There’s something I don’t talk about much here (largely because I try to stay positive in this space): a couple of times a year, almost like clockwork, I go through a very discouraged phase in connection to the writing world and my place in it. Discouraged as in I feel forgotten, unheard, and unimportant — a small, insignificant cog in the massive, slow-moving publishing machine.
This time around I stepped aside from my writing for a couple of weeks. I exchanged emails with Valerie Geary, Kirby Larson, Linda Williams Jackson, and Glenda Armand. I had a heart to heart with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. All of them were supportive and kind with slightly different things to say, things they’ve chosen to do to keep their minds on the work and not the outcome. I’ve used these weeks to process and think, to consider one more time how I can keep at the work I love without getting wrecked in the process.
One thing I realized almost immediately was I’d never taken my annual social media break. July is usually my time away from the Internet, but when MIRACULOUS released in July 2022, I decided to stick around. Social media has a cumulative effect on me that I’m often not aware of until I’m knocked off my feet. It’s a place where authors engage in relentless horn tooting (me included). It’s where I’m inundated with publishing news. Honestly, I don’t even interact much on social media. I’m more of a “post and run away” sort, but even that approach doesn’t hold at bay all the news and promoting and flash. (I’m not knocking authors, by the way. This is my crowd; these are my people. But even good news from people I’m rooting for when my part of the writing world is silent can hurt.)
One bit of writing-friend advice really stood out. Linda encouraged me to stop reading Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf, a bi-weekly e-newsletter full of articles about books and authors and new publishing deals. I’ve read it religiously for years and years. As a writer and reader, I feel responsible for knowing about new releases and what’s to come. The only problem is PW is much like social media for me. I’m not aware of its cumulative effect until I’m knocked off my feet. It’s hard seeing only the “hot” books promoted. It’s discouraging to see authors sell books after mine but publish those books before me.
Linda told me she hasn’t read PW since she signed with her agent. This permission not to read really felt freeing. I can’t say I’ll give up PW completely, but it’s been nice not to be so tied to every last reported sale or news on bestsellers. I’ve realized I can keep current without knowing every detail (or every deal), and perhaps tuning out a lot of the noise will mean I’ll discover more books with less flash.
Something else I’ve been thinking about these weeks is the word success. If you’ve read here for any length of time, you know this has been a theme of mine — what success is and how I personally define a sustainable definition. But in the last few days I’m thinking I might stop using that word altogether. Success, no matter how you define it, is tied to its inverse, failure. Instead I’m starting to think about what I have contributed and am contributing and will contribute to children’s literature. This strips away the measurements and ranking that come with words like success and failure. I might see evidence of my contribution (like a sweet fan letter or a great book event), but mostly I won’t be aware of my work’s impact. Even so, I believe what I’m doing — and what I’ve previously done — continues to make a difference. Contribution in my mind is a more generous approach than measuring success, and I need all the generosity I can get!
I can’t control how the manuscripts my agent has sent out into the world have been received of late — mostly with deafening silence. I can’t change how long the wait has become to get a sale or rejection. I’m telling you, it’s wearying. But I can come to my desk to find satisfaction in the work (which has always and will always be the primary reason I do this writing thing).
There’s no fancy bow to tie this up with. These are largely the same things that have given me heartache in years past and will probably present challenges in the future. (As my husband says, my job comes with high highs and low lows.) But I can keep trying to keep trying. I can remind myself once again my worth isn’t tied to my work. And I can keep my focus where it needs to be: Eyes on my own paper.
Kirstie My says
I agree with you about social media and PW weekly, both of which I engage in sparingly.
Most importantly, I agree with establishing our OWN definitions of success. Success isn’t tied to awards or accolades for me (although those are certainly nice). Success for me is when my family is proud of me. When my friends are proud of me. When I feel in my heart, the ancestors are proud of the work I’m doing. Success is when an elder tells me, “thank you for telling our stories.” Success is having just ONE child love my book!
As long as we remain grounded in who we are and what our writing purpose/mission is, we can’t go wrong.
Right on, Kristie. I’m right there with you. The only shift I’m making is away from “success” because even with my own sustainable definition (which I love, by the way: If I am proud of my work and my editor is proud of my work, this is enough. Reviews, sales, or awards (or the lack of these things) do not equate a book’s worth), the word itself can feel limiting.
Keep doing what you’re doing! You’re making a difference.
Serenity Bohon says
Yes, yes to all of this. I feel it in publishing – have basically walked away for now, in fact! I also feel it with the job hunt right now. It is very hard to get noticed in this world and to feel successful. I love this idea of contributing instead. Well said.
It’s a bigger, less competitive word, isn’t it? Good luck on that job hunt, Serenity. I hope you’re well.
Fleur Bradley says
I’m exactly where you are, and am making some similar adjustments to where I let my eyes drift. I hope you find your center too.
Thanks, Fleur. I’ll be thinking of you in this process.
Linda Williams Jackson says
Oh, Caroline. This post! So many quotables passages.
Does it help if I tell you I’ve been reading Miraculous as a mentor text for good writing? No, not just good writing. Exceptional writing! You already know that you are my inspiration. You are not “forgotten.” Keep moving forward. Keep believing. Keep plowing to the end of another row, and you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
p.s. I do read PW occasionally. 🙂
The truth comes out!!
Thank you, dear Linda. What would I do without your kindness and wisdom and reminder of God’s goodness and gentle kick in the pants on occasion? xo
Sarah M says
I’m not in the publishing world (just the ‘love books’ world!) and I actually see your books as such high quality historical fiction – where stories that *never* get told, are finally finding readers. Informing kids + adults alike of actual people, events, and culture that has shaped history throughout the centuries IS important work, and the world is a better place with your offerings.
FWIW, I also think that May B was the leader in the YA/middle grade trend of poetry-as-novel that I see everywhere now. There have been so many books like that (and I’ve only read a handful), and you sort of lead the way in that genre with your debut book.
Cheers to the hard work. You’re doing a great job putting beauty into the world!
Sarah, I’v put the email version of this comment in my “things to encourage me” file. Thank you so much for your kind words and heartfelt belief in the work I’m doing. It means so much to me.
Thank you, Caroline, for your lovely honesty. I so appreciate it. I know many, many other midlist authors who feel the very same way, but so few of us admit it!
Thank you, Tricia. I look up to you, so knowing you’re here sometimes too bolsters me.
This is such a far-reaching post you’ve written, Caroline. Ugh. I have had a long, long dry period, publishing-wise. It helps to hear all of this.
Thank you, Cynthia. Solidarity!
Lynne R says
Thank you for sharing this, Caroline. Your posts have been a help and an encouragement to me in writing.
One significant way you contribute is that readers absolutely enjoy your work. One of my friends describes herself as a fangirl of yours, and she uses your books in homeschooling.
I appreciate you sharing this with me, Lynne. Thank you!
Margaret Simon says
I’ve followed you for years and feel envious of your success. I know this feeling is not a real one because the few times we’ve met, I’ve been taken by your honesty and charm and kindness. I have a goal of being you when I retire and am working toward it with two books coming out, but that doesn’t mean I feel successful at all. It just makes me realize that you have to keep working hard, writing and writing, and looking for the ways to promote your work. It’s a tough business. Thanks for sharing your honesty about this. It’s so easy to look at others and think they have it easier, better, but the reality is not that at all.
Congratulations on the new books! I understand the feelings of envy. It will strike me at ridiculous times, and it’s almost always my desire to measure or rank my “position” against someone else’s (which doesn’t even work and isn’t even a real thing…at least not in the life I’d like to live). It is a tough business, but we can aim for ways not to make it more tough on ourselves. That’s where I’m trying to focus.