Everyone thinks that once you get a book deal it’s all sunshine and rainbows: a beautiful book, great reviews, book launches! … But it’s not. Getting published often introduces you to a host of new hiccups that you didn’t even realize existed.
Making books can be filled with a lot of ups and downs: It often feels like an excruciatingly slow process filled with rejected sentences and ideas. It can sometimes feel like your story doesn’t belong to you anymore—at least once an editor, designer and illustrator come into the picture. And worst of all, audiences might not “get” your book and that means a bunch of bad reviews, and maybe, even poor sales. Blargh.
Sometimes, I wish that the act of writing for myself (and no else) was enough. Sometimes I wish shoving a bunch of picture book manuscripts under my bed was as satisfying as holding a beautifully bound and illustrated picture book. But I keep coming back. Does my drive come from the influence of capitalism on my every action? Is it my inherent narcissism? Or is it the small victories?
For me, the small victories are mostly snack related. When I sit down to write, it means I get to have a cappuccino and a croissant at my favourite café. Literally the four things I love the most in the world. Small victories, indeed.
I imagine that other authors and author-illustrators may have more significant and profound small victories than me, so I asked a group of authors and one author-illustrator the question, “What are those things that keep you coming back to writing and getting published over and over again?” Here’s what they had to say:
An author’s life is not all razzle-dazzle. Mine is punctuated with rejection. I have a drawer full of manuscripts that never found a home. In spite of this, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Why? It’s the joy of slowly bringing an idea to life. It’s the feeling of satisfaction when I find the perfect word to complete the perfect sentence. It’s all the stuff that happens before the razzle-dazzle. That’s why I keep writing.
What keeps me going as a writer is the thrill I feel in making up a story. Following some stray train of thought into that inner world (the imagination? the subconscious?) where “other things” are happening — things I am “discovering” rather than “controlling.” It sounds certifiably crazy when I try to describe it, so usually I don’t. But honestly, that’s what’s kept me at the keyboard all these years. That inner world.
I have always loved to draw and create worlds either from my own imagination or from brilliant authors whose stories get my creative juices flowing. Each book I work on, whether it is well received or not, is above all a special gift to me, allowing me each time to immerse myself into these worlds and bring them to life. Each project is also a challenge I welcome with a healthy dose of nervousness and excitement. I am constantly working on perfecting my technique and visual approach, testing new mediums and material. With each completed book, I know I am growing as an artist.
I keep writing and submitting stories because I want to see books that would have appealed to me as a kid. I also write because it satisfies my need to be creative. Even if I don’t get published, as hard as it is to do sometimes, I feel better when I’m writing than when I’m not. Submitting stories is like buying a lottery ticket. Eventually, I think one of them will be a winner.
I am big into small things: Baby steps. Small acts of kindness. Two-bite brownies. Looking at your writing career as an on-going list of small victories is the best and perhaps only way to remain sane and grounded. For me, it’s reaching one reader. After one of my school presentations, a grade eight student came up to me to tell me that she really liked my novel, The Winnowing. This in itself is a victory. But when I thanked her and asked her what else she liked to read, she clarified, “Oh I’m not like, a reader. I haven't read a book since grade three but I couldn't put this one down It was like, really good." This feels like cheating because it isn't a small victory at all, it’s a huge one, as well as a reminder that somewhere out there someone not only read your book, but loved it. You may never meet this person, but they exist, and your work has made an impact. A single reader might not turn you into a bestselling author, but you've made a big difference to someone, which is immeasurable.
Andrew Larsen's latest book comes out in May 2019. Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden (Kids Can Press) is a book about throwing seedballs and growing friendship. (www.andrewlarsen.ca)
Linda Bailey is the author of more than 35 books for kids — novels, picture books, early readers, graphic novels and board books. Her latest book is Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Julia Sarda (Tundra Books). She lives in Vancouver. (www.lindabaileybooks.com)
Qin Leng is an author and illustrator who has published over 30 picture books in Canada and around the world. Her books have been nominated for numerous prizes, including the prestigious Governor General's Literary Award. (www.qinillustrations.com)
Chieri Uegaki is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program. Her latest picture book, Ojiichan’s Gift, published by Kids Can Press and illustrated by Genevieve Simms, will be released in April 2019. (www.kidscanpress.com/creators/chieri-uegaki/280)
Vikki VanSickle is the author of a number of books for children, including the 2018 Red Maple Award Winner The Winnowing. Her next picture book Teddy Bear of the Year, about a teddy bear who learns the impact of small acts of kindness, is coming out in 2020 from Tundra Books. (www.vikkivansickle.wordpress.com)
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Naseem Hrab is the author of the picture books Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings, illustrated by Josh Holinaty. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. Sometimes Naseem likes to get up on a stage and tell true stories. She loves improv and coffee ice cream.
She worked as a librarian for a time and currently works in children's publishing.