It might be because tax season just ended or because I had to buy a new car, but I've been really money-focused lately. So, when a person I just met at an event asked me bluntly, "Can you really make a living doing what you do?" I cringed.
Somehow, the profession of children's books (for all that we practitioners and book lovers spout about its importance) seems to always come down to this question in the general non-book public. I never assume to ask anyone from a waiter to a dentist that question, yet something about children's books seem to arouse a curiousity that cannot be contained.
The truth is when I hear the question, my inferiority complex rears its ugly head. Because, to me, the implication is that the answer is no. And suddenly, I see that our jobs, our careers and our passions are seen as just sweet little hobbies to amuse us while our spouses bring home the real money. Not that I'm knocking spouses that bring home the money (kudos for those that do); it's just that I feel it belittles what we do and what we accomplish.
Because you CAN make a living off of children's books. It's not impossible. I'm proof of it. Maybe it's not in the way they think (school visits are an important factor for me) and maybe it's not a life of luxury (I'm not anywhere near rivaling the Queen of England); but I get by--as do we all(and if not yet, will).
And furthermore, I can honestly say I love what I do. And everyone I know in this industry says that exact same thing. I don't know any other profession that can boast that. That, in itself, has got to be worth many a Christmas bonus.
When I was in art school, I remember specifically one of my teachers saying, "Well, yes, children's illustration is nice. But there's NO WAY you can make a living off of it." Because of that sentence, I tried for years to do work that would be more marketable for editorial or advertising purposes. I kept trying to do work I thought would sell, not work I wanted to do. And you know what? I couldn't scrape by.
It was only when I finally focused on what I loved, children's books, that I was finally able to make a living.
So what did I say to the stranger that asked me the question? Like I said, first I cringed, but then I saw his middle-school aged daughter next to him, waiting for my answer with bated breath. "Yes," I said, and I looked at her, "And you can too."