How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission? For some, it’s a gut feeling. But just how do you learn to trust your writer’s intuition?

The support and encouragement of my writing group has helped. I run a picture book manuscript by them three or four times until there’s not much more to be gussied up. And then I tuck that story in my back pocket and wait, creating distance. Weeks later, I iron out the creases.

Months pass. I flip sentences around. And then I flip over in bed all night, over-analyzing the story. I consult the thesaurus and exhaust the synonyms. I belt out the story in my best character voice and listen to how it flows (and someone please tell me why I always slip into a southern accent?). I love reading aloud. That’s the best way for me to check the authenticity of the kid voice, y’all (there I go again). And then, when all that’s left to edit is interrobangs, just when I think I can play endlessly with it for lack of anything better to do, I think it’s time to let it fly.

Or is it?

I understand when experienced authors suggest new writers to take an apprenticeship of two years. Writing improves with practice, and the children’s market has its own set of rules. Moreover, it’s an extremely competitive field with many successful, established authors. To break in these days, not only does your writing have to be crisp, the idea has to be unique. So much has already been done—and done well.

Now, you may believe you have extraordinary talent (don’t we all), but don’t skimp on those two years. Immerse yourself in writing. Read books on the craft, attend conferences, join a critique group, take classes, read best-sellers in your genre. That will always be time well spent, creating a solid foundation from which to launch a career. Think of it as a sling shot: the further you pull yourself into the craft, the further you’ll fling yourself forward.

I subbed four manuscripts out this summer and the rejections are trickling in. Did I submit too early? I admit, I didn’t complete the full two-year apprenticeship before letting go of my stories. Thankfully, I didn’t submit far and wee (little nod to e.e. cummings since it’s so puddle-wonderful outside). I kept the list very small so I could gauge response. And the response tells me I have to improve my gut.

I’m working on it.

I’ve already revised two PBs with a new critique partner, one who really pushes me. I believe in her talent, and she believes in mine. Maybe two guts are better than one.