Author and Poet, Debbie Ouellet

Writing Q & As

From time to time, I'm approached by another writer or someone who's interested in getting started as a writer with questions about the process and how I handled it. On this page, you'll find the most commonly asked questions and how I've answered them. Please keep in mind, as you read my responses, that I've answered with what worked for me. We all approach ideas and problems from different angles and perspectives. Your personal style, background and tastes in literature will influence what works for you.

Debbie Ouellet and writing buddy, Lorna Poplak at Dragon Speaker Series Launch Nov. 2009

If you'd like to add a question of your own, feel free to contact me. If I have an answer, I'll provide it for you. If not, I'll try to steer you in the right direction. Any questions and answers you see posted below have been reproduced with the permission of the person who contacted me.

Q. Did you find an agent first (before sending out manuscripts). If so, how do you?

A. No, I don't have an agent. I've been told by other authors that it's as much work (if not more) to find a good agent than it is to find a publisher. With the limited time I had to devote to this, I decided to spend it looking for publishers. I know that some publishing houses will only deal with authors who have agents. I just don't send to them.

Q. Did you send manuscripts out at all, or was it an outcome of the children's poetry you'd been sending in to magazines?

A. I've sent out dozens of manuscripts. My poetry was the first to be published. To be honest, though, it's easier to publish short-stories or non-fiction for children if you're so inclined. They also tend to pay more. I started out sending to magazines, especially those that accepted simultaneous submissions. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you could devote one full day per month to doing this, you'd be surprised how much you can get out there. The only problem with simultaneous submissions is you then end up with simultaneous rejections. The trick is not to give up. I know of a writing instructor who claims that you're not a real writer until you've had at least a hundred rejection letters. It sounds depressing, I know, but for the first hundred rejections, I probably had between 10 and 20 acceptances. My ratio of acceptances is better now, but that's because I learned a lot from my rejections.

Q. What, in your opinion, is the best way to get started in that field (writing for children)?

A. This may sound trite, but the best way is to just get started. Take your favourite one to three pieces and make sure that they're the best they can be. Then write a cover letter for each. That first cover letter takes a while to write, but after you've gone through a few of them, they get pretty darn easy. It also helps to meet with like-minded people. I belong to CANSCAIP which is a Canadian children's writers' association. They have a monthly newsletter that includes any calls for submissions. That's how I found out about the call for the teen novel I've had accepted. I'd recommend that you look up an equivalent association in your area. www.placesforwriters.com also lists any opportunities and calls for submissions. I had a short story accepted (and published in 2009) by Scholastic Academic Publishing to be used as part of the Grade-Six reading series Moving Up With Literacy Place. I found that call information on the Places For Writers website. I also subscribe to two annual magazines: Magazine Markets for Children's Writers and Book Markets for Children's Writers. I'm not sure if you can get a copy at your local library, but they can be purchased on-line at www.WritersBookstore.com. They list most publishers, addresses, contact names, what they publish and a brief description of what they're looking for. They also have advice about how to write a cover letter and other topics.

Q. I see you have a business background, which I do not have; is that important?

A. I don't think the business background is that important if you're writing for kids. If it's helped me at all, it's just given me a thicker skin to deal with the rejections.