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Jeni Chen Posts

Fake It till You Make It or Being Present?

I didn’t work on my picture book story from the time I wrote it down in 2016 until I took a second picture book illustration class in 2018. What had I been doing during those two years? Although I loved to draw as a child, I had no formal training in art. I remember thinking that I needed to learn some basic concepts in art and illustration before I could tackle this project. So I enrolled in the Fine Art Certificate Program in my local art school. Now I am working on my debut picture book, I still feel I am not ready sometimes. I have so many excuses such as I am a newbie and I don’t know everything yet. Then my publisher announced the book deal and I posted the news on Facebook. Once my family and friends knew about this, I started to panic: What would they think about my book? What if they didn’t like it?

These kinds of thoughts made me feel overwhelmed and stressed. Then I saw a video (starting at 1:55:29) where Eckhart Tolle talked about writing his best seller The Power of Now (this book has the coveted spot on my night stand).

1. He felt an urge to write the book. It was like something wanted to come into being and he became a channel. He talked about the purpose of the universe is to create and express through us in another video.

2. If you become stressed while doing it, it’s because you are attached to the outcome (ie. to write the book in order to become famous or rich, etc.)

3. The practice is to be present. Enjoy the doing, the action IN THE NOW which is more important than where you want to get to.

It was just what I needed to hear. Besides, we learn in real life situations and not in a vacuum. I am grateful to have this opportunity to learn while doing it. Whatever the result is will depend on the quality of this moment. So all I need to focus on is this moment. Am I doing my best? Am I enjoying it and allowing the energy to flow into my work?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (children’s book author/illustrator) said it brilliantly in her comic You May Be Luckier Than You Think. I just have to appreciate where I am now and enjoy the journey.

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Where to Submit Your Picture Book Dummy?

When I attended the SCBWI Conference in Washington, everyone got a list of agents and publishers who also attended the conference. I found this list very valuable because some of the publishers don’t accept unsolicited materials unless you attended the conference. There is a timeline for you to submit to them after the conference so I was glad I had finished my dummy book when I attended the conference. In addition, the conferences are info packed and you get to meet a lot of like minded people.

I like to hear about other people’s publishing journeys and their creative processes.

Check out SCBWI’s official blog to see what’s happening in a conference. http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/

I’ve sent my dummy book to every agents/publishers that were in my category (picture books abbreviated PB) on the list. I didn’t hear back from any except an agent who asked if I have any other work. I don’t have anything that’s ready to be shown but it was encouraging to hear that from an agent. I sent out a few more dummy books in the mail to publishers who accept unsolicited material but didn’t hear back from any of them. When I checked their websites, they were all closed due to COVID-19. Please see my previous post Getting ready to submit my picture book dummy to see how I compiled a list of publisher to submit to. In addition, if you google picture book submissions, you will find lists like these: 75 Children’s Book Publishers Currently Accepting Submissions

Before submitting to publishers, it was advised on most submission guidelines to research what kind of books they publish to see if your story fits in with their collections. This is a very time consuming process but I think this way, the publishers can weed out a lot of people who are not serious or prepared.

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Getting Ready to Submit My Picture Book Dummy

I finally felt ready to send out my dummy book. I have emailed my dummy book to several agents/publishers on the list provided by the SCBWI conference that I’ve attended.

Writing cover letters to send to publishers was another art in itself. I googled “picture book cover letter sample” or variation of it and use the ones I liked as template. At this time, I’ve already collected a list of publishers that I wanted to send to and entered their submission requirements in an Excel sheet. In my picture book illustration classes, we were taught to read lots of picture books, make a list of publishers that publishes the kind of books that you like or make and google their submission guidelines. A lot of publishers don’t take unsolicited submission meaning you will have to have an agent to submit on your behalf. I think it cuts down a lot of work for the publishers as they receive a lot of submissions. I do see a number of publishers who do not accept unsolicited manuscripts but welcome illustrators to email them their portfolios. Chronicle Books is one of the publishers that still takes unsolicited submissions and they write a very good blog about the whole process plus some useful tips. I read their blog posts when I first started preparing to submit and found it illuminating. A good place to start here: So, You’ve Written a Children’s Book…Now What?

Some publishers require physical dummy books to be mailed to them. I am happy that I agreed to make yearbooks for my son’s school and was taught how to use Adobe InDesign. It was very useful when I needed to print my own dummy book and have contact to the printing company.

Here is a list of publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts:  30 Children’s Book Publishers Seeking Picture Books               

Go to the publisher’s website to see their most updated submission guidelines as they may change.

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Trust Your Inspiration and Fail Faster

In 2019, I put my full effort into making my picture book dummy. I remember feeling excited every morning, wanting to get up to start working on my picture book. I felt I had a purpose because the story has meaning to me and it felt good making it come together!

I went to SCBWI critique meetings and signed up for the SCBWI conference in Washington. At times, I felt frustrated or dejected when I got negative feedback. Sometimes I felt pulled into different directions by other’s opinions. I tried to re-work my story and illustrations many, many times. But in the end, I always referred back to my original inspiration which was on pieces of scrap papers. All in all, I found the critique groups very useful and necessary. I met friends who encouraged me to move forward on this journey when I doubted myself.

These are what I’ve learned from my experience so far:

1. Trust when you are inspired to do something.

I felt the story coming to me at dawn and that I had to write it down means something and I need to pay attention to it. I remember an interview of Abraham-Hicks by Dr. Wayne Dyer who quoted Rumi: “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!”

Watch the interview What Is Inspiration  – Dr Wayne Dyer & Esther Hicks: Co-Creating at Its Best:

2. Fail faster.

As it was my first dummy, I didn’t know how finished/legible my sketches should be so I tried to do it well which took a lot of time. I finished my dummy before I went through the majority of the critiques and it caused a lot of frustrations when I had to redraw them again and again. Sometimes I felt hesitant to change because I didn’t want to redraw them again. Then I stumbled upon this video: Fail Faster – A Mantra for Creative Thinkers – Extra Credits

It says the most basic lesson of design is to fail faster. Don’t wait until you think you have a perfect product before testing it out with people. On the other hand, my picture book classmate told me that because the amount of work I’ve already put in, the final illustrations will be easier. Thank you Mariana for the encouragement! And since it was my first dummy and I don’t have a lot of illustrations in my portfolio (yet), the sketches needed to be pretty finished to give potential publishers/agents a better idea of what the finished illustrations would look like.

So whatever happens, it’s all good.

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Inspiration that Woke Me Up

After I finished the children’s picture book class at my local art school, one morning around 4am, I woke up with this story buzzing in my mind. The story kept going that I couldn’t fall back asleep so I decided to write it down on a piece of paper (in very low light).

At that time, I have already learned to keep pens and papers in my night stand drawer because ideas come to me during the twilight hours (and in the shower).

I am so happy that I wrote down the story in 2016 because I didn’t work on it until 2018. If I haven’t wrote it down I would have forgotten about it (or most of it).  In 2018 I decided to take another children’s picture book class and I typed out the story and got my first critique in class.

The picture book teacher told us about SCBWI so I joined their Facebook group.

From my local SCBWI Facebook group, I learned about a FREE event* that helps people create their children’s picture book dummies. The registration was closed at the time but I followed the advice on the free resources and started working on creating my dummy book. The free resources are great for newbies and included basic info such as picture book templates, layouts and a very useful schedule that kept me on task.

*You can check out Dani Duck’s “Smart Dummies” here:  https://www.daniduck.com/smart-dummies/

Thank you Dani Duck, you helped push me into my PB journey unknowingly (now you know).

Also thanks to Lisa Cinar and Cynthia Nugent who taught my Picture Book Illustration classes at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

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Searching for the Meaning of Life

In 2016, I arrived at a crossroad in life. I felt dissatisfied with my career and that led me on a search for the purpose of life. I came across a quote by Joseph Campbell:

It really spoke to me and I began asking what makes me feel most alive? Joseph Campbell also said “follow your bliss” but when I google this phrase, many said it was impractical advice. I think our society had taught us to follow the money.

Jimmy O. Yang the comedian said it best in his stand up special that his dad told him “everyone does what they hate for money and use the money to do what they love…pursuing your dream is how you become homeless.”

But I’ve been doing it the practical way for so many years, maybe it’s time to try something else. I started taking art classes for fun and my friend said you might as well get a certificate to show for it. When the teacher asked me about my career plan, I told her I have no plans and  it was just for fun.

Follow your bliss has its merits: when I do something for fun, I feel uplifted and I do it better. When I do something because I want a certain outcome (whether it’s for money or recognition), it took the fun out, makes me stressed out and the result is mediocre. So I decided to experiment with my life, to follow my bliss and see what happens.

Check out the interview of Joseph Campbell on ‘Follow Your Bliss’ by Bill Boyers here.

 

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