Wednesday, February 10, 2010

just drink it...

I thought I would post a little follow-up to Meghan's half full or half empty? post. I have not read the The Secret (which sounds like an annoying book) nor do I dispute that the reality that life for a children's book author/illustrator is far from glamorous. And, it IS extremely irritating that is seems like a lot of marketing it pretending you are more successful than you actually are (as I said in an earlier post (a LONG time ago).

But, even though Meghan's post was pretty true, I wanted to give our profession a bit more positive light. I had lots of people and professors tell me that "you'll never be able to live off of children's books," demoting what we do instantly to a hobby or a lesser profession. And it's not. You can make a living--it's not easy and maybe you won't make the money the way you thought (school visits support many an author) and it's definitely not for everyone, but it is possible and it can be pretty gratifying too.

Almost all of us have watched new authors and illustrators shoot to instant super stardom or get 6-digit advances with first contracts with a feeling of inadequacy. But they are more the exception than the rule. Making a living as a children's book creator is not a fast process. In 2009, I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of my first book published. It was a book I wrote and illustrated for $5,000--a measly sum when compared to my peers who were getting $10,000. just for illustrating. But it's been a book I've read and signed and sold year after year, using its royalties to pay for insurance and doctor bills and, most importantly, to build the foundation of my career.

And that is truly what making a living in children's books is about. It is about slowly building and scraping what you are able to get-- no matter what it is-- to make a career that will bring you upwards. You have to keep working at it, continuously with love and passion; and every day, every year and every reader--you get a little higher and higher until you can finally appreciate the view. And after over ten years of this, maybe, you can even get yourself a Newbery Honor. It's possible!

So, I guess what I wanted to say is that it doesn't matter much if the glass is half full or half empty. It matters more that you are thirsty enough to drink it.

15 comments:

Sara Z. said...

Yay - something positive but not Pollyanna. Thank you. I feel *extremely* grateful that I don't have to work a job besides writing anymore, but that definitely does not mean I'm rich. There is so much middle ground where most of us writers live. Hard work, decent second-income pay (if not a living), and you really grow to appreciate non-monetary rewards, like a reader who totally gets your book or a nice review or a night out with fellow authors while conferencing, seeing friends succeed after years of rejection, etc.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Thank you so much for this post. "You have to keep working at it, continuously with love and passion..." YES!!!

I'm reading WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON right now, Grace. What a lovely book. Congratulations on your award - so well deserved!

matt said...

I couldn't agree more that this is what it's really like. I think you can be proud of your work and excited about someone wanting to read it even if you aren't making a lot of money. This is a perfect description of the profession:

"You can make a living--it's not easy and maybe you won't make the money the way you thought (school visits support many an author) and it's definitely not for everyone, but it is possible and it can be pretty gratifying too."

Thanks, Grace.

Harold Underdown said...

As the editor who acquired your first book, The Ugly Vegetables, I'd be the first to admit that the advance on it was, umm, modest. But I'm glad that the book became a stepping-stone for you, and a steady source of income as well.

You did that book, and you kept moving forward. And that's what brought you where you are now.

Linda Covella said...

Great post, thank you. Very ispiring. The money's nice, but the real thirst is wanting to write AND have kids read and enjoy our stories.

Handsome Colonel Breakfast said...

Sounds like everybody involved understands that success requires
A) hard work,
B) a confident attitude, and
C) a preference for the frustrations of success over the comforts of compromise.

I'd suggest that effective guidance plays an often-invisible role too. ("Outliers" offers many useful thoughts about that.)

Just like a plant needs water AND soil AND sunlight, all of the above criteria are vital for success - and whichever is least abundant will be considered "the secret". Better to find the place where all are plentiful and set up shop there.

Vicki said...

Beautifully stated! "..it doesn't matter much if the glass is half full or half empty. It matters more that you are thirsty enough to drink it." That made me a little teary-eyed. No wonder you are a Newbery Honor-winning author! :)

Anne Broyles said...

How awesome that those of us who work in children's literature have the opportunity to do something creative that makes a difference in the world; we are part of an incredible community of writers, illustrators, librarians and teachers; we interact with young readers and observe the importance of books in their lives. As the MasterCard ad says: "Priceless!"

Sarah Aiglen said...

The print run of JK Rowling's first book was less than 5,000 copies and her advance was equally modest. Few of us will match JKR's achievements. But it's good to remember that even a writer who achieved record-breaking success also persisted in writing that first book, for years, with little or no recognition or financial reward. - Sarah Aiglen, http://www.sarahaiglen.com

Olugbemisola (Mrs. Pilkington) said...

Thank you so much for this, I really needed it!

Erik Brooks said...

Very well said Grace. I just spoke at an SCBWI WWA monthly meeting about my own "10 year" trajectory and couldn't agree more. Thankfully I really do like doing those school visits :)

Sarah said...

What a great post! Life would be so much nicer if we could just have the joy of creating without the need to make money but I can't imagine doing anything else.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be smart, but about the glass analogy: huh?

I still like Grace's books.

Eula

christine tripp said...

Illustrating is not my passion, it's my career. My passion is my family and my career is what satisfies my need to be accomplished and to make a living. If someone says to me that they do not care if they ever make any money from their work as a children's book illustrator, then I will say they will never be a children's book illustrator. When you are into the 5th round of changes on an illustration for the editor/art director you will know this is a JOB, it's a lot of hard work and you will often be doing it (depending on the type of project) for only the money!
I agree there is a living to be made in children's illustration but it most likely will not be from that glamourous Trade book series you dreamed of when you first began. It will most often be from much ed work, private and company clients, chapter book b/w's, paid school and library readings, it will be a diverse income. Then, once in a while, that great Trade book that you ARE passionate about.

Ello said...

Grace,
This a fabulous post. Thanks so much for writing it. Your wonderful picture books are well loved at our local library and in high demand. And I think that people seem to forget the lasting impression children's books have on all of our lives. Every single person I know can name a favorite children's book that they loved - and that is true even for the non-readers! So this is a wonderful profession that impacts the most important audience.