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Nice Girls Don’t

By Aaron Shepard

Printed in Once Upon A Time, Fall 1993

For more resources, visit Aaron Shepard’s Kidwriting Page at www.aaronshep.com.

Copyright © 1993 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted.

Over the past few years, I’ve discussed the issue of multiple submissions with numerous beginning children’s writers, most of them female. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not so much a marketing question as a gender issue.

Few men seem to have trouble with the idea of multiple submissions. They know they cannot afford to tie up a manuscript for a half year or more with an inefficient, ponderous, or overworked editor. They also know that withdrawing a manuscript after a shorter period is often tantamount to not sending it at all, since the editor may not yet have even glanced at it.

Most women know this too. Most would like to submit multiply, but they don’t, for one simple reason: They don’t dare. They’re afraid of offending an editor.

This fear persists despite the following:

  • Multiple submissions are now standard practice among professional writers and agents.

  • All but a handful of publishing houses officially state they accept multiple submissions.

  • The houses that officially don’t consider multiple submissions often will anyway, especially if the submission comes from a writer with credentials or is addressed to a specific editor.

  • Editors are so accustomed to multiple submissions, many will assume a manuscript is one, even if not told so. (And if told it’s exclusive, they are likely not to remember.)

As I listen to beginning female children’s writers talk about editors, again and again an image from olden days comes to mind: A woman waiting by her phone for a man to call. She’s afraid to go out in case she might miss him, and she’s afraid to call him in case he might think her forward. As for her seriously dating more than one man at a time—well, nice girls don’t.

Though most women today have advanced beyond this way of relating to men, they often show similar patterns in relations with editors. Their entire marketing strategy seems geared not so much to sell as to avoid offense.

Instead of asking, “How can I get this manuscript into the hands of an adequate number of editors in a reasonable time?”, they will agonize about such disastrous scenarios as “What if two editors both want my story?” (The correct response is: Celebrate.)

It’s time for female children’s writers to stop giving the advantage to the male minority in their midst. Here’s a suggestion for my less-than-intrepid colleagues: The next time you face a decision on marketing strategy, ask yourself, “What would I do if I were a man?”

Then take a deep breath and do it.

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