Sunday, January 09, 2011

from the BRG archive: success and the road to publication

It’s my turn to post and just as suspected, I can’t come up with a thing to say. Certainly nothing insightful like the previous posts by the wonderful and talented others. I’m going to take this opportunity to throw some random thoughts and questions your way. Consider this sort of a free association.

My first question is––if you are a writer, what would you do if you won the Newbery? If you are an illustrator, what about the Caldecott? I’m afraid, sadly, that I’m the type of person who can never truly enjoy things for what they are. This is a conversation I posted on my personal blog––

What would I do if I became successful?
On Monday, while at work, a coworker asked what I would do if I ever won the Caldecott.
"Yeah, like that would happened," I said.
She said "You'd pass out, wouldn't you?"
I said "I would never win. It's like winning the lottery. It's not gonna happen."
"But you'd pass out."
"No, I wouldn't."
"Yes, you would."
"No, that wouldn't happen. This is a silly conversation."
"You'd pass out. I would."
"IF that happened, and I got the phone call, then I'd think someone was prank calling me. I'd tell the caller they were mean and that it's not cool to do something like that. Tricking people is not nice"
"Well, once you realized that it was for real, you'd pass out."
I thought for a moment. "No, I'd worry about giving a speech. I'd worry about what I was supposed to wear. I'd worry that I wouldn't be able to get up early enough to make it onto the Today Show."

My second random thought is I guess more of a complaint––I can’t stand that 3 out of the 4 publishers I’ve worked with want the cover before any interiors. Obviously you want the cover to reflect the book as a whole… but how can you do that if you don’t know what the rest of the book will look like! This is a constant problem. It is also a problem when you’re not quite sure what you want your characters to look like and keep changing your mind. Okay, the “you” in this rant is obviously a fill in for “me.” If there are others out there who feel the same way, speak up! It’s time we illustrators take a stand!

Here’s another random thought––I often forget how large my desire and desperation was to be published. At the tender age of 22, fresh out of RISD, ALL I wanted was to be published! I didn’t care if I was successful or had money or anything else. That was my one goal. I remember when I got the “phone call.” Actually, it was a phone message. I had just moved to NYC and was not mature enough to leave normal voice mail messages. Instead, I did accents. One week it sounded like a southern belle lived in the little Williamsburg ghetto-style apartment while the next week one could swear it was someone from Englad. Confusing? Yes. Funny? I thought so! I think my editor-to-be called back three times before leaving a very discombobulated message. She said something like “Um…I don’t know... um... I don't know if I have the right phone number… this is…um…I’m looking for Meghan McCarthy. This is so-and-so from Viking Children’s Books and I’m calling with good news…” I remember leaping out of the shower with no towel on (feel free to imagine whatever you’d like there!) and jumping up and down. I knew what this meant! I took a moment…more like 15 min…to collect myself, then called my mom and a few friends…THEN called the editor back. After I got the official offer I thought I would be set for life! I told my friend “I’m going to be an author and I will never have to worry about money or holding down a crappy job again!” Okay, I was WRONG WRONG WRONG but that’s the way the story goes.

What was your first offer like? Editors––what’s it like from the other end? Let me and all of us know!

I have now rambled on for a VERY long time. It’s funny how “nothing to say” turns into a LOT to say.

(soon I will come up with my own amazing tagline! Or perhaps you can help me decide what it shall me. Yes, that will be grand)

Originally published Aug. 6, 2006

1 comment:

Nikki Shannon Smith said...

Wow, Meghan, this is quite a post!

I answered the first question before I read your answer, and was fascinated by the contrast. My answer was that I would scream, perhaps drop the phone, then call everyone I knew. It didn't dawn on me to say it wouldn't happen.

The artist's perspective about submitting the cover first was also interesting. I didn't know it happened that way, but I would imagine that would be really hard! Then you would be stuck with that image for the rest of the illustrations. (It does explain why that is what I received first from my editor, though!)

And the last question... that first deal. I will try to keep it short, since it is all so fresh in my mind. My first (only) offer came in June of 2010, 13 months after I submitted it (following a conference) to an editor. By June, I had assumed that she was passing on the project. I was the interim principal of our elementary school, and the year had ended, so the secretary and I were the only two people in the office. I turned on my computer that morning, and saw an email from the editor. I figured, "Oh, she must have gotten around to sending me a rejection." (There was no bitterness, I was actually appreciative that she took the time to respond and give me closure.) didn't make sense. She was asking if it was still available. I read and reread that two sentence email, not able to grasp that this was the moment I had been waiting for.

When it hit me, I screamed. Yup, right there in the school office. The secretary came running into my office and asked what was wrong. I think I scared her. With tears in my eyes, I told her about the email. She hugged me and let me ramble. I finally realized that I needed to respond, and with shaky fingers, tried to type a thoughtful way to say "Yes, it's still available." My cell phone rang, but I didn't recognize the number, so I ignored the call. I sent my email, and checked the voice mail. It was the editor again! She was worried that over the year, my email address might have changed, so she called as well. We ended up having a wonderful conversation, and she, too, was gracious enough to listen to my excited ramblings.

I called everyone in my family after that. And nobody answered the darn phone! I spent that whole day on the phone, pacing the floor, unable to get any work done. I remember when I finally got through to my husband. He put my ten year old daughter on the phone and she squealed right along with me. That was the best moment. For months, she had been saying (everytime I fretted about not getting a response), "Mommy, don't worry. Maybe she really likes it, and has been taking it to her meetings." Poor kid knows more about the acquisition process than she should.

So, there it is. Obviously, all of that excitement just came rushing back! Sorry this was so long! The thing is, I know that my reaction to another offer would be exactly the same. I don't think getting that "call" will ever get old.