Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to be a bolder, more confident writer (hint: don’t baby your book!)


Once upon a time (don’t worry; this is a true story), when my older kids were little, my dad took them out to the park.  I came along after a while and saw he was pushing my son alarmingly high on the swing. 

“Daddy,” I said, completely on edge, “that’s WAY too high.”

“That’s okay,” he said.  “You can always make more.”

In that moment, a) I knew he was going to ruin my son’s life by pushing him too high, and b) my father knew it was perfectly safe and I was being a silly first-time mom (albeit one with two kids, but it was still early days).

(The fact that I did indeed go on to make two more kids is irrelevant.  My father knew nothing bad would happen.)

That’s how it is with your first book, too.

Getting over the apprehension

You need to get over it.  Just as I did with my new-mom apprehension.

When I put out my first children’s book, I really cared about every aspect of it.  I laid it out as well as I knew how at the time.  I threw myself entirely into editing and the cover.  (Those things are as it should be.  I hope you do them as well.)

But I also cared DEEPLY about little things… like pricing.  Like whether to release it as an ebook.  I cared about sales, promotion, everything.  I didn’t want to miss a single detail. 

I cared about that book… like it was my baby.  Just like when your midwife or doctor hands you that perfect little baby, I didn’t want to make a single mistake.  I worried that one little booboo would ruin my baby – I mean book – forever.

That’s because I was a writer with a story.  One precious, delicate story, out there by itself in the world.

Have you written and published your first book?  Maybe you feel the same way.  Maybe you wonder if the magic will NEVER happen again, if you’ll ever find another story in yourself?  And that self-doubt tells you that you’d better do everything you can to get it right or else… or else what?

The worst-case scenario… is not all THAT bad

The truth is, there is no “or else.”

Just like my father knew that day by the swing set, the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad at all.   In part because you can always make more.

The truth is, in those early days, I was thinking more like a writer with a STORY.  These days, more than a dozen books in (all of which I love and am proud of), I’m thinking more like a writer with a CAREER???

Reinventing myself - unafraid

This attitude can make all the difference in the world.  I’m more relaxed, and you can be, too.  I have also realized that almost every mistake is reversible – even some of the biggies.  Cover, title, interior text; these days, it can all be redone as your career matures or your budget or horizons expand. 

Let me give you an example.

A few months ago, I re-released an early picture book of mine in full colour.  I had only been able to afford black-and-white illustrations at the time that I had it done.  And I didn’t really have a good sense of how to create a compelling cover, either, so I’d just gone with the default Createspace cover. 

So I took the opportunity to redo the cover at the same time.  And I changed some of the text around that I didn’t think worked as well.  Plus, I took the opportunity to release it as a Kindle book, which I’d never done before, using my own easy 5-step Kindle kids’-book conversion method.

Yes, it was a hassle.  I had to pull the old book and I lost a couple of reviews.  (Shh… I knew one of the reviewers through my facebook page, and I emailed her and she very kindly posted the same review to the new book once it was out.) 

Ultimately, it was a hassle, a lot of work, and I was very pleased with the new full-colour edition, which looks far more like a “professional” kids’ book.

If this had been my first and only book, I think I would have been scared to death to tamper with it.  Just like I was scared to death to see my father pushing my first child so high on the swing.  But now, it felt like just one more experiment.

You can experiment, too, if you think of your writing as a CAREER, not just a single STORY.

“Well, that’s all right for YOU…”

When I mentioned this idea at my last SCBWI meeting, a few people seemed particularly petrified.  One person put it into words most articulately: 

“You (she meant me) write so fast, it’s easy for you; what about for other people, who don’t write as fast, who maybe don’t know where their next book is coming from?”

I really think this is the fear that’s holding most writers back, wondering:

  • “where’s my next book coming from?”
  • “do I even have another book in me?”
  • “what if I want to write something completely different?”
  • “do I want to write a second book if my first book is a failure?”

You may be feeling something similar yourself – just as I was when I saw my son so high up on the swing.

Until you really shift into “career” mode (as I shifted, perhaps, into “career mom” mode with the birth of my third child), you will naturally worry about your book, especially if it’s your one and only.

You’ll want to baby it.

Learning to relax… and make more

As my father suggested, the best thing for it is to go ahead and make more.  Sure, it may take nine months and cause permanent stretch marks (writing a book is a LOT like having a baby!), but you’ll be a better person and enjoy a richer life for it.

And you will relax more.

You’ll find yourself enjoying each book on its own, of course, but enjoying them all together.  And enjoying the vision of yourself not just as a writer with a BOOK… but as a writer with a CAREER.

I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you’ve gone from having a book to having a career.  Has the transition been as painful as having a baby?

Let me know in the comments!


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