Monday, March 05, 2007

More Context for the Blog

I'm going to go ahead and talk a little bit about my place in the children's writing universe. I did point readers to my other sites in my first post, but since then I've decided that's annoying. You should be able to get a sense of my work right here where you are. (Did I mention that I'm an editor too? Three cheers for the context for the post on the context for the blog!)

How I Became a Children's Writer: I almost hate to say it, but writing for the younger set was never a goal of mine until I started doing it. My career and creative pursuits intersected and evolved in a way that allowed me to study massive amounts of children's literature. That familiarity bred great love, respect, and appreciation for the history and creation of kid lit. And I was hooked. I had no choice but to explore the practice of writing for children. Once I got a taste of it, there was no turning back. I knew I'd be doing it for a long time . . . quite probably the rest of my life.

My first book was Tales of Courage, retellings of classic fairy tales such as "Jack the Giant Killer" and "The Little Dutch Boy." As I wrote the stories (someday I'll do an entry specific to the art of retelling), I was filled with gratitude and creative satisfaction. It was amazing. You know, I had felt that way before. For example, I will never forget the joy and excitement of writing my first investigative news article as a cub reporter. I loved every minute of that, too. But this rush was different. This vibe seemed more permanent. Like I had (schmaltz alert!) found a home.

What I've Done Since Becoming a Children's Writer: I've been writing for children. I mean that not sarcastically, but I do mean it seriously. To do it, you have to do it, after all.

So, I continued writing books and many educational products. Some of that work was completed for my regular employers (I was an editor, but in many settings editors also write), and a lot of it was for the children's publishers for whom I freelanced on the side. I stuck with my full-time editorial career until 2002—the year I left the 9-to-5 world for the freelance life.

Special aside for those salivating over the dreamy prospect of a freewheeling freelance life (you know who you are, and my advice is to check this reality):
My typical day is often 7:30-to-6; during a crunch, it can be "All Day and All of the Night!" I am not complaining, mind you. I love it, even when I hate it. One of my 9-to-5 gigs played out like a 24/7 circus. The scary kind. It was awful, and I wouldn't go back to that type of nonstop, gets-nobody-nothin' stress show for anything. (I also wouldn't go back to the perfectly lovely 9-to-5 situations I've experienced, either.) But I never want to give the impression that life as a working writer doesn't involve lots of work. The wonderful difference between the hard work of my former life and the hard work of my current life is that I'm working according to my own vision, which I can shape and take in any direction I choose. That gives me enough satisfaction to get me through hectic times.

It has been 10 years since I wrote Book #1, and I am fast approaching Book #60. Gulp. How is that even possible? Well, I'm what is known as a writer for hire. While I can and do work on projects "just because my muse inspires me," my bread and butter comes from publishers who commission their books. They determine what types of works they wish to publish each season, very often planning specific topics, and then they call me. (That's not entirely true. Nobody picks up the phone anymore.) Or they post job ads to which qualified writers apply. In most such situations the definition of a qualified writer is someone who can write on a fast-tracked schedule and deliver what the publisher needs with little-to-no hand-holding. Writer for hire.

How I Feel About the Writing: Part of what I love about this work is the variety. I've done retellings, historical fiction, informational fiction, contemporary fiction, picture books, early readers, biographies, straight informational nonfiction, and leveled readers designed to work in various K–12 curricular areas. (As in books designed to address content standards in reading, social studies, language arts, character education, science, and math.)

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of serving as series editor for a line of "safe" graphic novels. I wrote two of the titles myself (Black Beauty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and thoroughly enjoyed learning how to work with a new genre from all angles. I never would have thought to try writing a graphic novel on my own. But one great thing about working this way is that once you have earned your clients' trust, they will approach you with new opportunities. Those books debuted in Fall 2006, and, along with two recently released nonfiction titles, Pilgrims in America and Ankylosaurus, they are my current tangibles. Several other works are in press, and I am always working on "the next one."

Note: Children's books can hit the market anywhere from a few months to 2+ years after a writer finishes her part. I rarely know exactly when mine will come out. Sometimes they hit out of writing order, and sometimes they never hit at all. It's true, so far 5 of my finished books will never be published. Publishing plans change and books are pulled when bigger publishers acquire smaller ones, publishers run out of money for a given season or forever, and publishers simply change their minds. When you are a writer for hire, the publisher usually owns the rights to your work and so once you provide it, it is theirs to do with what they wish. I don't like it when I finish something and it disappears into the ether, but I have learned to accept it. As long as I've been paid.

My books are not available in bookstores (some of them could be if I went that extra marketing mile and coordinated that myself, but I have not explored doing that), but they are available in classrooms, school libraries, and public libraries nationwide. Via Google Alerts, I've seen that many are also available internationally. I love that my work is in so many kids' hands. I also love that there is a way to make a living writing for children (scoring with a Newbery winner notwithstanding) and that I made it happen for myself.

What Else I Do: I do write in other genres, mostly articles, book reviews, and supplemental educational materials such as lesson plans, student activity books, and teacher guides. As an editor, I work on books of all types, curricula, and really anything. I also do speaking engagements about children's writing, editing, and freelancing; teach writing and editing classes for adults; conduct school author visits; and coordinate the education program for the Editorial Freelancers Association.

I think that's more than enough scene setting. I hope the post gives you a sense of what I do and why I do it, as well as a framework for the many posts to follow.

If you have made it to the end, I thank you and bid you a sincere adieu!

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