Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Notes from the RA Desk: Russ Cox

The Art of Patience by Russ Cox

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Patience, the one word that can drive creative people to a whole new level of frustration. Okay, it can do that to everyone, especially if you have kids. It is hard to understand, to practice, and definitely master. In our publishing world, it is a necessity, since things can move quickly and so slow, usually in unison. It is like jumping into two buckets of water at the same time, one hot and one cold.

We need to learn how to be patient with our careers. There are so many elements and obstacles that need to be maneuvered around. Many of them are out of our control. We can only do so much, and the rest is up to the book spirits to take over. To learn to let go, and then wait, is so hard. Very hard. Incredibly hard.

As we take our first steps into this venture called writing and illustrating books, we need patience. It takes time to write a book, create a dummy, and/or put together a portfolio. This process can take weeks, months, and years. Those of us who lack patience at the beginning, raise your hand because mine is raised, failed to realize that these steps are the foundation of our careers. One misstep and our books will come tumbling down upon us, leaving us dazed and confused. Do not rush through your story. Put it away for days, maybe weeks, let it incubate, and then read it again. You will see that the next step is you really writing the story. Patience.

When you work on your book dummy and/or portfolio, don’t rush through it and think, “Good enough”. Good enough is not good enough. Work though areas that are weak. Revise, revise, and revise again! It something is bothering you, fix it, but think through what needs to be done. As far as your portfolio, you are only as good as your weakest piece. It is better to have 8-10 great pieces than 14-16 with several of them are soso. Again, it takes patience to build up a portfolio. Keep creating new work, replacing weaker pieces. A solid portfolio will take time, and patience. People are always saying I need to find my style when it comes to illustration. You do not find a style, it finds you. Usually someone has to tell you that you have a style. This comes from constantly drawing, painting, creating, but it also takes … what I am going to say? CORRECT! Patience!

Now you have your manuscript, book dummy, and portfolio ready so you want to find an agent. Compile your list, bust a Santa move and check it twice. Research the agents and agencies to see if you are good fit. Narrow it down to 5 to 10 places and follow their submission guidelines. This takes a lot of time and … do I need to say it? I did not think so, but I will. P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E. After you hit “Send”, take a deep breath, relax, and step away from your email. Do not hit refresh every 5 minutes to see if the agents have responded. Easier said than done. Patience my friend. Remember, like publishers, they get hundreds of queries a week so give them time.

So now you have an agent and they are submitting your dummy, illustration samples, manuscripts to publishing houses, after many rounds of revisions and tweaks. What next? Now is not the time to be pestering them for responses. This again takes time. Book deals can happen very quickly but most take time. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months, and it is not uncommon for them to take years. And yes, many of them do not happen at all, which is the norm. Be patience. Do not give up. People who give up do not get published. I know what you are thinking, “But so and so keeps getting book deals or illustration gigs for books. Some are receiving awards, why not me?” Think about it. They worked hard, kept at it and were patient. Well, at least patient on the surface. We cannot be patient all of the time. We are not robots! Not yet. Congratulate those people, admire your friends for their accomplishments and awards (a big HOORAY for Brain Lies, way to go buddy), and be patient my friend. Your time is coming. I know it.

Now might be a good time to play Tom Petty’s “The Waiting”. It truly is the hardest part. RUSS COX was raised by a pack of crazed hillbillies in the back woods of Tennessee. Without much in the way of modern conveniences, like a television set or running water, he spent his time drawing, whittling, and throwing dirt clods at his cousins. With the bulk of his life spent in Pennsylvania, he met his wife; became a graphic designer; played in punk, alternative, and surf bands; had two kids; and started his own illustration studio, Smiling Otis Studio. Russ creates his art the old school way using paper, pencil, gouache, and watercolor. Using traditional tools gives Russ an opportunity to explore and experiment. He also works digitally if deadlines are tight. Russ lives in Maine with his wife and four cats.

The RA Desk is a regular column by a member of the NESCBWI Regional Team, which is comprised of volunteers appointed by the international headquarters in Los Angeles. Because New England is so large, we have geographical co-leaders to insure all members have value from their membership. Anyone interested in knowing more about the New England history can look here. SCBWI board member, nonfiction author, and NESCBWI Historian, Melissa Stewart spent years compiling back issues of the NEWS and other materials to place in the University of Connecticut Archives & Special Collections. It is a comprehensive collection of materials of what was the first region of SCBWI outside of California.