Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Five things I didn’t know until I got published - by Leila Rasheed

1) Writers are divided. Poets and community writers think novelists have it easy and set too much store by publication. Novelists don’t know that community writers exist. Horror, romance and fantasy writers scorn authors of literary novels for being pretentious and not selling any copies, and literary writers look down on horror, romance and fantasy writers for, well, not being literary. Happily, all are united by their mutual incomprehension of why any intelligent adult would choose to write ‘kids’ books’.

2) Not all children’s authors are nice (although everyone working in children’s publishing is nice, disturbingly so).

3) Commercial fiction means ‘fiction that sells a lot of copies’ – for example, The Catcher in the Rye. Genre fiction means ‘fiction with a murder weapon, cartoon heart or vampire on the cover’. Literary fiction means ‘fiction with a truncated soft-focus person, an unremarkable landscape or Soviet-style graphics, on the cover’. Move away from these definitions and you will swiftly sink in a quicksand of doubt.

4) You will be paid for just doing just about everything apart from writing – leading workshops, being a motivational speaker, teaching other people how to write. The one necessary qualification for these jobs is a publishing contract. For writing, you will receive a six-monthly statement which tells you how over-drawn at the publisher you are.

5) You will be welcomed into schools, although they don’t quite know why they want you. Children will consider you a celebrity and queue up for your autograph. They will assume you are rich, have a fast car, and personally know Jacqueline Wilson. Meanwhile you will be spending every night worrying either about how to feed your own children, or whether you can afford to have children in the first place.

Had I known these things before I was published, it would have made no difference whatsoever to my desire to get published, and be a writer.

Post script: this is all a bit depressing. So here are five WONDERFUL things about being published:

1) Nine year old girls will look upon you as a god.
2) Children will ask you for your autograph; you will be horrified to realise how much you enjoy giving it. Even though you know it will be lost forever at the bottom of their bag. In a school, you will be a celebrity.
3) Other writers will amaze you with their supportive generosity. Writers who work in prisons, writers who work with the mentally ill, writers who give their time and talent so that others can benefit from writing. Writers who let you use their best workshop exercise without a grumble. Writers who sit around and help you bitch about rejections.
4) Filling out official forms will acquire a new piquancy now that you are able to write with perfect honesty: OCCUPATION: WRITER.
5)Books are tax-deductible.



Brian Keaney said...

All very true though being pleased about being asked for your autograph wears off quite quickly

michelle lovric said...

Superb, Leila!

To the downside, I would add that whenever you admit to being a writer, strangers automatically issue a challenge, 'So have I heard of you then?'

I admit that I often nip humiliation in the bud by saying I am a book designer, as it sounds like a real job, also one in which NOT being a household name is not an apparent signpost of failure.

People seem satisfied that a potential outbreak of ego has been quashed when you mutter, 'Oh no, you won't have heard of me.'

Perhaps one should challenge right back, and say 'Have you heard of me? Depends ... what kind of reader are you?'

Megan Burke said...

Fantastic list, thank you!

Martina Boone said...


Loved this so much. Hope you don't mind if we include it in our Friday round-up of best articles for writers.


Savita Kalhan said...

I loved your post, Leila. You're so right - depressingly so in the first list, but the second list does make it all worthwhile. I always thought children's writers were a special breed...

Leila said...

Martina, please go ahead, thanks!
Glad you enjoyed it :)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

'Children will consider you a celebrity and queue up for your autograph. They will assume you are rich, have a fast car, and personally know Jacqueline Wilson.'... so spot on! and the autograph is usually asked for by brandishing a grubby little piece of paper under your nose. But then sometimes there is the pleasure of a remark... 'this was the best day I've ever had at school' But even this I'm becoming inured to when I look at those little devillish grinning faces that know just how to charm.

K M Kelly said...

Fascinating post - and I loved the bit about literary and genre writers being united in looking down on kids writers!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Not so surprising - but still fun!