Best (Most Heartbreaking) Writing Advice Ever

first book I sold
in the children's market
When I first started writing for children, I did what most beginners do: I imitated the books I loved best. I worked to get better and better at the craft of writing. I wrote quite a lot of books... that didn't sell.

And then I did get better -- better enough to sell some books and see them published, which was a wondrous, amazing thing!

Only those books didn't perform wondrously in the marketplace. They did fine, and I am lucky that all my children's books are still in print. But bestsellers? Nope.

So, like, many authors, I knew I was a "good" writer. Maybe even "better" than some of those bestsellers out there. What could I do to be MORE successful? How could I write that "break-out" book?

That's when I decided to to think like a marketer and not like an author. Forget about good-best-better. Think different. Think innovative. Write books in a way that has never been done before.

Which is exactly what Charles Waters and I did with CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda/Lerner). The book was released in January, and is now in its 3rd printing. It's sold more copies than any of my previous books. We are so grateful and humbled... and validated.

So. Here is the advice I have to offer you striving writers:

It's more important to be different than it is to be better.

Since making that decision, making that turn to "different," I have sold at least half a dozen new books that will hit the marketplace over the next several years. I don't know yet how they will perform in terms of sales, but I can tell from the excitement of the publishing houses that this commitment to innovative work is me finally finding my voice in this industry. I couldn't be more excited!
IreneLatham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books, including two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (with Charles Waters). Irene lives on a lake in Alabama where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and feeding the birds. 


  1. What great advice! Wonderful news about your wonderful book, Irene. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. This is so true! Congratulations on your accomplishments.

    1. Thank you, Janet. Other advice I find hard to employ: celebrate one's accomplishments! I am trying. Thanks for reading!

  3. I am happy to report that I own at least one copy of all your books, and I'd be hard pressed to find a favorite. One of my students, an African American 2nd grader, took home Can I Touch your Hair for a week and reported that she read it 3 times. You are reaching kids and inspiring writers like me. Thanks!

  4. This is AWESOME. I can't wait to hear more about these new projects. I love that you've found so much strength in being different.

  5. Exciting news, and inspirational! Thank you for this wisdom!

  6. I'm going to hold on to this mantra: It's more important to be DIFFERENT than to be BETTER. Thanks for this one.


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