In high school, one of my biggest goals was to get accepted to Stanford University.
Toward that end, I worked hard to keep up perfect grades, studied overtime for the SAT, and dutifully participated in extracurricular activities such as student government, sports, and volunteer activities.
When the slim admissions letter arrived, my heart sank. I knew I didn’t get accepted.
But my best friend did.
I wanted to be happy for her. I wanted to hug her and jump up and down screaming with excitement, sharing in her joy.
But the pain and disappointment I felt over someone else winning my most coveted prize made my heart shrink. I could barely congratulate her without bursting into tears.
Publishing is Brutally Competitive
As children’s writers, we face this same landscape of too few slots available for far too many applicants. Many who are rejected by colleges are extremely qualified—and the same holds true for those seeking a publishing deal for their book.
It’s difficult to find any actual numbers, but it’s probably safe to assume the odds of getting published, especially for a first-time author, are very low. Like single-digit-percentages low.
With such a low chance of gaining a coveted spot with a publisher, it’s understandable if you struggle to celebrate someone else’s success. Even if that person is your best friend.
Because for every person who gets a publishing contract, doesn’t that just shrink the field of possible contracts for the rest of us? Didn’t your dream of being a published author just get a little bit harder to achieve?
Let’s Do a Mindset Shift
In a culture that embraces striving to be number one, it’s hard not to see your fellow children’s writers as your rivals.
But I think this is the wrong way to view the world of children’s book publishing. (And really, the world in general).
Not only does adopting a highly competitive attitude put you in a scarcity mindset, it does nothing to increase your chances of landing one of those rare, coveted spots.
Deciding which books are given a publishing deal is a highly subjective process. I’m sure you have read many books and thought–Why on earth did this get published and not my book?
Many beautifully written stories never get published. The same holds true for highly imaginative ones or stories with a clever concept or imaginative story line.
You are not actually competing against your fellow author.
It’s not as if one person getting a publishing contract means that opportunity is taken away from you.
Think about it. Let’s take my Stanford example. If the school had decided not to accept my friend, it wasn’t as if they would have looked at the enormous list of applicants and said, “Right, let’s not take this one; we’ll take her instead.”
My friend got in because the admissions people were looking for someone with her qualifications (and they were excellent, by the way).
A publisher takes on a book because it has the various elements they happen to be looking for.
Your goal shouldn’t be to try to write a better book than the next person. Your goal should be to write the best story you possibly can.
The better the story, the better your odds of getting it published.
Other Authors Are Your Allies
The kidlit community is a remarkably supportive one. Online and in person, it seems the vast majority of writers go out of their way to encourage and help other writers.
One big reason for this is because people who write for children are motivated by a cause that transcends the individual.
We do it because we want to touch the lives of children. Whether that means inspiring them, giving them comfort, making the laugh, or igniting a passion within them, we want to make a positive impact on kids.
So when one person succeeds, the larger goal of reaching a child’s heart is achieved.
And every one of us, published or pre-published, can feel good about that.
How to Support Your Fellow Authors
After the initial sting of disappointment from my Stanford rejection faded, I was able to do a bit of self-reflection.
I realized that during all the years of our friendship, my Stanford-bound friend had been a tremendous positive influence on my life.
It was she who encouraged me to explore activities outside my comfort zone. Because of her I joined the track team, ran for student government, and did volunteering work.
She and I often studied together, and helped each other through the horrors of our high school’s social life.
She supported and encouraged me, and together, we both flourished and grew.
The same approach should be used when it comes to our fellow kidlit authors.
The truth is, the children’s writing community is made up of some of the most supportive, friendly, and generous people I have ever encountered.
Fellow writers go out of their way to help support one another. Whenever anyone asks for help, needs advice, or shares their news about their latest book triumph (or tragedy), other writers immediately jump in with answers or cute pictures of baby goats to boost everyone’s spirits.
We are not competing with one another. Because this is not a sport where there are only winners and losers.
It’s more like we are all trying to climb a giant mountain. Along the way, many of those ahead of us will throw down a rope to to give others a boost. And there is plenty of room at the top of the mountain. And with everyone offering a helping hand and encouragement, we will all get there a little faster.
How you can help your fellow writers
No matter where you are on your own journey, there is plenty you can do to help out others in the kidlit community.
It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or have many published books.
If you need some specific ideas about to you can support others, check out my post on 11 Ways Authors Can Help Other Authors.
If you want to keep learning and exploring how to nurture your kidlit author career, sign up below and let’s be email friends!