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Archive for the ‘Success’ Category

This past weekend my son Ian and I spoke about writing and illustrating children’s books at the Central Coast Writers Conference, organized by the wonderful Judy Salamacha, and held at Cuesta College in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. We were honored to be a part of an event that included such a talented and enthusuiastic faculty. Jonothan Maberry was a keynote speaker and Mark Coker, creator of Smashwords was another. Interesting bookends. On one hand you had a prolific author reminding us that with hard work and years of dedication to craft an individual can still make a living at this writing thing. On the other, you had someone telling us there is an alternative.  Everyone wins–or do they?

With diminishing sales of hardcover books, distributers like Ingrams cutting back on warehousing, and a rapid increase in competition amongst titles, there are some definite losers in the fray. For one, readers. I’m not hearing anyone discuss the need for self-publishers to employ copy-editors. I can personally account for several times when one has saved my publishing ass. Sure everyone seems concerned that self-publishers will be diluting the literary world with their babble, but what about the proliferation of misconceptions and falsehoods. On more than one occasion while researching for a project I have often found factual contradictions even amongst primary sources. Without gatekeepers, these lies will continue to reappear in new works. Ultimately the responsibility lies with the author as it always has, but fresh eyes can make all the difference. Without a fact checker literary credibility will suffer just as visual credibility deteriorated with the advent of Photoshop. It will be like the difference between a documentary and a movie “based” on a true story. Eventually a reader will be unable to tell what to believe–not that that isn’t already somewhat of a problem, but at least there are still factual watchdogs on the staffs of most publishing houses working to limit the proliferation of false information.

The other issue that seems to be the dark unknown is how authors and illustrators of books, particularly picture books, will continue to make a living? Twenty or so years ago a highly reputable editor told me that if you could maintain ten books in print, you could make a living off of your work. I’m hear to tell you that’s no longer possible. The shift began years ago and many authors found they needed to augment their incomes with speaking, teaching, and in my case painting murals. With the recent economic woes, shrinking advances, sluggish sales, the demise of Borders, it’s only become more challenging.

I do support the idea that all people should have a right to express themselves in print – digital or ink. But I also believe that it should be possible for the best writers and authors to make a satisfactory living from their work. I tend to be an optimist, so I’m going to cling to the idea that with time most of us will find a way to make it work. Why? Because most of us can’t imagine NOT writing or illustrating. Ultimately time will tell.

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Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley

Yesterday I went for a hike, not a long one by most standards, still it left me with noodle legs by time I made it back to the car.  60 mile per hour wind gusts over a dusty road didn’t help, but I walked away with a small epiphany–hiking is a lot like reaching for success. 

Some embark with a clear destination in mind–to complete a small task, achieve recognition for a significant accomplishment, or, if your really ambitious, glory, fame, and fortune.  Others are just out to enjoy the journey.

Steps to nowhere

No matter the final goal, everyone will attack it differently. You might be plodding along, distracted by the beauty all around you or the blisters growing on your feet while others are jogging by, or, even worse, zooming past you on top-of-the- line trail bikes. Youth will give some a definite advantage, but it can’t compete with constitution. You might marvel at those passing you by who have many more years behind them. Why aren’t they huffing and puffing, ready to keel over like you are? It’s a mystery–or the result of years of conditioning.

Along the way, you’ll wrestle with the knowledge that until you reach your final destination, you have the ability to cut the journey short. Everytime the trail starts to climb a steep hill, you might tell yourself that you’ve travelled far enough. This will do. Maybe you’ll have to stop frequently to rest. You might realize you’ve run out of provisions–you didn’t prepare well enough. Your body may fight you the whole way, or you might push past your initial sluggishness and discover you were made to run.

The point is, as long as you keep moving forward, you’re sure to eventually reach your final destination.  And when you do, it might feel as if nothing can compare with the relief of knowing you made it. But in the days to follow, you most likey will come to realize it was the struggle that gave your arrival its significance.

Whew! I made it.

Happy trails to you!

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