When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m an illustrator.
“Oh? What do you illustrate?”
“Have you ever heard of Cricket Magazine?” I might say.
If they have—they had it when they were kids or their own kids read it or they’ve seen it in the dentist’s office—this is good.
Yes, I know all about J.K. Rowling and her rejections.
“Yes. I do that. I illustrate stories for them.” And if they don’t know about Cricket, I tell them it’s a children’s magazine, and this seems to satisfy their curiosity.
Another, much riskier option is to say, “I make children’s books.”
“Oh? Would I know anything you’ve done?”
And I will mention my book, (Mostly) Wordless, but if I am sensible, I will neglect to mention the fact that it is self-published. I might even mention Cricket. This, too, tends to satisfy their curiosity.
But sometimes, I just can’t help myself.
If I am weak-willed or my ego is particularly fragile that day, I might mention that I’ve also written and illustrated a number of picture book proposals that I’m submitting to publishers, and that I have an agent, and that I self-published my first book by raising money through Kickstarter, but will admit that outside of magazine work I still haven’t been traditionally published, and it goes without saying that I haven’t yet found success in the field.
And then they will mention J.K. Rowling.
“I bet you get a lot of rejections,” they might say.
“Yes. Yes I do.”
“You know J.K. Rowling got a lot of rejections before Harry Potter was published.”
Yes, I know all about J.K. Rowling and her rejections. I know because my 90-year-old father brings this up exactly one million times every time we talk on the phone. He mentions this almost as much as my father-in-law mentions the Pet Rock. Now as daunting as it is, I’ve learned not to mind when my father-in-law mentions the Pet Rock as an analogy to the improbability of success in my chosen career because I realize he’s just never going to get what I do.
And I don’t mind—not too much anyway—when my dad talks about J.K . Rowling, because he is awesome and thinks that I have a good chance of becoming J.K. Rowling and I love him for that. It’s still annoying, but he’s my dad and you’re not.
I know you have good intentions. I know what you’re trying to say is, “Hang in there, fella.” And if you are not my dad, and I have decided that dignity is no longer a thing that I value, I might end up saying, “Well, it takes a long time. Yes, it’s been about six years, but in publishing years that’s not very long, and I’m just getting started but I’m very optimistic that….”
Because when you ask about J.K. Rowling, what you’re really doing is pointing out the fact that I’m not J.K. Rowling and that I’m not likely to be J.K. Rowling. What you’re basically saying is that you’re sorry that I’ve failed, but, “Hey, you never know.” I might end up writing something like Harry Potter. It could be the next Pet Rock. Unlikelier things have happened. But honestly, this J.K. Rowling thing isn’t remotely encouraging.
How many famous children’s authors can you name, really, besides Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling?
Then there are those who insist upon saying, in the spirit of a good ribbing, “Are you famous yet?” or “When are you going to be famous?” or “Now I’ll be able to tell people that I knew you when.”
I do not understand this famous thing.
If I were a cynical person I might take this to mean that not only do you think my prospects unlikely, but you’d like to give me the business for the arrogance of even attempting to fulfill such an impossible ambition. Or maybe you’re just a tiny bit jealous. Or maybe it’s all very innocent. I’d certainly like to think so. I have no idea.
But my temptation—and this is a temptation that I have learned (for the most part) to resist—is to say that there are many successful children’s authors that aren’t what you’d call “famous.”
In fact, even some of the most successful are by no means well-known among the general public, and how many famous children’s authors can you name, really, besides Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling? I will try to explain that it is not an either/or situation. I wouldn’t mind being J.K. Rowling for sure, but I also wouldn’t mind some modicum of success. A little industry and peer recognition. Some basic professional income and the ability to say, “Yes, I write children’s books for a living, thank you.”
I hate that kid Harry Potter. The little shit.
Photo courtesy of OnlyinEdinburgh.com.