Thursday, 30 January 2020

Cheerleading online buddies vs the bizarre sense of entitlement around being published - This Week's Readitorial

It's been a hectic week as January seems to linger on like an eggy fart in a VW Beetle, but there have been some fab moments in kidlit, with several of our online pals finally getting their first publishing deals, mentorships and - in a couple of cases - seeing their books finally make it into print.

We've always been deliriously happy to see these folk achieve their dream of making it into print, or entering into the exciting process of getting professional help with their fledgeling works. It's hugely satisfying to see a name on a front of a book that you recognise - not because that person's a famous author, but because that person's been a long-standing and awesome pal online and (hopefully) someone who's dipped into our blog from time to time to read our opinions on books.

Yet there's a flip side to all this. I spotted a couple of articles this week about the other side of the coin - the thorny pain of rejection.

Creatives are normally sensitive types, hugely protective of their work and though most will accept criticism (grudgingly) it's also easy to understand why so many feel kicked in the teeth whenever they get a fairly soulless boilerplate rejection letter.

Through normal processes of submission to publishers or agents, there is an acceptance that if you don't get a frenetic level of interest in everything you do (almost unheard of, but not entirely unknown), you've somehow failed. If you hear the dreaded words "Thanks but it's not right for us" or "Needs a lot of work" or any other form of actual feedback, it can at least feed back into the creative process. If you get something fairly 'flat' back, you have very little to go on.

The weird thing for me is that sometimes I read blogs or think pieces where the sense of entitlement some writers / illustrators feel is clearly misplaced. They have such a strong level of belief in their work that they also strongly believe they deserve to be published, they belong in that hallowed cadre of published authors - and perhaps even if they do make it there, and get one book published, each and every piece of work they submit from that point onwards should be automatically greenlit.

We all know that it really doesn't happen that way. Children's publishing is an industry, a business, a divine entity that may have the very best of intentions but also the clear intention to make a shedload of money (not all of which finds its way into prospective author / illustrator pockets, but let's not go down that road, that's still a subject for another blog).

Commissioning editors are canny folk. They have a deep knowledge of the trends that affect the book-buying public's decisions to purchase or not to purchase. They go to the book fairs, and spot potentially awesome book opportunities - or see other publishers taking on certain projects and books and think "We could do one of those, email our pet writers to knock out a few like that as it's obviously gonna be a big thing!"

In the UK the industry feels like it's more reserved, less likely to take risky chances (hop across the English Channel to France or Belgium and you'll probably find the exact opposite - where kidlit is seen as another branch of art, not necessarily as a way to print money). That makes it tough as hell to get a book out there - and again that draws me neatly back to the top-end of this article and the sheer admiration I have for those folk I know that have made it.

If the sense of entitlement comes from creative self-belief, that's a boat that's inevitably going to run aground, hit the rocks and sink.

However, if someone's truly put in the maximum effort possible, joined every organisation out there, SCBWI'd and networked their butts off, submitted to countless agents and publishers, read a ton of children's literature across all possible genres and yet still gets those fairly flat letters of rejection back, perhaps the message is clear - it may never happen and for some that's just something they'll never willingly accept.