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12 X 12 June 2017 Featured Author – Tim McCanna

12 x 12 June 2017 Featured Author – Tim McCanna

12 x 12 Member Tim McCannaHey 12 x 12ers! Tim here.

I started writing picture books way back in 2009. I flailed around for 3 years, studying the industry and practicing my craft. By the time I joined 12 x 12 in January of 2012, I was a hungry, handsome, unpublished writer with a big binder full of rejection letters. Five years later, I now have an agent, I’ve sold nine picture book manuscripts, and I drive a Lamborghini. (Okay, I drive a Honda Odyssey. A guy can dream though.) The point is, I want anyone out there in 12 x 12 Land who is just getting started, or has been at it for a while and feels like they’re not making headway to know that you can go from NO books published to SOME books published with time and persistence. If you want it, it can happen.

Let me share five tips to help you get closer to your goal…


Slush piles? Form rejection letters? Silence means a ‘no’? This industry can be really cruel and frustrating sometimes. Especially when you’re anxiously hoping for good news day after day. There are certainly things you can do to take control of your destiny, but there’s also a bit of accepting the realities of the system and going with the flow. Publishing takes time. Agents and editors are constantly inundated with submissions, and the cream invariably rises to the top. If you can reach a Zen place with how the business works and just focus on being the best writer you can be, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache. Try to forget about how much time it takes. Let’s all agree: IT TAKES A LONG TIME. Concentrate on DOING stuff. Write, revise, research, and read. These are the fun things writers do.


Seriously. Never stop writing new stories. Forget about that last one you just wrote. I don’t care how special you think it is. Write the next one. The book you haven’t written yet is about to be the best book you’ve ever written. Isn’t that exciting? By writing and writing all kinds of stories, you’re building up those muscles and gaining the experience to know what it feels like to write a ton of duds. Then, you’ll be able to recognize what it feels like the moment you finally pop out a sellable story that actually clicks. Good news: Failure IS an option. You have to write the bad ones to get to the good ones. I know this from experience. Besides, an agent doesn’t want to sign you if you’ve only got one picture book to offer. They want to see that you’re serious and that you’ve got the potential for more sellable work. Allow yourself years (and I mean YEARS) to experiment and play with voice and style and subject matter. Let go of any notions of how quickly you want to get published, and just practice the art of writing. I guarantee if you put in a substantial amount of effort, a wide range of rewards will come when the time is right.


I am obsessive about manuscript formatting. You should be too. It matters. It’s the difference between showing up to a job interview in a suit or sweatpants. Take pride in how your manuscripts look. No fancy fonts. No glitter in the mailing envelope. It’s simple and boring: Name and contact info at top left and word count at top right of the first page; Title halfway down in all caps with ‘by your name’ under it; Start your story text in the bottom third of page one; Font = Times New Roman, 12pt. double spaced; Header at the top of pages 2 through the end with your name, story title and page number; italicize art notes and put them in brackets. DONE! (And no, don’t put a copyright line on your manuscript. That’s a rookie move. Look it up.) Sometimes you might be asked to paste your manuscript into the body of an email or an online submission field. In that case, formatting kinda goes out the window. Just keep it clean and flush left to avoid irregular spacing as best you can. Oh yeah, and quadruple-check your spelling, typos, and punctuation, please.


Don’t you dare submit a rhymer to an agent or editor if the meter is lazy. I mean it. I’m watching you. Meter is what separates successful rhymers from the wanabees. Every line, every stanza, every beat must be consistently PERFECT. Settle for nothing less. If you’re slipping in extra syllables, twisting phrases, or using wonky words to satisfy a rhyming couplet, you’re forcing it. Go read Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale, Chris Van Dusen’s Circus Ship, Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs, and Sue Fliess’ A Fairy Friend. Study the flow of their text. Admire how the lines end on unique, satisfying rhyming words. Marvel at how fun and easy it is to get into the rhythm of their phrases. This stuff is not easy, but that’s the bar that has been set. With practice, you can develop your own filter for quality control. In the meantime, have a reliable writing colleague read your work OUT LOUD back to you without you coaching them. You might be surprised what you hear. If it doesn’t quite work, fix it, or cut it, or rewrite it completely. Rhyming manuscripts get a bad rap because the stinkers really stink, and the sharp ones are few and far between. Don’t waste your time submitting a rhymer that hasn’t gotten the thumbs up from your trusted peers.


This writing stuff is a lonely business. You can only rattle around in your own head for so long. We all need information and feedback and moral support sometimes. SCBWI conferences and regional events are great for that. But, I’ve never liked the word “networking.” It feels counterintuitive to an introvert like me. It sounds like you’re out to get something from somebody. Let’s not think of it like that. Let’s just call it “meeting people.” Go meet people. Writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, bookstore managers, and yes, agents and editors. Don’t go in thinking you’re adding them to some little black book of contacts that will help you climb the publication ladder of success. Don’t approach an editor at a conference with the mindset that if you can squeeze in a quick elevator pitch it could be your big break. Yuck. Just meet people. Talk to them. Ask them about themselves. Make a couple friends. Form a critique group. Lucky for us, children’s book people are super nice and supportive. We need each other to survive!

Tim McCanna is the author of Bitty Bot, Watersong, Barnyard Boogie, and Teeny Tiny Trucks. His upcoming picture books include Jack B. Ninja, Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway, and Boing! Tim also serves as assistant regional advisor of the SCBWI San Francisco/South chapter. He lives in San Jose, CA with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Millie. Visit him at You can watch Tim’s 12×12 Success Story video here:

Bitty Bot, Watersong, Barnyard Boogie by Tim McCanna

Tim is giving away a free personally signed copy of Bitty Bot, Watersong, and Barnyard Boogie to three randomly selected 12 x 12 members who leave a comment below and check-in at the end of June.

This Post Has 233 Comments
  1. Thanks for the encouraging post and reminding us that it does take time and that perserverence is key!! And if we do keep on this journey, perhaps a Lamborghini awaits each of us;) wishing you the best of everything!

    1. Hi Tim,
      thanks for sharing a little of your journey. It is always nice to know it doesn’t just “happen”. I love your advice on keep writing even if you think the last story is amazing. I need to hear that.

  2. Fantastic post, Tim. Thanks for your encouraging words. You know, I drive a honda Odyssey too. Now all I must do is write 978 stories. 🙂

  3. Great post, Tim! Thank you for the encouragement to remain patient. I totally agree that writing new stories is the key… I don’t have 1,000 but so far I have written 226, with 1/3 them waiting to be taken from a “sloppy copy” to first draft status.

    Instead of a Lamborghini I think I’d opt for an Excalibur Phanton 🙂

  4. Thanks, Tim! Loved the comment about finding the Zen place in the business. And also how your next story will be the best one. Isn’t that the truth? Every time.

  5. I know that I will be referring to this post for month’s to come! I was hooked at “Slow Down.” After successfully writing for kids’ magazines, the change in turn-around time to writing PBs is h-u-g-e. I’ve learnt that the hard way, but now I know it’s not me, it’s the business. And you’re right-the next story I write will be the next best one. In fact, I already have a working title 🙂 Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  6. Thanks for sharing your practical tips and optimism.
    Time to reformat my MS and to give myself permission to write MORE stories.

  7. I love love love this post and totally needed it today. As someone somewhere in the middle, all of this advice hit home. I love the “just meet people” part too. So much more fun to make friends than to jump up and down trying to get noticed. Thank you Tim!

  8. Tim:
    Thanks for sharing the knowledge. I’m going to apply everything and I can’t wait to see what manifests.

  9. Tim, this is the perfect advice that I needed today. At this moment in time.
    Your books make me smile!

  10. Thanks for your insightful ‘to do’ list! I need to print it and refer to it often. I’ve already put your recommended rhyming books on hold and can’t wait to read Barnyard Boogie.

  11. Thanks for the inspiring post, Tim! I actually took a deep breath and sank back into the pillows to enjoy just “being here”. Slowing down now…

  12. Tim, thank you for this. I very much appreciate your advice to just keep writing stories.
    I’m an introvert too, and shy – probably major reasons why I’ve not attended those big meetings. Overwhelming is not fun for me.
    I look forward to reading more of your work.

  13. Tim, thank you for telling it like it is. Getting published is a long, slow journey. When unpublished authors like myself hear that, its reassures us. We realize even published authors went down the same winding roads to find the road that led to success. We have to want its bad enough to hang in there and give it the time it deserves. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Congratulations on all your success.

  14. Wow! Thank you for the encouragement and great advice. This is the most complete and helpful advice on formatting I have seen. Thank You! And congratulations on your success!

  15. “Lucky for us, children’s book people are super nice and supportive.” Exhibit A: Tim McCanna. This was a great read for me heading into a weekend SCBWI conference – time to ratchet back the angst and expectations, and relax into an opportunity for learning craft and industry, and enjoying fellow writers / artists.

  16. Thanks, Tim! This is great advice, especially for the unagented writer such as myself. Just keep writing and writing and writing. And then keep revising and revising and revising. Hard work and patience is what it takes!

  17. Thank you Tim for your realistic and encouraging post! Wishing you much continued success! Bitty Bot is one of our favorites! 🙂

  18. I feel SO much better about how long this journey to publication takes after this encouraging post! Thanks, Tim!
    Congratulations on your successes, too! Happy June!! 🙂

  19. Tim, this is stellar advice. I especially like how you write about continuing to write. In your words I feel the undercurrent of those years of experimentation, struggle, and refinement–and eventual success. It’s heartening! I’m glad for your success, glad you’re my regional assistant advisor, and glad you took the time to write this article for us. Thanks.

  20. Great to hear these stories of success. I have kept up with the 12X12 and today worked on three new ms. I love getting in to it and being a writer, writing and writing. NOW i have to market.

  21. Fabulous post, Tim. I definitely need to remember to slow down. It’s so easy to think I have to do it all now now now but I plan to be in this for the long haul and there’s no rush.

  22. Tim,
    i”ll print out your formatting suggestions and get into the habit of using them every time. Thanks for the rhyming titles. i”m about to order rhyming books form the library. Check, take time, check be patient, check keep working.
    looking forward to reading your books.

  23. This post was very helpful minus the Lamborghini or Tesla or any special car. I picked up several good ideas from what you said and especially the formatting on the manuscripts that need to be in the body of an e-mail. Thanks, love your books, and the Katie Davis and other musical intros you do. And I am getting a good idea what I need to do after years of trying and trying to make a sound picture book manuscript.

  24. Tim, thank you for all of this AWESOME info. And for all the encouragement and reminders. I’m a rhymer too and, man, it is a STRUGGLE to get it right. But darn it, its so freakin’ FUN! 🙂

  25. Thanks for your post Tim! And congratulations on your many books. Watersong is wonderful. We are lucky to be in such a supportive community. Go kidlit writers!

  26. Thank you Tim! I appreciate your advice, words of encouragement, and humor…I so needed to read this today:> TY, TY, TY!!!

  27. Thanks for the grounded encouragement, Tim! I don’t know if this link will work, but it’s along the theme of Doing the work and Writing 1000 stories…

    Ira Glass: “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

  28. Yes, TIm. Everything you say is true. I’m trying to develop a Zenlike mindset, so I keep re-reading Jon Muth’s stories. One day I’ll be Stillwater. You books are lovely, by the way. Congrats!

  29. Thank you Tim for the encouragement. It does get solitary and times heavily depressive to be a writer. I love the advice to “meet” people and you mentor texts for rhyming. Congrats on your books. I adore Watersong.

  30. Thank you Tim for your very wise words. I love the idea of writing 1000 stories and to “just keep writing, just keep writing” and to become the best writer you can be.

  31. Thanks, Tim, for the encouragement to keep at it no matter how long it takes. And the manuscript format tips.

  32. What an excellent, honest post, Tim. Your manuscript formatting tips are especially helpful. Thanks and I wish you continued success your hard work deserves.

  33. Wow! Thanks for this post, Tim. I’ve been writing a long time but haven’t hit the thousand mark yet. Guess I’d better get cranking out the stories!

  34. Great post! Thank you, Tim. Wonderful timing, I just read a rymer to my crit group
    and when you read things out loud you can tell where it was forced. Back to the ‘ol drawing board!

  35. THANK YOU! Thank you! Thank you! I have heard this many times before but this time, thanks to your way of expressing it- I get it ! BTW, I drive a 2001 Honda CRV with 200,00 miles on it- 100,000 miles to go!
    If I can keep driving that, I can keep writing to 1,000!
    Wishing you all that you wish for.

  36. Pearls of wisdom, for sure. My favorite part was the quick summary on formatting. I think writers are largely type A when it comes to grammar, by the nature of the beast – but formatting is a cousin too easily ignored. I’ve copied that paragraph into my notes for quick future reference. Thank you!

  37. You’re blog post is soooo helpful! I really appreciate the explanation and photos of the exact manuscript format. I also like your command to write 1000 stories to build our writing muscles.

  38. Wonderful advice! Thank you for sharing the proper formatting techniques. I also appreciate your call to write 1000 manuscripts. I admit I get caught up in social media and building my platform to a point where I realize I haven’t written a new manuscript in a while. That is why I appreciate 12×12 so much, it hold me accountable.

  39. Thanks Tim for the great advice. All very down-to-earth while being inspiring at the same time.
    Hmmm, only 975-ish stories to go….

  40. Thank you Tim McCanna for the great advice. Have you really written 1000 stories? Wow! You’re ultra prolific!

  41. Tim, I loved this post. The specific advice about formatting. Thank you. The rhyming mentor texts. Thank you. The warm fuzzy encouraged feeling I had while reading it. Thank you.

  42. Great Post Tim! I love your sense of humor. Thank you for reinforcing that the process can be long and lonely but also the tips you give to move on through. Thank you too, for the the good tips and practical advice you shared. I am so happy for you and your success story. It’s writers like you who make this such a warm and supportive community. Best wishes.

  43. Tim, Thank you for simplifying the formatting etiquette. I get asked it from some new SCBWI members and you describe it perfectly. I have copied your description and credited you for it so when I am asked again, I can share it. Ditto on the rhyming texts as I have two critique group members who write in rhyme. I do not as I totally stink at it and will leave to those of you who rock at it.

    Best of luck to you with your newest endeavors. I think you have found your niché!

  44. I loved reading your post! Thank you for the description of formatting; that is really useful to me. Your story is inspiring and now all I need to do is write a few more stories. Well…maybe more than a few if I want to get to 1,000!

  45. As an introvert, also, I’ve run away from networking, but it is so crucial to being successful. Thanks for re-framing it as simply meeting people — that makes it less scary.

  46. Put your rhymer through the wringer!!!!! Oh My Gosh! You are BRILLIANT, Tim. Thank you so much for this amazing post…I appreciate you sharing the insights you have gathered along your writing journey. And all good wishes for all of your wonderful books!

  47. Wise words! Thanks for sharing how you navigated the wild journey of publication, Tim. Best of luck with all your books!

  48. Tim, congratulations on your success! Thank you so much for sharing your tips for success in such a friendly, straight-forward way. Best wishes for your blossoming writing career.

  49. Tim, thanks for posting this! So helpful. I agree with you about slowing down. After 6 years of writing I have finally reached the Zen place you talked about and it feels great. It has made my writing much more effective. Best wishes to you.

  50. Such wonderful advice! Great to hear when hard work and perseverance pays off. It’s easy to lose one’s way on this long journey. You relate how to stay on course and authentic to yourself.

  51. Congratulations on your success Tim! I moved out of my basement workspace and set up space on my backyard deck. Soaking up the sunshine and reading your sage advice is exactly what I needed today. Thank you!

  52. Love these lines: “Write, revise, research, and read. These are the fun things writers do.” Thank you, Tim, for the tips and inspiration to never give up.

  53. Excellent advice about patience combined with focused persistence in writing, including a dollop of encouragement to keep every writing working toward the goal publication. Thanks, Tim!

  54. Tim! Great post. Especially the part about enjoying the process of writing and reading. When we all accept that the waiting game is part and parcel of the whole experience of becoming a published author, we can use that time wisely. Thank you!

  55. So much good advice here! What resonated with me today especially was this: “But, I’ve never liked the word “networking.” It feels counterintuitive to an introvert like me. It sounds like you’re out to get something from somebody. Let’s not think of it like that. Let’s just call it “meeting people.” Go meet people. Writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, bookstore managers, and yes, agents and editors. Don’t go in thinking you’re adding them to some little black book of contacts that will help you climb the publication ladder of success. Don’t approach an editor at a conference with the mindset that if you can squeeze in a quick elevator pitch it could be your big break. Yuck. Just meet people.”

    Thank you for your work as a critique Ninja recently, Tim, as well as this lovely postings. Keep on keeping on. ~ Carrie

  56. Thanks for a great article and all of the reminders on being professional and “staying the course.” Isn’t it Kyle Cease who says, “Just show up and stay in the room.” Yeah – good advice for all endeavors.

  57. Great post Tim – I love ‘Write 1000 books’ and ‘Failure is an option.’ I’m also going back to check and double-check my rhyme and syllables. This post has really resonated with me. Thank you!

  58. Tim –

    I want to remember when you said, “You have to write the bad ones to get to the good ones!” Great motivator for keep writing! Thank you and congratulations on all your book successes!

  59. Thanks for the great advice, even though I already knew it, it sounded better and more convincing from you. Congrats on your success!! Looking forward to reading more of your books!

  60. Thanks Tim for the straightforward advice, especially about meeting people rather than “networking.” You just made getting out there and connecting with children’s book people a whole lot easier for me!

  61. Tim what great advice. I would love to see a copy of hoe you format your anuscript to make sure I am on the right track. I look forward to meeting you someday. Congratulations , on all your hard work. Your diligence and patience has paid off. Thank you for the pep talk.

  62. This is a great pep talk! I got going fast and furious at the start of the year, but I’m definitely in some summer doldrums right now. I appreciate the injection of a little extra energy, Tim!

  63. Tim: Thanks for the post. It was just want I needed today. I’ve been in a writing slump for a few weeks so I needed to be reminded to give myself and my work all the time it deserves.

  64. Thank you for the “pep talk”. It is something I really need right now to “pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back in there again”. It is so encouraging to hear authors speak of their difficulties and how they work through them. It helps to get through the pity party. Thanks again.

  65. Tim,
    I really liked your comments about finding a Zen state with the pace of our industry, since I’ve been pretty proud of myself for doing that lately. 🙂

    Also, you’re completely right about the importance of meeting peers, sharing information about ourselves, and finding gems in critique groups and author friends. I’ve been so lucky in the tribe I’ve found through SCBWI and 12×12!

    Thanks for sharing your advice and inspiring us all!

  66. Thanks, Tim, your post was helpful and encouraging, especially knowing you do indeed have to “write the bad ones to get to the good ones,” and your advice to “just meet people.” I find that much easier than “networking” – I dislike that term as well!

  67. Tim, thanks so much for your words of encouragement.
    I definitely agree with you about just meeting people.
    I have met so many wonderful people at events and critique group meetings.
    Thanks for the pep rally!

  68. Thank you for being so honest and motivating me to keep on. Publishing books isn’t easy. Your advice is very helpful. I’ve found by experience that I did need to slow down and enjoy the small victories (publishing a poem, a story or an article here and there) and keep learning and growing.

    Success to you.