Fran Cannon Slayton - The Wild Ride To Publication (Children's Book Version!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Okay, here is PART I of my report on what it was like to attend my very first ALA conference. This post answers (or starts to answer) the following question:

Q: For a debut author, is it worth it to attend ALA a whole year before your book even comes out?

A: Absolutely, positively, and without hesitation: OH YEAH!

First off, I was able to spend more time with my editor than I ever expected. (Note: I had contacted her ahead of time to see if coming would be okay, which was an important thing to do. It gave her a heads up that I’d be there and allowed her to find time in her schedule for us to meet. Plus, I was able to ask her opinion on whether going would be a worthwhile thing to do before I made the decision to spend the money to attend.)

Anyway, my editor – Patti Gauch -- was so wonderful. She scheduled time to show me around the Penguin booth, and introduced me to Eve Bunting and several editors, authors and amazing Penguin marketing gurus, all of whose names I immediately forgot because I couldn’t believe that I had just met Eve Bunting! It was quite the out of body experience – looking at myself from the outside, seeing myself meet Eve Bunting, and thinking “wait, is this really happening to ME?”

In my defense, let me say two things about my being a bit star struck: first, I am normally horrible with names, even on a non-EveBunting kind of day. And second, I am normally not a star struck person at all. We see famous folks in my hometown all of the time and they don’t usually make me look twice. They’re just people, right?

So what made this so different for me at ALA? Well, for starters, I don’t really watch TV all that often, so regular “celebrities” just don’t usually push that “wow” button for me. But at ALA, these people were all authors and publishers of BOOKS, and let’s face it, THAT is exciting!

But the real reason (if I’m brave enough to admit it to you) is this: my dear editor said a couple lovely things about my writing. Out loud. To other people. Truly, I was not prepared for the possibility of this. Much less its emotional impact. (I guess I should mention that at times I am still a little star struck by my editor!) It was exciting. It was terrifying. I felt like jumping up on one of the tables and just screaming at the top of my lungs – WoohooWoohooWoohoo! And then I just plain forgot the appropriate way to receive a compliment. I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my hands. Or where I should point my eyes. I feel sure I blushed. Heck, I was lucky I didn’t pass out! It was a little like being in seventh grade again.

So here’s what I learned from that: there is some emotional territory that comes with being a new author that I haven’t really anticipated until now. When my book comes out, it will be reviewed. People will talk about it. People whose opinions I respect. And I’ll read and hear what they are saying. And it may be that they are saying “this is the best thing since sliced organic baguettes.” Or they may say “this is worse than reading the ingredients on the Wonder Bread wrapper.” The emotional and psychological landscape surrounding either response to my writing is fraught with danger as far as I’m concerned. Relying on praise from others is dangerous: besides making a person forget what to do with her hands, it can cause a swelled head, writer’s block, fear of failing, or an unhealthy reliance on the opinions of others. On the other hand, internalizing too much harsh criticism potentially brings on other issues: feelings of defeat, desperation, dejection; anger; depression; angst.

What’s a new author to do?

Here’s the deal, I think: I’ve gotta learn to detach myself from both praise and criticism before the time comes for either. I need to center myself before the emotional storm is upon me when my book is released and reviewed. I need to make a quiet place for myself to be recollected to something greater than both praise and criticism. A place of shelter. A place of reason. A place of peace with my own abilities, weaknesses, hopes, and dreams with regard to my writing.

And here’s the real deal: I can only find that place inside myself.

I’ve found this place before in other areas of my life – when I was a prosecutor and then as a legal publisher. I’ve also done it regarding my personal value system and my own spirituality. But I haven’t done it yet with my writing. I guess the time has come – I need to.

I don’t think I would have ever thought about all this right now, this early, if I had not gone to ALA this year. We go through a lot as authors. ALA helped me see some of the things I’ll be facing in the future. One very good reason to go a year early.


Ghost Girl said...

This is so awesome, Fran! And I know I'm going to have to work on the emotional detachment thing...a lot! I'll call you later!

Fran Cannon Slayton said...

Hi GG, Can't wait to hear all about your trip! Fran