June 26th, 2007

book cover

Rainbows and Unicorns

"Oh, kids books! I've got a couple stories I'd like to turn into books one of these days."

"Kids books are so expensive! You must make a ton of money!"

"Writing for kids. How fun! Your life must be all rainbows and unicorns!"

Ha. Sorta puts a person in a mood. Unicorns must die. That sorta thing.

I know we're just supposed to smile and nod and say, "Yes, I've been meaning to do some brain surgery when my schedule clears up, too..." but sometimes a gal wants to,y'know, express herself a little. I mean, really. Where do people get this idea that being a children's author is both easy and lucrative?

As for the money, I'm super happy for old J.K., don't get me wrong, but her bank account seems to have created a rather unrealistic impression about the rest of us.

And the effort -- is it Herculean? No. 
We're not delivering medicines to dying children in war torn nations. 
We're not fighting forest fires, round the clock and past the point of exhaustion. 
We're not teaching classfulls of 2nd graders year after faithful year. 
(Well, actually some children's writers are doing that, too.)

But "easy"? That'd be a stretch.

There're the usual struggles -- building a titallating plot, creating a sympathetic character, revising every single bloody syllable until the seventeenth draft no longer shares the same genetic material as the first draft.

That counts for something, right? 

Plus, I know we're an immediate gratification culture and that we could all use a little patience, but Whoa Boy, this industry takes that to an extreme. We wait months to hear back from agents and editors, and then it's often with a form-letter no.  We wait weeks to communicate with the agents and editors who are already 'ours' and we wait years (school kids always think I'm kidding when I tell them this) for our books to come out, even after we've finished every last little touch of our work.

And how about marketing? Didja know we needed to be marketing agents of our own employ? At first I thought I just needed to order bookmarks. I could handle that. But we're talking blogs and bookstores and press releases and holiday fairs and all flavors of things we're not exactly trained to do. And these efforts can take over your life if you don't watch out. I mean, it takes hours to do a mailing to all the independent booksellers or all the local librarians. It takes a good dose of courage to show up for a signing that may or may not be attended by anyone other than your children and your neighbor. And I don't know what you need to write a confident and compelling press release about yourself without feeling like you want to die. Being your own spokesperson isn't all it's cracked up to be. 

Especially when you're your own chef and cleaning lady and launderer and driver and nanny and personal shopper, too. One of the trickiest wickets we negotiate, us childrens' writers, is the fact that our work and our lives are so entwined, right here, up close and personal. My office, my dog. My desk, my washing machine. My kids, my kids, my kids. Today, for example, no revision because of swim team, a sewing project and the garbage disposal repairman. Tomorrow, a sleepover.  And what day isn't laundry day? Sigh. Creating boundaries and clarity? Now that's Herculian.

But here's the thing (and don't tell this to the surgeon or the software designer): I think that the muddle of it all may also be the best part of my life's work. I don't go away for 10 or 12 hours everyday; this summer, even my teaching's online. I work in the midst of my family. They steal my tape and stapler, but they also leave love notes on my desk. I get to go to swim team and help wind a bobbin with new yellow thread. I get to read a chapter book aloud over lunch.  

My office, my dog. My desk, my washing machine. My kids, my kids, my kids....
Not easy, not lucrative, but totally worth it.