Okay, okay. So perhaps that title was a bit deceiving. But, after reading this humorous post on How to Win the Caldecott, I thought I might give it a shot as well. This is a general description of how I sold my first two books to Penguin USA. The first, "Dad's Bad Day," will be out in 2014.
Step 1. Get Really, Really Good at Something. Whether it's writing, illustrating, or even concept and storyboarding, put in the 10,000 hours you need to become successful at your craft. Because all work feeds your art, it doesn't matter where those hours come from. You want to be a writer? Blog. Volunteer to write press releases for a local charity. Write letters. Just write a lot. Same deal with illustrators. Start a sketch blog and add to it daily. Doodle in meetings instead of paying attention (and convince everyone that you listen best while doodling). One day it's going to click. Something original is going to emerge from your work. You'll stop in the middle of what you're doing and say "Whoah. Where did that come from?" Congrats. You've found your voice.
Step 2. Hang Out and Be Cool. For "big people" publishing, I don't know how to be cool. Grown-ups frighten me honestly. For children's publishing, join SCBWI and just go and hang out. Invest some dollars. Sign up for multiple classes and critiques at the conferences. Bring your "A" game. Bring the work that embodies that original voice and still makes you say "Whoah" when you look at it. Be proud and be excited about it. And don't be creepy or stalker-y with the agents and editors you meet. The ones I've met still talk to me because my attitude has always been that "I'd love to sell something, but I'm really just here to learn and make friends."
Step 3. Listen, Learn, and Repeat. At a conference I heard an editor say, "Anyone who submits work to me in the next two weeks hasn't been paying attention." The purpose of attending conferences is to learn how to improve our craft for revision. It's not about landing the deal. When you get that one-on-one time, offer yourself up completely defenseless. Demonstrate your ability to listen and accept advice. And for some people, that's the hardest part. You're sitting across from the person who could give you your break, so whatever they tell you to do, DO IT!!! Now go back to Step 1 and repeat until successful. And remember, the equation for success is "Every Single Miserable Failure + One More Try."