"Right here, you're looking at 200 rejection letters," said Antonio Sacre as he opened a session of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in September, titled "How and How Not to Get Your Children's Book Published."
Sacre held up a copy of his children's book "A Mango in the Hand" and described the arduous process of getting a story into print. Sacre has published four books and is an award-winning storyteller on the national stage. His two-hour presentation shared what he's learned over the past several years.
"I am the most rejected author I've ever met," Sacre said. "I have books out there right now being rejected."
But, he said, he doesn't get discouraged. In fact, once he's collected 30 rejections for a particular story, he figures it's on its way to an acceptance.
He said that to publish his first book, "The Barking Mouse," he wrote a story he loved, read a copy of "Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market," "did what they said and sent it to as many places as I could."
The key, Sacre said, is to keep writing and to keep submitting. Once a book is accepted for publication, he said, it can take two or three years before it's actually published. He said that means an author needs something else to do for those years and should build a stockpile of other manuscripts.
He stressed that an author needs to already have a prequel, a sequel and other stories ready in case the publisher says, "This is great. What else do you have?"
"I missed opportunities because I didn't have other ideas to go to," he said.
Budding authors need to gather interesting information about people, scents, sights and places and then practice capsulizing their stories into six-word statements, Sacre said. The six-word exercise can help an author define what he or she wants to write.
"Write about what you know and feel good about. Write what you want to read," he said. "Go to the library and see what's there. Do your homework."
Successful stories, he noted, need conflict — even a tiny one — and resolution or character change. He also suggested that writers should turn off their Wi-Fi and other distractions and dedicate prescribed amounts of time to their writing.
He said it can be helpful for new writers to join a writing group and to test out ideas and concepts, including by inviting feedback about their stories from children not related to them.
"If it's a story for a book, I read it 50 times to different audiences," he said.
While much of Sacre's presentation was about what aspiring authors should do, he also had suggestions for what not to do.
Publishers don't want illustrations with a manuscript, he said, because major publishing houses usually have illustrators they work with and trust. They also don't want stories about vampires and zombies right now, he said.
He also talked about self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing and query letters.
Self-publishing requires an author to do all of his or her own promotion and cost bearing, he said, while the traditional route takes time and the author doesn't make much money unless the book sells really well.
To make successful pitches, Sacre suggested getting an agent.
"It cuts years off the process," he said, adding that it's also important to take advantage of social media opportunities.
Ultimately, Sacre said, it takes a lot of work. He said he spends every summer coming up with 100 ideas for a story, followed by a winnowing process that leaves him with five good ideas, eventually leading to one worthy book.