Archive for the 'Rejection' Category

The Measure of Your Dreams

How do you measure success? It’s not an easy thing to do. Plus it looks different for everyone. Yet when you’re working really hard at something, like writing and illustrating, it’s really important to know what you’re striving for. Would big book deals and flashy literary parties really make you happy? Would fancy-pants awards and fame make you feel valid? I can’t really say I’d say no to any of this, but it’s important to define what success really means to you.

I was reminded of this recently at a Pogues concert in Sydney, when swaying away to their awesome Celtic punk ballads. While that may sound like the tangent of the century, I wont make you try to follow my mind and will make the link for you: one of their songs, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’, has the lyric the measure of my dreams

It took me back a few years, to a time when I’d been throwing everything I had into writing and illustrating, yet didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Or at least that’s how it felt. I was incredibly unhappy. This beautiful creative thing that used to make me feel so free was falling flat. I was even starting to begrudge it a little. Embarrassingly enough, it took stumbling across one of those naff kind of sayings (you know the ones that circle facebook) to wake me up. It was typed up on a little cue card and stuck to a friend’s cork board:

It’s not about the destination, but the journey

At the time I’d never seen this saying and for some reason, at that particular moment, it cut through something in me. I realised I had my focus all wrong. I was so focussed on things mostly out of my control – namely getting published – and it was making me miserable. I suddenly realised that if I didn’t enjoy the actual writing (the journey), then nothing that happened from there was going to make me happy. So then I had to redefine what success would actually look like for me. I had to really think about what I was aiming for and what might make me happy.

I came up with the following, which are kind of goals and (for me) a more healthy focus:

  1. Work on the projects I’m called to: I don’t ever want to focus too much on what I think the ‘market’ might want from me. Instead I hope to make the art that calls to me, so I keep enjoying my writing and illustrating and make more honest art (I hope)
  2. Be respected by my peers: I realised I don’t actually need to have my name recognised by the general public, or even book lovers. But having my work respected by other writers / illustrators (especially in my field) does mean something to me
  3. Get to work with those who enjoy me / my work: be they other artists or publishing professionals
  4. Be able to do this as some sort of career: not necessarily live off it (as nice as that would be), but have it as my main focus

These are all things I have more control over, and they’re still true for me today. I’ve had each of them happen for me in different ways, some small and others more obvious. And after shifting my focus I started to find joy in my art once more.

If you’re honest with yourself, what would success look like for you?

Coping with Bad Reviews (or not)

It was going to happen eventually. You send your first book baby out into the big old world and not everyone will coo over it. I knew it was something I had to prepare for, but in the last few months I have been spoilt with lovely reviews and with reviewers who have clearly connected with my style and fallen for my little bunny.

Then the other day it happened. I got my first negative review. Intellectually I knew it was inevitable, but emotionally it’s never easy.

That said, it was far from a really nasty one. If the review was a crocodile it was at least smiling at me (although that made the teeth easier to see). There were some little positives in amongst it, but there were certainly a couple of statements that were bluntly discouraging. When you first read it you’re hyper-aware that it’s out there for the whole world to see. There’s no hiding from it. So here’s my incredibly serious, no at all tongue-in-cheek guide to how I coped with it…

  1. Give yourself a day: on this day you have permission to feel however you want. Cry, stomp, rant, rage, walk in circles, eat a continent of chocolate, talk to the birds and abandon all plans to do intelligent worthwhile things. I have done all of the above in the past, although this occasion just called for a quiet day and a long walk
  2. Rally the forces: Re-read your good reviews – your favourite ones that made you feel all shiny and proud. Especially those where the reviewer loved all the things the negative review seemed to dislike. Even more so the ones that directly contradict the bad review (take that, bad review!)
  3. Argue with your dog: sit your dog down and tell him all about the bad review. Defend every negative point with awesome counter-arguments. Discuss your artistic intent. Wax lyrical about everything the reviewer missed or overlooked. You’ll find your dog a very understanding ear (and know that when he brings you the tennis ball he’s saying he understands your pain)
  4. Indulge your inner storyteller: look at the reviewer’s name and imagine their backstory and why they might have written such a review. Maybe they’re a disgruntled writer and are jealous of your success. Maybe they have a deeply ingrained fear of rabbits (childhood trauma perhaps?). Maybe they’re the Guinness World Record holder for tallest person and can’t in any way relate to being little. Maybe they just didn’t like the book (hold on – scrap that last one. Too realistic and it won’t make you feel better at all)
  5. Read other authors’ bad reviews: oh this sounds nasty doesn’t it? But it works a treat. Look up your all time favourite books on Goodreads and read their one star reviews. Puts everything into perspective. If there are people in the world who loathe The Book Thief, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, then I can cope with people not liking my bunny. Everyone is different (and clearly some are weird – who doesn’t like Mo Willems?!)

For more ideas, hop on over to Michael Gerard Bauer’s blog. He’s far braver than I am … he even quoted his bad review.

Anyone have any other ideas to share?

Writing to Contract

In late 2009 I signed a two book deal with Viking, Penguin, and I honestly felt like the luckiest little rabbit in the writerly stratosphere. It was the kind of thing I hadn’t even let myself dream about, especially in the years prior where I’d experienced the slew of rejections all writers do. Yet even as I signed the contract I had a nagging voice in the back of my mind wondering about book two – the book they’d contracted based on Squish Rabbit. An undefined book I hadn’t even written yet. But of course this thought was quickly overtaken by everything involved in getting Squish out into the world. And all the excitement. And maybe the champagne.

Flick forward to early this year. Squish Rabbit was but months away from appearing on bookshelves and suddenly my publisher was asking about book two. They wondered whether maybe I’d considered doing another Squish book? Now I had tried to prepare for this moment. I had certainly considered other Squish stories, as he’s so alive to me and I know much about his little life. I had some notes about other possible stories and even some very basic drafts. But nothing I had done really prepared me for my first experience of writing to contract. Cue dramatic music…

Before that point, every story I’d created I had written for myself. Sure, I’d hoped to get published and I certainly had readers in mind, but in real terms I was following my own whims and ideas. No matter how determined or focussed I was in my writing, ultimately I was just chasing around my own muse. And besides the whole ‘not knowing whether I’d ever get published or not’, it was really quite glorious.

Writing to contract was completely different. My first book had a sell-in to bookstores that was encouraging enough for my publisher to ask for a second Squish story. Suddenly I had an editor with hopes and expectations. In fact I had a whole team I’d worked with. What if they didn’t like anything I sent them? If the chances of getting one picture book accepted were so rare, what was the possibility of me writing two they’d love? What if I only had one publishable book in me? What if they began to regret signing me up for two books? Would I have to give back the money? Oh horror of horrors … every iota of self-doubt I’d ever experienced kicked up into a dust storm inside me. So instead of ambling through the creative fields of my mind, I was paralysed. I couldn’t write a word.

Self-doubt always settles in me eventually. And with time, I realised a number of things that helped me push through this:

  1. Always write for yourself first: No matter where the story is going, no matter who it is for, always begin by writing something for yourself. Something that moves you, that pulls at the strings of your mind, that calls to that secret little place where your inner child hides. I honestly believe that if you write something you love, you’re much more likely to write something someone else will too. And besides, editing can come later…
  2. No story is brilliant from the beginning: You have to write crap before your story can get better. I’m sure this is a rule, written somewhere in the vast and dusty annals of ‘The Craft of Writing Awesome’. We can’t help but compare ourselves to all the amazing writers out there, and yet their picture books and novels that we read have often been through years of rewriting. Nothing we write on day dot will ever come close to it. It. Takes. Time
  3. Your publisher is not all seeing: I had this weird and creepy feeling that my editor could see everything I wrote. Every time I tried to write something down, my mind would conjure up how she would respond to it. My poor delightful editor (sorry Tracy!) turned into the voice of my inner writing critic. It was actually a revelation to me that she couldn’t see my first draft! Once I realised this, it freed me up to play again – to try out all sorts of different story options and to toil through many drafts
So I released the pressure valve, took a month or two out to play with story ideas, and finally sent off a manuscript and storyboard to my editor. And the end to this story? She took it to their editorial meeting and the team responded with a delightful ‘We fell in love all over again’ :) Squish’s second story should be on bookshelves late 2012.

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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