Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, March 19, 2012


   I have taken the last week off from writing to organize my receipts and log them into my writing expense spreadsheet so I can send it off to my tax accountant. It's humbling. I spent twice as much in writing-related things (conferences, website update, travel etc.) as I made in writing income. There were items that I won't incur again next year like the ALA convention, the cost for my website update etc., and I'm still waiting for payment for two articles that have already been published. But still I need to assess where to cut back. Writing conferences? (I only allow myself one or two a year). And conferences are important for professional development, networking, and yes, book promotion, if you have one. My beloved Green Gulch writing retreat? It comes around only once every six months, and is my one good chunk of uninterrupted time. I hate to give it up, but maybe I'll go just once a year. The price has increased, after all. 
   Last year was my most successful writing year to date: I got an agent, my picture book biography Cixi, The Dragon Empress was released by Goosebottom Books, four of my ten-minute plays were produced in Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, Guerneville, and Sydney, Australia (one was accepted for production at the Short+Sweet Festival in Singapore if the festival itself hadn't been cancelled at the last minute), I had an article published in Faces magazine, signed a contract to write Sacajawea of the Shoshone for Goosebottom Books, due out in Oct. 2012, and sold a picture book manuscript, Goldy Luck and the Three Chans, to Charlesbridge Publishing (pub. date Jan. 2014).  But I certainly didn't make enough money to support myself as a writer.
   This all leads me to thinking: what does it take to be a successful writer? Okay, we've already ruled out money, obviously. My friend, YA novelist Jody Gehrman, and I recently discussed how the yardstick for writing success keeps moving up. First, you want to be published; then you'll really feel success if you had more than one book published; next, if you make more money than you spend as a writer; then if you make enough money to support yourself as a full-time writer. When you finally get there, the yardstick will probably move again. You'll really feel like you've arrived if a publisher will offer you a multi-book deal. Then what? The Newberry?
   Face it folks, we're not in it for the money, right? We write, and we write for children, because we love the process, the journey. It's a hard, long road. Whether it's on a magazine article, a play program or a book, the thrill of seeing our name in print   and sharing our stories is why we do this. The J.K. Rowlings of the writing world are few and very far between. Success in whatever form requires hard work, perseverance, a willingness to be open to feedback and to spend countless hours revising to polish that manuscript. The writing life isn't for the faint of heart. Laura Backes, publisher of Children's Book Insider, has a great article on The Mindset of the Successful Author.
   So, relish in the journey, and may the Muse be with you!


  1. INTERESTING POST! It is amazing to me that you had such a successful year and yet spent double what you earned. I will not share this tidbit with my hubby, who imagines us sitting by the beach with piña coladas once I polish my skills up a little (okay, maybe a lot.:))

  2. Well said, Natasha. I did a Skype visit recently with a Kindergarten class, and at the end, the teacher said something like, "Maybe some of you will grow up to be authors!" One child piped up, "And make LOTS of money!" Oh dear. Well, perhaps he will. Who are we to say? LOL

    1. I know. TV and movies haven't exactly helped that image with portrayals of writers living in big homes on Cape Cod or lovely writing cabins. Well, like you say, you never know. One of them might be the next JK Rowling.

      By the way, I'm still very interested in how you arranged these Skype visits.

  3. Ha. Ha. Yes, for the longest time, my husband thought that we'd be rich on my writing income. The writers he was relating too were John Grisham and Tom Clancy. I think, now he is finally seeing the reality and that the income is sporadic at best, although I haven't told him exactly how much I've spent on expenses vs. income. Sometimes, he'll ask if it's worth it for me to travel out of town for school visits and book events because the book sales don't often make up for the time and money I put into the travel. But I tell him, that books don't sell themselves, you have to go out there and let people know about it, and it's not always about selling books, often it's about connecting with your readers or fellow writers.