Saturday, 21 April 2018

Being One of Many

Being One of Many
 (or being happy with who we are as writers, whilst appreciating that others are as good or better.) 
by Anne Booth

Any published writers (with the possible exception of some celebrities) will have got to the point of being published after experiencing the pain of having their writing rejected. We have all realised, or been told, that our work was not good enough, and have had to discard or revise and re-submit it.  The odds were against us, but still we persisted, and then, somehow, self-belief or drive or simple need to write, sustained us until our luck turned, and/or our craft improved to such an extent that somebody decided that one (or two) of the books we had written were worth publishing, and we finally became published authors.

But as we all know, it doesn’t end there. Sustaining our careers and continuing to write and re-write and edit and start again, requires energy, and it also seems that a continuing self-belief and ability to self-promote is required that sometimes seems at odd with being sensitive and able to write worthwhile fiction in the first place. This is where supportive agents and publishers are vital, and those of us with loving families and friends are blessed.

But in the end, it does all come down to us. People can tell us until they are blue in the face that we are good, but if we don’t listen, there is nothing they can do about it. We need to be realistic about our ability to self-sabotage. If reading a mildly critical review of a published book we have written can send us off into a self-doubting tail spin for weeks, render us unable to work and mess up our writing schedule for the next month, perhaps it might be good to not read reviews at all and ask our agent to pass us any good ones. Most of all, we need to monitor any negative comments we make to ourselves. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics.

I’ve been thinking about this recently. There are some absolutely amazing children’s books about, and I’ve been reading and buying lots of them.  I have a lovely time buying children’s books and supporting fellow writers, reading them and understanding my own market more, and then I pass them on to my book buddy school in Liverpool  or  local schools in my area which are facing huge budget cuts. It’s win-win all round. Recently I have read and really enjoyed ‘The Children of Castle Rock’ by Natasha Farrant. What a great story! Last night I began ‘Tin’ by  Pádraig Kenny and am hooked - it is so original and well written and I LOVE it. Bought and on the  current TBR pile are ‘The Goose Road’ by Rowena House, ‘Pax’ by Sara Pennypacker, ‘Skychasers’ by Emma Carroll and ‘The Eye of the North’ by Sinéad O’Hart. They all look brilliant.

Why doesn’t their brilliance make me want to give up? Realistically, it definitely could. I admire so many writers. There are so many  amazing books out there. Why do I think that I have anything extra to offer? I certainly didn’t always think so. I didn’t attempt to write children’s books for years because, as a bookseller, and after studying for an MA in Children’s Literature, I was well aware of how difficult children’s books are to write, how important they are, and how many people had succeeded already in writing amazing stories I was in awe of. I did wonder why I thought I had the right to try. But I  kept reading, and secretly writing, and went on Arvon courses, and I enjoyed writing so much, that I finally realised that this was the job I loved above all others, and needed to do. I am so proud now to be one of Anne Clark's writers, and to be published by wonderful publishers. I don't want to be falsely modest - I know I have written good books and I am proud of them and really am determined to write more and better ones. I don't want to stop. But, as we all know, it isn't an easy profession and there are so many good writers and books out there.

I think that is what is freeing for me  is knowing, and  remembering that knowledge, that no one book by me or others, however good, will satisfy every single reader, and certainly not every critic.  In spite of the existence of the competitive world of awards  and long lists and starred reviews and, let’s face it, huge differences in advances and earnings and publicity budgets, (all of which can bring on the demons of self-doubt and comparison)  I think one thing which cheers me up about being a writer for children and keeps me going, is that  ultimately we writers are not really in competition but in community. What we are doing together is a wonderful, worthwhile  thing which adds to the total of children’s happiness, and so, as fortunate parts of that community, we can hope that each of our published books, (providing we have done our very best when writing it) does have something positive to offer to the sum total of what is out there. 

 I am not saying that we always feel inspired and never feel overawed by others’ brilliance, (and I must have had a bit of a wobble  or I wouldn’t have thought of writing this post in the first place!)  but all the published children’s writers I know genuinely love reading children’s books by other people, and I think that enthusiasm and belief in and love for the genre we work in is what will keep us going and writing more books. 

I am also not saying that publishers shouldn’t look carefully at writers’ earnings and discounted sales, and I definitely believe that in order for us to continue we need to campaign for libraries to stay open and be given the funds to re-stock. People have limited funds for books, and so of course, we are competing in a crowded market, but still, ultimately, when we support and genuinely praise our fellow writers’ work we are not strengthening the competition so much as validating ourselves in a way for being part of such a wonderful enterprise. 

Obviously, this can be carried too far and  if I bankrupt myself buying other people’s books, or spend all my time praising others whilst not getting on with or promoting my own work, that isn’t good for me, my family, or indeed that my agent or publishers.  It does make me glow inside whenever a child says I am their favourite writer - that’s definitely so wonderful to hear and inspires me to keep going - and I would obviously love more and more children to say that. Frankly, I would love every child in the world to say that!  But as an individual, realistically I can’t be EVERY child’s favourite writer and also, thankfully, children will not only ever read one book or one author.  Even if we are a child’s 10th or even 100th favourite writer, that still puts us in with a chance! The more diverse and different we writers are,( and again, the industry needs to keep an eye on that) the more unique and wonderful books out there by us and others, the more happiness for the children reading them, and hopefully, we can all take collective credit!!  

And now, to contradict myself, here is the cover by the wonderful illustrator Rosie Butcher for my book with OUP (illustrated inside by Rosie too) due out in June, a book which, of course, despite my protestations,  I would secretly (or not so secretly!) still love every single child in the world to enjoy, every single parent, godparent, aunty, uncle, sibling, cousin, teacher and friend to buy, and every single bookseller and librarian to stock!  


Rowena House said...

Honoured & deeply flattered to be included on your TBR list, Anne. I absolutely agree that supporting fellow writers is an essential part of this business. "Pay back, give forward" seems to be at the core of our writing community.

Anne Booth said...

I'm looking forward to it! I have a book coming out in June which is partly set in WW1 so I was professionally interested too - but it just sounds such a lovely story and I love the cover too.