I think we all begin writing with preconceived ideas. We are immobilized by fear of breaking the rules of writing and publishing. I'm here to tell you to get over it. In the beginning I made a lot of mistakes. I am sure I always will, but I am still here and I am published. I wrote to an editor and got her "sex" wrong. That isn't a good idea, but she still bought my work. I took a letter out of a returned submission and hastily sent it to another editor....with the first editor's name and address on it. She didn't buy the manuscript, and I am sure she was offended, but my career did not come to an end.
Like some of you, I worried about someone stealing my work, perhaps an editor, or critique group member, or someone on a writing list. It didn't happen. In time I relaxed a bit and stopped living in fear. Your work is copyrighted as soon as you write it. It is true that you need to follow submission guidelines, you need to do good work and you need to format it properly, but not all mistakes are fatal some are just embarrassing.
I encourage you to read a lot of your chosen genre. Learn all you can about writing and what makes it good. Then write, write, write. Get to know what kind of books your chosen publisher likes, read and follow their guidelines.
Writing is not all about the "writing". It is also about networking with other writers, editors and the public. It is also about promoting, so study that too. Don't wait until you are published and then try to cram everything all at once.
I am blessed with a wonderful illustrator for my Rooter and Snuffle series of books. Kevin Scott Collier has taught me a lot. He taught me to be generous. Do whatever you can to help other writers. Don't get hung up on the rules. We have all heard the expression "think outside the box". Learn to do just that. Editors are looking for originality...give it to them. Kevin did and found himself a publisher in line at the Post Office. That applies to promotion too. There have never been so many ways to promote your book. Many are FREE! Be open to them.
Most authors and illustrators charge for school visits and other appearances. I learned from Kevin that it is okay to do a school visit or appearance for free if you want to. It isn't "all" about the money, it is about exposing your books to children and parents who buy books. Don't let other well-intentioned writers browbeat you into doing things their way. We all have instincts and we need to use them. We are all different, and we have different skills and comfort levels. Do what works for you.
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(c)2008 Sharon A. Soffe