Let’s face it, most children’s writers are going to work really hard for not much financial reward. We’d better not think of success in financial terms only or most of us are going to be disappointed. Success in the form that Dan Santat achieved this week with the news that a movie will be made of his wonderful picture book, "The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend," is rare in children’s publishing.
Eight years ago this month I left a corporate job and a pretty decent salary to do something I’d been dreaming of — write children’s books. The corporate job was killing me. I was miserable fighting the traffic to get to work, trying to deal with the company politics, working long hours with little vacation time to travel or visit family. So I gave up the salary for the uncertain financial gain of freelance work and maybe, at some indefinable time in the future, the possibility of selling a story to a publisher. Success for me in those early days of children’s writing was sitting at my computer, having an idea, and finishing a story based on that idea. Success was reading a story to a critique group and enjoying (not hating) the feedback process. Success was revising a story and seeing the improvement in my writing.
When I quit my job I set myself the goal of getting a story published in five years. I was naïve. I didn’t understand the industry or the challenge. I sent out work too soon and gathered rejections. Was that failure? If my criterion for success was publishing a book in five years, I’d certainly failed. But I learned from the rejections, worked harder, and sent more stories out into the world. I wasn’t succeeding in any financial capacity and I wasn’t meeting my goal of being published, but I was following my dream to work as a children’s writer and that in itself was a success. There were times I wanted to give up, times I whined to my ever-patient husband that I must be mad to keep on writing when all I ever saw was rejection. But finally I got the magical, wonderful, thrilling email that said an editor loved my story and a book, “Hungry Coyote,” was born.
Three years past my initial goal a published book with my name on the cover sits on the shelves of bookstores and the best thing, the absolute best thing, is that children are listening to the words between those covers and looking at the gorgeous illustrations and enjoying the book. That’s SUCCESS. It has nothing to do with the advance or the royalties (if there ever are any); it’s everything to do with the children. One of those children is my granddaughter. She calls it “Nana’s book.” Those are sweet words.
It might be years before I sell another story. Heck, I might never sell another story! I might adjust my view of success. But for now I am a self-designated success.