being flexible does not mean giving up.
  2. Passion, perseverence, patience and publishing, all go hand in hand.
    Hard work.
    Give yourself permission to be bad when you first start. Just get it down.
  3. Every book is different and there is always the choice if you want to listen to the editor, agent or publisher.
    You need to live with the decision yo make about each book.
  4. Sentence breaks are very important for read-a-loud stories.
    Be careful if you’re good at rhyme because sometimes you loose the story. Is rhyme serving the story?
  5. Know the market.
    Read Publishers Weekly.
    Do not chase trends, but you may find that an old story fits a trend. Jane’s example of “What to do with a box” was dug up after thirty years after reading that concept books were making a comeback.
    Keep all your manuscript and revisit them to see where they might fit into the market.
  6. In order to write picture books, you must read picture books.
  7. “The eye and the ear are different listeners.”
    Always look at a book from both sides.
    Your voice is important, but don’t be afraid of a small voice either.
    Jane mentioned that someone once told her that “…you speak in pencil.”
    Some books may require a small quiet voice, while other are bold and loud, or rhythmical and melodious.
  8. Make a mock-up. Take four A-4 pieces of paper, fold them in half twice over, staple the one edge, cut off the fold on the one edge with all the folds, and “whola”, a 32 page mock-up has been created.
    Mock-ups help to see if the words are spreadable, and how the spread might look and feel.
  9. Do you see the page turning?
    Your story needs to keep moving forward and especially at the page turns.
    “It should be as relentless as the waves.”
  10. Illustrator notes – don’t do them unless it is absolutely necessary for the story to be functional or historical. The illustrator has to have creative license.
  11. Some books are small in which case you might need to find a ‘small publisher’.

From Heidi Stemple:

  1. Find the holes in your story.
    The reader does not have your brain so look for places where there are holes that need filling or threads left handing.
    Text should hold up pictures – not rely on pictures.
    Example story – “Carnivores”
  2. Pacing.
    Pagenate your story to see if flows well.
    Have someone else read your story aloud so you can hear it back.
    Example story  – “P.Zonka lays an egg”
  3. Perspective.
    Perspective can be subtle or bold and changes the tone of the story.
    Past to present tense – play with it to see what fits best with a story.
    Change the sex of the main character.
    Whose voice will you speak through? Try different character within the story.
    Turn a story inside out and upside down.
    Example story – “Schools first day of School”
  4. Rhyme and meter.
    Rhyming is easy, but is can be bad.
    Good rhyme is difficult.
    The meter is the most important because it’s how it sounds when it’s read.
    Very important: even if your story came to you as a rhyme, it does need to be written in rhyme.
    Let the story breathe on its own. You will be surprised what you can do when you are not constricted by rhyme.
    Make sure if your story belongs in rhyme.
    Example story – “Vampirina Ballerina”
  5. Voice.
    Your story voice, the cadence of your voice is almost the most important thing.
    Quiet, loud.
    Sound words.
    Have you thought about the setting of your story and how that affects your voice?
    Change in voice can change your story.
    Story voice is how you help the reader read.
    Example story – “Marvelous Cornelia”
  6. Trust your reader.
    How much setup does your story have or need?
    You have to have a backstory, but you don’t need to tell your reader all about it (you have to know it though).
  7. Endings.
    Is it to twee? Too sentimental?
    Is it too surprising, abrupt or does it drag out too long?

Good news came at the end. GOOD BOOKS WILL EVENTUALLY COME OUT. Hatch the egg, due diligence, work hard.