How to make the most of being a noncelebrity author
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
One of my clients, Janet McHenry, sent me a Reader’s Digest humorous article entitled, “I’m a Noncelebrity–Buy My Book” by Mike Reiss. Mr. Reiss is a children’s author who finds his books competing for shelf space with Queen Latifah, Queen Rania of Jordan and Sarah Ferguson among many other famous folks. His conclusion: He’s fighting for attention against two queens and a duchess. And, because of the alphabetizing of books by authors’ names, his titles rest on bookstore shelves between stories by Carl Reiner and Leann Rimes.
Why, he bemoans, does everyone have to write children’s books?
Don’t you just know how he feels? While new authors are working their hearts out to be noticed, and mid-list authors wonder how they’ll ever get out of the neutral zone and into the noticed zone, publishers are eager to sign up all the usual suspects for yet another rewinding of the same basic material they’ve been writing for years. It gives “there’s nothing new under the sun” a whole new meaning.
Not that the best-selling author didn’t work hard to get there and doesn’t continue to work hard. Most do.
But some come by success easily and hold onto it loosely. Success isn’t always a gift when it comes to developing character or the writing craft. But, hey, we all know life isn’t just or simple to understand; it’s complicated.
So what did Mr. Reiss do in the face of every celebrity in the world having a children’s book to add to their list of accomplishments? He chose to look at the up side to the trend.
One day he received a phone call from a publisher. Not to ask if he’d publish one of his children’s books with them, but to explain that they had a contract with an African American superstar whose manuscript was unusable, even by celebrity standards. “They asked me–a Jewish kid from suburban Connecticut–to write a book about growing up as a poor black kid in the slums of New York,” Reiss wrote. “And they wanted it the next day. I informed them huffily, ‘A children’s book is not a fast-food hamburger, and I am not McDonald’s.'”
Then they offered to pay him $10,000.
His response? “You want fries with that?”
While we can chuckle over the humor of his story, there’s gold in them thar hills. Reiss demonstrates what some authors don’t want to recognize: Sometimes we do what makes sense in the moment. Reiss didn’t dream of writing for a celebrity; he dreamed of being a celebrity–at least in the minds of the kids who read his books and loved them. His passion doesn’t reside in pumping out a book in one day; it’s in honing a great idea into a fun book with each word carefully chosen. And then rewriting until it’s as good as he can make it.
But when an opportunity comes to make $10,000 in one day, well, pragmatism wins over passion. And that’s not bad. Some authors who are stuck and can’t get momentum going in their careers need to make a pragmatic move. That might be to write for Love Inspired for a season, letting sales numbers grow and learning from editors how to create a more compelling plotline. It might mean teaming with someone who has an inspiring message but not the ability to write it in a competent way.
One of my clients used to turn down opportunities to write as a collaborative author; but then money got tight–really tight–and she decided she’d rather save her house than wait for a publisher to recognize her creative genius (which I truly think she has). She has kept busy and financially afloat ever since, and the last book she co-authored hit the best-seller list partly because of the name of the person she partnered with but also because my client wrote a beautiful book on assignment. And she carves out time in her busy schedule to work on a novel that’s all hers that she’s passionate about.She just finished writing that manuscript, and I’m about to shop it. Imagine how much stronger the possibilities are that I’ll find a good home for it now that I can say she’s recently written a best-selling book?
Making the pragmatic decision doesn’t mean giving up on the dream; it does mean being willing to pursue that dream in ways you might not have anticipated. Setting aside your labor of love and establishing your name in other ways may be the most direct route to fulfilling your dreams.
Are you open to pursuing opportunities that don’t look anything like your dream so that you can get to your dream?
How do you balance what you want to do with what is given you to do?
How do you keep the dream alive during the time you’re “diverted”?