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An Author Asks: Am I Wasting My Time?

An Author Asks:  Am I Wasting My Time?

Welcome to our new blog series:

An Author Asks!

Inspired by the dozens of emails we get everyday from hopeful authors, this series attempts to answer your burning questions about writing and publishing children's books...and remind you that you aren't the only one wondering!

If you have a question you'd like us to answer, email us at with the subject line: An Author Asks.

We'll let you know if we choose yours to answer in a future post!



Last weekend I participated in a retreat of a local chapter of SCBWI.

I really enjoyed the critiques, speakers, food, etc... but I went home feeling very discouraged. I feel like I'm a pretty good writer, but I was in a room with 50 other very good writers. Some of them have been trying to get traditionally published for 6-10 years with no success. 

Is the market saturated? Do you know the approximate percentage of potential authors that actually become published?

I self-published my first book but haven't marketed heavily. After looking at the competition for traditional publishing, I feel like I am far too novice to compete with traditionally published authors.

I am trying to decide if I should pour my whole heart into this knowing I might not succeed for 10 years. What is your opinion?


An Anxious Author

Dear Anxious Author,

Oh man.  

You’ve asked the big question.  The question that just about every author wonders about at some point in their writing career: Am I wasting my time?

I’ll do my best to answer.   

When writers have experiences like the one you had at the SCBWI conference, I feel both relief and heartache for them at the same time. 

Relief, because some writers never have that wake-up-call moment…and you’re really so lucky that you did!  Now you know the lay of the land!  You know what you’re up against!  Which means you’re miles ahead of all those authors who don’t.  

But my heart also aches for you, because life was simpler and your dream was more within reach before you had this realization.  Before the conference, you were at the foot of the mountain looking up thinking, “I can do this!” Then, the fog cleared, and you saw that the actual summit was WAY higher than you thought. You went from feeling hopeful and excited to anxious and doubtful.  

And boy do I remember that feeling!  

So, let’s take your question one step at a time.  Is the market saturated?  

Yes and no.  More people than ever before are submitting books to publishers, but I don’t see any evidence that more of those submissions are better in quality than they were in the past.  So, I don't think there are more great submissions out there. I just think agents and publishers just have to work harder to find the diamonds in the rough than they used to. 

Do I know the approximate percentage of potential authors that actually become published?  

No. No one really knows because publishers and agents don’t all keep track of total rejected submissions, and no one takes the time to gather those numbers from everyone in the industry and do the math.  I’ve heard some estimates that about 1% of manuscripts that are submitted end up published traditionally

So, there’s no doubt about it - the math is not in your favor.  With the exception of celebrities, only the best of the best get traditional deals.  And yes, you could absolutely work at it for years without success. 

But, let me ask you this.  

If your child or grandchild were standing in front of you telling you about how they want to get drafted into the NFL someday….or how much they want to be a famous YouTuber…or how much they want to be an actor or actress, and you knew that it was going to be very difficult and that their chances of success were slim.  What would you tell them?  

You’d probably tell them to have a backup plan to put food on the table….but otherwise - go for it!  Follow that dream as long as it makes you happy! 

If they work hard and keep at it...they might actually succeed at their goal!  

And if not, then they....and you, have to think about what really makes you happy.

Is it the creative process that brings you joy?  

❤️You don’t need a traditional publishing deal to create!

Is it the interaction with young readers that warms your heart?  

❤️You don’t need a traditional publishing deal to do that either!

Honestly, even if it’s the money that you’re looking for….

❤️There are lots of self-published authors who make WAY more with their self-published books than I do with my traditionally published ones! 

So, the only “success” traditional publishing can give you that self-publishing can’t….is the knowledge that you made the cut.  You impressed the gatekeepers and are part of that 1%.  

That’s important to some people!  (Full disclosure:  It was to me!)  But how important is it to you?  

And all of this is assuming that you don’t succeed at traditional publishing. 

And... you might! 

Because I bet that among those people at the conference who hadn’t made it after 6-10 years….there were also quite a few who HAD.  

When I was in elementary school and high school, I loved to write.  But writing as a professional career seemed unrealistic.  Growing up in a small town in rural Illinois, I had never even glimpsed the top of that mountain…so I just assumed it was too high for me to even attempt to climb.  

Chelsea tornetto

Years later, when I finally decided to head for the summit and see what happened…I ended up making it!  I got an agent in about 9 months and sold my first picture book about a year after that.  And I looked back and thought.  I wish I would have started this journey sooner! 

So, to answer your final question, what is my opinion about pouring your whole heart into this knowing you might not succeed for 10 years?  

Here it is:

I think that in life…we should ALWAYS pour our whole heart into things that bring us (or others) joy, and I think that if we’re lucky, we’ll get to keep pouring our hearts into it for way more than 10 years! 

Happy Writing!


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