Friday, October 21, 2011

You Never Forget Your First!

I always enjoyed writing as a kid, short stories, scripts, plays, etc. I wrote my first “book” in the second grade, a charming little tale called The Enchanted Prince, which I still have in an album my mother kept for me. I even wrote a vampire short story when I was in the Gifted program in Elementary School, way before the recent trend. In Junior High School, I wrote a Whodunit mystery play called Murder at Wagner Manor, where the Butler did it (sort of ;-). In my college years, I started writing a paranormal novel called TerrorVision, about a frightening television network (No, not Fox News), but I never made it past a few chapters. But enough with the info dump. Suffice is to say, as much as I enjoyed creative writing and wanted to publish a novel, I didn’t truly get serious about it until years later.

The horrific events of September 11, 2001 were still fresh on everyone’s mind. To add to the depression, I felt stuck in an uncreative, dead end job. One of my co-workers, Denise, told me about a writer’s group she was going to at a local bookstore, and, one Christmas, gave me a present that ended up having a huge impact on the course of my artistic pursuits from that point forward:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold D. Underdown and Lynne Rominger, which I still have to this day. She inscribed it "Steven – You Can Do it!" (This Idiot will be eternally grateful, Denise!).

This book provided me with a wonderful introduction on getting started in the world of writing for children and young adults. With its concise chapters on everything from getting started, exploring different genres, the inner-workings of publishing houses, the mechanics of contracts, book awards, and building a career, I found it a wealth of information that not only shed light on this mysterious and intimidating process, but also provided the inspiration to finally take that first, concrete step toward realizing my dreams.

With my Idiot book at my side, I started my daily routine and began writing my first full novel, a middle grade tale, Darius Devine & The Necromancer's Curse, the story of a young boy determined to bring his dead mother back to life. I plugged away day after day, until I finally gave birth to my whopping 452 page baby. I was finished! The hardest part was over! Now all I had to do was send it out and it would get published within a few months tops, right?

Well...not exactly...

After further consulting my Idiot book, I started sending out query letters and sample chapters to different publishers. I was on my way! But for some inexplicable reason, I kept getting these sterile responses saying they weren’t interested. Some sent back these tiny little postcard thingies instead. And for some reason, they were all addressed to Dear Author, instead of being personalized. Hmmm. What was I doing wrong? I’d written an epic, fun, adventurous book and sent it out. What more could they possibly want?

As the letters and postcards began to accumulate, I came across seven words in my guide book/translator/bible that would change my life forever (No, not "You have won the Publisher's Clearing House"). These words were the key that unlocked this whole publishing mystery: Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Apparently there was an entire organization out there devoted to others like me! Maybe I should look into this. Maybe all I had to do was join and then I’d get published!

Well, it took nine years of honing my craft and writing two other books, but here I am, on the verge of publication at last! And despite the emotional highs and lows, the frustrations, the sadness, the giddiness and the madness, all in the name of that elusive, yet tantalizing, quest that so many of us crave more than air, I can look back and say that it’s true, you never forget your first.

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, you’ll always be special to me.

Steven dos Santos is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, LTD. He loves movies, particularly ones about things that go bump in the night, as well as sci-fi and fantasy. Chocolate, Cheesecake, and Happy Endings are nice, too! When not glued to his computer coming up with innovative ways to torture his characters, Steven can be found skulking away on his website, amassing an army on facebook, and sending unanswered tweets to celebrities who, for some inexplicable reason, choose to ignore him on twitter. His debut novel, THE TORCH KEEPER, a Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic thriller, will be published by FLUX Books in early 2013.


  1. Great story, Steven! Thanks for sharing. And I can't wait to read THE TORCH KEEPER.

  2. Thanks, Megan! THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER sounds TERRIF!

  3. Haha! I love it, Steven! It took me ten years to get a book contract, so we've walked similar paths!

  4. Steven, this post was both inspiring and hilarious -- I too have a lengthy opus (600+ pages) that was not fit for public consumption, but I think it's all part of the learning process and I wouldn't give up those writing experiences for anything.

    And maybe it's time to dust off that vampire story and see if it sparks anything? ;)

  5. I still have my first, a thin stack of looseleaf tied together with orange yarn. It was a story about two boys who go to the gas station and buy hot dogs! Well, I did write it in elementary school :)

    Great post, Steven!