Celebrity Children’s Authors Whinge

Apologies for the lack of post last week, but I’m gonna make it up to you with a long, in-depth and semi-researched post today, FULL of complaints and whining! I spoil you.

So if you are involved in (or a semi-desperate observer of) the Children’s Publishing market, you were probably aware of the controversy caused last week by the celebrity-heavy line up of children’s titles for next year’s World Book Day. 4 out of the 10 books that will be £1 on World Book Day 2018 to promote reading, were written by celebrities.

You are also probably aware that, ludicrous as this seems, it isn’t surprising. Controversy over celebrity children’s writers has been a growing topic over the last couple of years, when everyone from Jamie Lee Curtis to George friggin Galloway to Eyebrows Delevingne has been cranking out children’s/YA books.

If this is all getting a bit TL;DR (get me bein’ all down with the internet), then this gif pretty much summarises my feelings on the issue:

 

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Unlike most ACTUAL children’s authors, feeling personally victimised by the industry isn’t that new to me (pardon the self pity), so when I hear about a celebrity getting a publishing deal that would probably have paid for at least half a dozen debut authors, it just gives me a particularly violent burst of the impotent rage and sadness I’m usually feeling when I think about children’s publishing.

But I didn’t particularly want to talk about why this is A Bad Thing, because I really do feel like that’s pretty self-evident. (If you don’t think so, David Almond, Patrick Ness and Joanne Harris, among others, have gone into it.) What I wanted to talk about was the brain-frazzling logic I’ve seen defending the celebrity children’s authors. For instance, World Book Day director Kirsten Grant has said, “Yes, there are celebrity writers on the list (who have written their own books), but if they are the catalyst to encouraging a non-reader to pick up a book and start a nationwide conversation about reading, then everyone will be better off.”

not sure

Now, Kirsten, are you telling me that you honestly believe that the average 5-8 year old knows (or gives a flying fuck) who Clare Balding is? Don’t get me wrong, I love Clare Balding – I think she’s very good at her actual job, but I’m not sure her prominence in the televised sports presenting and journalism field is going to have brought her to the attention of many kids, however much they might love animals.

What Kirsten Grant MEANS is that these children’s PARENTS have heard of Clare Balding, and so are more likely to choose a book written by her whilst stood in the kid’s section at Waterstones, staring at the multi-coloured, floor-to-ceiling mirage before them and clutching tenners in their sweaty, panic-stricken hands – because it’s easier. It’s easier than doing some research into children’s books and their non-celebrity authors. It’s easier than asking a bookseller who they would recommend. It’s easier than picking something at random and your child-hating it because they told you that until they’ve read Dick King Smith’s entire back catalogue they couldn’t possibly touch Jacqueline Wilson.

And that’s okay. I get that. I’m not a parent, but that shit looks well stressful, and I can easily imagine ignoring these options in a field where you feel a bit in over your head.

But I don’t think it’s right for publishing companies to ENCOURAGE that. It feels lazy, to me, to spend loads of money slapping a celebrity’s face on an often-ghostwritten book and screaming about it, regardless of its quality, to push parents towards buying something easy. Surely more children will end up reading if they’re given something because it’s good. (Slight disclaimer here that I do know there are celebrity authors – David Walliams, for one – who write genuinely good kid’s books. But it’s an exception-not-a-rule situation.)

So yeah, that’s my two-bit. Please don’t try to tell me that publishing celebrity authors will encourage children to read, because you know and I know that is nonsense.

(And FYI, I’ll write you a children’s book for like 1/1000th of the price of Cara Delevingne.)

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Priority Balancing

Here’s a Relatable Thing. As a writer who also has to do ‘other stuff’ (earn money, buy food, do the washing up, book dentist appointments, have friends etc.), I generally find that any writing or publication-hunting I want to get done finds itself languishing in the dregs of the Priority List, somewhere between ‘change that lightbulb in the kitchen’ and ‘tidy files on desktop’.  Unlike the lightbulb, I actually really want to do it, but the fact is that if I don’t put a load in the washing machine, I don’t have any socks for tomorrow; if I don’t make lunch, I’ll be hungry this afternoon; if I don’t earn money, I can’t pay for stuff…ever. Whereas if I don’t send off that submission…well, pretty much nothing happens.

Because of this, it’s genuinely difficult to force myself to make time for it. And half the time, I’ll set a whole day aside for writing / submissions, then find myself at 4.30pm in an unusually tidy lounge with a bunch of things checked off my to-do list and about 8 words written. But this is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ blog, so regardless, here are my top two tips for finding the time:

  1. Set aside time in advance. This always starts off being a whole day, then an afternoon, then a couple of hours, and usually at around 4pm I fling myself down on a chair and assert (to no-one in particular), ‘RIGHT. I am going to write for ONE FULL HOUR.’ (Then I spend twenty minutes fiddling with the formatting and despair at myself.)
  2. Scrounge any time you can from literally anywhere else. I have sent submissions off at work. I’ve sent them off in the middle of the night. I’ve sent them off whilst sat at bus stations. Depending on my motivational and rejection-blues levels, I’ve been pretty crazy about it. (Not that I recommend the craziness.)

And on that ALMOST totally pointless note, I will leave you.

Things That Keep Me Motivated

  • The only slightly nonsensical belief that, if my fate was to acquire X number of rejections before achieving success, I must have put a good old dent in it by now.
  • Drinks with fellow writers, in which you lament the universe’s (/publishing industry’s) heinous treatment of you, air your fears and then slurrily insist that the other is SO TALENTED (they really are) and you’re SO SURE they’ll make it (you really are). It helps to know you’re not the only one.
  • Sitting in a cafe and writing by hand, which still always makes me feel like a ‘real writer’.
  • Sheer spite.
  • The thought that each rejection is a step closer to the agent who will (finally) take a chance (/pity) on me.
  • Other people telling me they really do believe I’ll make it (and these people are only sometimes drunk).
  • Reading wonderful books that make me realise that agents aren’t just sadistic twats.
  • Reading terrible books that make me realise I can’t be all that far off.
  • Not thinking about it for a while.
  • Tea (the drink, not the meal. Though actually, that too).
  • Having a bit of a cry, and emerging like an angry motherfucking phoenix from the ashes.

come at me bro

I Liked It, Just Not ENOUGH

I got a lovely rejection letter a couple of weeks ago. It said (verbatim) “I really wanted to like this – you sound great and committed as a writer and the synopsis is also really promising but I’m afraid I just didn’t fall for this in the way I wanted to.”

And on the plus side, feedback is a rare find and always much appreciated. A friendly, personalised rejection letter is also a rare find and always much appreciated. This agent asked me to bear her in mind for future submissions, and I certainly will – she was kind, helpful and polite. And I know that I’m lucky to have had that response, and that I’m lucky to have had all the encouragement I’ve had over the last few months. It’s a really good sign that I’ve consistently received positive rejections and encouragement, in amongst all the agents who have flatly ignored me.

But guys, I’m getting so fed up of being told they ALMOST loved it. I’m so fed up of getting job interviews but never the job. I’m so fed up of second place. And I know, I know, I’m lucky to place at all. But in the most arrogant statement I think I’ve ever admitted to on this blog, I don’t feel lucky – I actually feel like a very hard worker and publishable-level writer who has been noticeably UNlucky. I hope that doesn’t sound horrific. If it does, and you’re sat there thinking ‘I’ve worked ten times as hard and gotten half as far’ then please feel free to print this blog post out and burn it (I probs would).

But I have gotten a fair few responses that have essentially said ‘I would have taken this on if I’d ‘clicked’ with it’. And HOW THE FUCK am I supposed to make it ‘click’? I feel like I have done everything I can do, and now just have to hope that some luck-distributing leprechaun (or similar) gets his arse in gear and sprinkles a bit of long-awaited ‘click’ over my manuscript.

Until then, I suppose I’ll just keep pestering agents, and when they tell me I’m ALMOST good enough, be like:

fake smile

 

The 13 Stages of Receiving A Rejection

1. A new email! Ooooh, it’s- oh God.

calm shocked

2. It’s from an agent. Shit.

3. What if this is it? The beginning of my future life? What if I will forever look back on my time on earth and it was right now – THIS MOMENT – that changed everything?

4. Alright,

calm down

5. It’s probably a rejection. Almost certainly.

6. Well bloody click on it then.

7. Oh God.

8. Oh GOD.

9. ‘Thank you for sending us…’ BLAH BLAH BLAH DON’T TEASE ME

10. ‘Unfortunately…’ oh.

11. That’s fine.

12. I didn’t want this stupid agency anyway.

13. pizza

The Rejection Box: A Recap

I am (once again) fresh out of both news and ideas, so I have had possibly my laziest idea yet, and am literally going to give you a summary of The Rejection Box progress so far. There was going to be a graph, but I think we can all agree that would have been too far; instead, I have chosen to express each month through the medium most true to my inner nature: gifs.

January – Bring It. 

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Oh, so full of hope. Plans were in place, blog posts were long because time was plentiful, submissions flowed like the Niagara Falls. One measly rejection was received and basically lauded as a sign of legitimacy. Halcyon days, my friends. Halcyon days.

February – Productivity to the MAX.

productive

Still going strong – posts were lengthy and covered a range of topics that I thought would never dry up (ahem). The first full MS request was received, and even though I tried SUPER hard not to be, in retrospect the naivety of it is properly pitiful…

March – Peaks and Troughs. 

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The erstwhile peak of The Rejection Box. Yeah, there were ups and downs – two full MS requests along with two more full MS rejections, but hell if things weren’t moving. Goodness me, the mood swings.

April – Denial. 

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Looking back, this was the beginning of the decline. Assertions that I’m really not an amateur, beginning to consider what happens if I’ve just humiliated myself on the internet…but still, (mostly) regular posts on real topics. So. That’s something.

May – Anger. 

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By this point there is a definite tone of toddler tantrum-ing in the subtext of all the posts. Only at the end of May do the cracks really show themselves, but prior to that there is a clear, rage-y panic that I’m doing everything I can and it is going exactly nowhere.

June – Bargaining.

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Here we hit the wheedling stage of ‘no, come on now, don’t you think I deserve just a LITTLE bit of not-failing?’ Posts have taken a short and sporadic turn, and mostly revolve around trying to find new ways of saying I really am trying, but success is one devilishly tricksy little bastard…

July – Depression.

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With the exception of the brief moment of Chicken House potential, July was pretty much a surrender to the Failure Powers That Be. I was pretty ill this month, in my own defence, but it still reads a touch like a mental breakdown…

August – Acceptance. 

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Still not exactly ALIVE with blog posts or productivity, but I think (hope) that there is a slight upward turn here. Having been clobbered into the dirt, my hopes and intentions are JUST about ready to peek out from the ashes and play dead if Failure comes stomping past again. Maybe?

So that was worthwhile, eh!

 

 

What Does ‘Successful’ Mean?

Guys, brace yourselves. This is going to be an actual, real blog post.

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It occurred to me recently (months ago, actually, but hey) that I’ve talked a lot about wanting to be ‘successful’ and how hard I’ve been trying to achieve any ‘success’ and how desperate I am to even touch a blob of ‘success’, without ever actually defining the term. Do I mean I want to get a publishing contract? Hold my own, completed and printed, novel in my hands? Earn my living through writing? Become a squillionaire? Have newspapers hand me their monthly title of ‘the next JK Rowling’?

Well, yeah. I mean, that’d be sweet.

But sadly, I’ve been writing/trying to get a book published/cyber-stalking successful writers for ten years, and have long since tempered my thirteen-year-old intentions (of appearing on talk shows to promote the celebrity-starring film adaptation of my bestselling children’s novel) with a hearty dose of reality. Don’t get me wrong, the Dream Big Scenario is still – and will always be – to be a rich and renowned writer of books that people love.

But I’m not as stupid as I often sound.

As the years have gone by, my ambition for my own potential writing career has gradually deflated, surged up and (in the darkest hours of rejection) been replaced with the Primary Life Ambition of ‘owning a dishwasher’.  ‘Success’ is not a definition I have set in stone – even for me it’s a totally subjective concept, and I’m sure that anyone you asked would define it differently. But it’s been on my mind a lot recently, as I have once again found myself sacrificing my fought-for and valued writing time wringing job applications from my tired and frustrated brain, for positions I don’t actually want. (Please excuse the millenial* whining.)

On the plus side, it’s usually times like this when I settle on Becky’s Definitive Definition of Personal Success. And it is this: to be enabled, through publication of a novel, to build my working life around writing for children.

In translation, I want to hold my own, professionally published book in my hands. I want to earn some portion – and it doesn’t matter how tiny – of my living through writing. I want publication of a novel to give me a key to doors that are only open to published writers – to apply for residencies, take part in author visits at schools, attend book festivals and participate in the community of children’s/YA writers who are living, as far as I’m concerned, the Life of Riley.

Now don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world I’d be able to live a comfortable life by spending my working days doing the thing I love and am good at. But I think my subconscious feels that if I set my sights a little lower – to being able to call myself a published writer, and desperately pimping myself out accordingly – then maybe the universe will compromise, and give me something. You never know.

So that’s ‘success’, to me. And I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I can’t even tell if it sounds tragic or arrogant anymore…

*Please also excuse the use of the word ‘millenial’.

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