Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Makes an Author "Real"?

I have experienced some low blows in my life; you know the kind that leaves you reeling once it has been delivered......where you wonder what you have done to deserve such a whammy. I won't bore you with the details of the myriad pains I have experienced over the years because frankly, I prefer not to relive those inglorious moments. Punishing myself with their recollection does me no good except to remind me of the feelings of helplessness I felt during those moments when I wish the words I hold so dear had come more readily to my lips.

Rather than relive those times, I strive to move forward, leaving those events and the people who perpetuated them in the dust of my forward momentum. I always have the option of writing about such moments later of course; masking the villains of my past in some well-cloaked character where the outcome of the confrontation is somehow more glorious in my fantasy world than it felt at the time in my reality. But in the here and now, I must find ways to cope as a professional....as a person....as a tender-hearted soul who has the capacity to be hurt by the thoughtless words of another.

The other day I experienced another one of those low blows but from a direction I never would have expected. I was urged by a woman a few months back (with great enthusiasm mind you) to contact a particular organization that works with children; an organization with whom she had strong ties. The woman was familiar with my novels and thought I would be a perfect candidate to participate in a program this organization hosted every year. It was called "Author Day." It was a day when authors were invited to come and talk to the children to share everything with them and their parents. The authors were able to share their dreams, their motivations, their bodies of work, their history....whatever they felt led to surrender of themselves. It was a day of exploration for all involved. It was a day to give of oneself, or so I imagined such a day would be.

I remember what I was like when I was a child. I loved to read. For me, books were a place where magic existed, in all its wonder and power. Books held more appeal to me than anything else; television, movies, the mall, video games could not entice me the way the pages of a book could. A book could take you anywhere in the universe, and I took advantage of that limitless transportation every chance I got. If I had ever been granted the opportunity to meet any of the authors that I loved as a child, I probably would have died from sheer delight. So to have the opportunity to go and speak to children who obvious were being brought up in an atmosphere of book-loving was a chance I couldn't turn down.

Now here is the caveat I must share before continuing with my tale. I am very shy, so it took me almost five months after I was given the name of the organization to gather up enough nerve to look the place up online. It took me another day to get the nerve to pick up the phone and call. But I did it. I have two novels on the market. I have people from all over the world who are reading my books. I had nothing to be ashamed of. At least I didn't think I did. I dialed the number and introduced myself to the woman who answered the phone. She was very nice but wasn't the coordinator. I was forwarded to the lady-in-charge's voice mail, and I left my message. I was on cloud nine. I had really done it. I had taken the risk, and I knew in my heart it would pay off. Then I got the callback and so began the building of my mortification.

The woman who called me back was thrilled I had called her. I was a local author. How fabulous! I had two novels. How great!

We have already scheduled the author for this year's event, but we would love to have you come for the day and meet the children.

My heart was bursting at the seams. I was so excited.

Do you know such and such an author?

Um, no but I was a fast learner. I was certain I could find their work and read it before the event.

Oh....I see.

I could feel things cooling off. Not every author in the world knows every other author. We are not all related.

Well, who is your publisher?

I gave her my answer. I was published through an indie publisher and I gave her their name.

Oh.....I see.

Question after question whittled away at her 'respect' of my work. At my accomplishments as an author. I could feel the disapproval settle into her voice as she gave me the final blow.

I don't mean to disappoint you but we generally only host nationally recognized authors who have won prestigious awards like the Caldecott award. You are welcome to come and see the authors speak and share with the children what your dreams are. We will send you information. If you don't hear from us though, it is just because things have been all booked for the year.

There was the raw, bare truth. I wouldn't be hearing from them because somehow, I didn't fit into their mold of what a "real" author was. I found myself wanting to explain. I found myself wanting to defend my work. All I did was thank her in a small voice and hang up, knowing I would never hear from her again; knowing she would never hear from me. The truth is, it wouldn't have mattered what I said to her. She had already made up her mind what I was worth without ever seeing what I had written. It would probably surprise her judgmental little heart to know that some of the most popular books today started as indie published books; books that she has either applauded or criticized but would undoubtedly recognize as "legitimate" works because they were picked up by one of the big 5 publishing houses. But that fact didn't make the authors more "real" than they were when they first wrote their books. It just meant they got more exposure and more attention once they were published through those avenues.

I am not saying that I will be one of those indie authors that gets picked up in such a way, but I will tell you this. It doesn't get more "real" than what I do every day for my craft. On the weekends, I get up at 5:30 to write. If I am lucky, I can get in around 5,000+ words over the two days before I go about the rest of the many tasks the weekend holds. There have been weekends where I have been graced with over 10,000 words, but I cannot ignore the other tasks that are on my list.

I have a fulltime job as a technical writer/tester/designer for a software company, so I don't have a lot of free time during the week to write. What little time I do have left during the weekday after chores and family time, I spend in promotional and PR tasks. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Goodreads, Website updates. The works. I am a one woman show. I don't have a team. There is just me. You tell me I am not a real author, that the work I do isn't "real", and I will have a few choice words for you that aren't polite to say in any company, mixed or otherwise. I may not have one of the big 5 publishers as my banner to wave YET, but it doesn't mean I am not the genuine article, and it doesn't give anyone the right to be cruel or unkind to me. Finish two novels that are over 120,000 words a piece, polish them, edit them, and get them ready for market and perhaps then we can talk. Until then, hold your peace because all you are is an armchair critic who has no concept of what it takes to do what I do EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE!

Some day, I will be one of those big name writers. Why? Because I refuse to give up, and I refuse to stop writing. Eventually, the agencies and publishers will get tired of seeing my name come across their desk, and they will take the time to read that first chapter of my work, because trust me, that is all it will take. And when that day comes (and it will) the people like the woman who let me know I wasn't good enough to participate in her "Author Day" event will start calling me. I just hope when that day comes, I show more compassion, humility, and grace than they ever showed me.

So why the rant? The message is simple. It is so easy to pass judgment on others; to dismiss them without a thought or a care for how it might make that other person feel. It is easy to do when you are the one with all of the power and authority in the situation, but remember. The table can turn so quickly, and you can find yourself facing the same person you spurned, asking them to help you instead of the other way around. If you can show kindness even in the letdown, please do so. That simple act may just be your salvation one day when you need it the most.

Remember the ripples in the pond. Whatever you send forth may be the very thing that returns to you a hundred fold. Make sure it is a reward worth receiving.




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