July 08, 2020Getting Honest

Did you ever work up enough nerve to tell some parent that their baby is ugly?

And how did THAT turn out?

Yeah, I thought so!

Everyday editors everywhere are returning manuscripts with the dreaded "form letter" rejection slip. And back on the receiving end, the wanna-be writers – the "parents" if you will – are reacting just that same way to having their ugly babies rejected.

It's painful! Getting told that baby of yours is ugly! Ouch!

There's no really good, not-so-painful way they can tell you. That blunt, impersonal rejection form is no fun to get. But how else can they do it? Just the sheer volume of submissions editors get daily prevents personal replies. What could they say anyway? And how many different ways could they say it ... you simply have an ugly baby!

So after you've kicked the mailbox, cursed their name and shaken (shook?) your fist at the sky, what should your response be? A productive response that is ...

Let's take a look at that ugly baby ...

Appreciation of any art form – including writing and illustrating picture books – is a subjective thing. It is really tough for creatives to be objective about their own art. And we all know creatives who will diminish and deflect compliments on their own work. Most creatives are never quite satisfied with the results of all their hard work. But that's what keeps us creating and trying to get to that next level. It propels us forward. It's not an entirely bad thing to be slightly dissatisfied with the fruits of your labor.

But some creatives take the dissatisfaction thing a bit too far... and while they will pooh-pooh their own work, other people who do so are crossing the line! Criticizing the work they do is just the same as criticizing them personally. Their work is such an extension of themselves that if it's good, then they are good. If it's bad, then they are bad. This is not a good place for a creative to be, and creatives who get stuck in this limited way of thinking will stunt their own growth in their chosen art form.

These are the ones who, after getting enough of those rejection letters, will strike out on their own and self-publish. And end up with empty pockets and a garage full of books no one will buy.

Because that baby was ugly. But they couldn't – or wouldn't – hear that. That baby never had a shot at success.

We do want our babies to have the best possible shot at success. So let's learn to observe our work with an objective eye.

Were there valid reasons that editor rejected your baby? A ridiculous number of grammatical errors? Poor story structure? Two-dimensional characters? A difficult-to-follow story line? An un-satisfying ending?

If you're the illustrator, do the pictures reflect what's happening in the narrative? Does the art style match the story type? Are the pages designed well? Does the typed copy marry well with the illustrations?

All of these and the millions of other reasons your baby is ugly, are fixable issues. It's just a matter of learning your craft well. Studying and educating yourself on how to do your job well. Then practice, practice, practice until you can do the best that you can do.

And there's no excuse in today's world with the internet and all those resources just a click away. Join groups like The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, and take workshops. Get on YouTube and watch and listen to all the other creatives telling how they did it. Join local critique groups where artists and authors bring their work for show and tell to get input on how they did.

The best part is that over time your work will improve. Work you'll be doing five years from now will be at a whole other level than your work today.

Unlike real babies, our creatively-birthed babies are totally fixable.

And it all begins with scrutinizing those babies with ruthless and honest objectivity.

It's gonna' hurt! It won't be fun! But the pain won't last forever and in the long run it will be so much better than living in that delusion, where everyone else around you can see the glaringly brutal fact ... that baby is ugly!

Ultimately, if you want to be a pro ... then it's time to study the pros ...

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  • Dixie says:
    2020-07-08, 14:00:08
    That was very encouraging for those are struggling with criticism.
  • Kathy says:
    2020-07-08, 07:51:41
    Yep; really and truly looking at ourselves is a veeeeerrrrrrry painful ( but productive) process. Someone once said,” Would the gift that God would give us, to see ourselves as others see us!”