This essay was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2002 SCBWI-MI Newsletter.
A friend of mine referred to herself as an author-in-limbo until she received her first author’s copy of her first book. I’ve never warmed to the term. “Limbo” sounds dangerous, as though that hard-won contract might be yanked away at any moment. It also sounds difficult—I’ve never limboed very low. So what should a poorly coordinated, soon-to-be-published author call herself?
I have trouble saying, “I’m an author” with a straight face. That statement is invariably met with a question: “Where can I buy your books?” This begs an explanation of the time it takes to publish a picture book, during which one of three things happens. Some people’s eyes glaze over and they begin to fidget or check their watches. You can almost read the cartoon bubble over their heads: “Call me when it’s ready.” Others grow suspicious: “How can it possibly take that long?” As though you’re fudging, or your publisher isn’t up to snuff, or you’re in need of a reality check. Then there are the genuine, gushing responses: “Wow! How exciting! It must be hard to wait.” Truthfully, most people fall into the third category. But as with new hairstyles and book reviews, naysayers weigh heavily.
When I was a kid, authors were my heroes. It’s hard to believe I get to swing in the same ballpark with them. I sometimes feel like a cheater—as though I haven’t earned my spot in the line-up. This is especially true when I meet other aspiring writers who treat me with the same reverence I’ve always had (and still have!) for my favorite authors. I feel compelled to blurt, “It’s just me!”
When people ask my occupation, I usually say “writer.” Writing is what I do. Authors are writers, with or without publishing contracts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch to have sold a book. It’s just so hard to crow. Some people don’t know what an accomplishment selling a book is, and many of those who do—talented, hard-working writers—are still struggling to make their first sales. I know that what separates some of us is only timing and good fortune.
I received my first author’s copy in May. My book is in the fall catalog and on Amazon. So I finally bit the bullet and used the word “author” to describe myself on promotional postcards. Still, I felt like a faker until a month ago. My son Max is eight years old. He thinks my books are neat, but not exceedingly so. My real job is to keep track of his socks and put macaroni and cheese on the table, right? Max ’s friend Daniel asked to see my book. I expected him to be as cool about it as Max is, especially since this one is about—yawn—babies. Daniel took the book in his hands gingerly, like he was holding a real baby for the first time. He eased himself into the couch and read it quietly, cover to cover. When he was done, he sighed with satisfaction. “That’s a really nice book. I’d buy it myself,” was all he said. But what a compliment from the spend-your-allowance-on-trading-cards crowd! That was my a-ha moment —you could practically hear the bubble of self-doubt popping. My heart did a little flip, and I stood a little straighter. I never realized that, just like the Velveteen Rabbit, my book needed the love of a boy to feel real. But it happened. It’s real!
My name is Hope, and I am an author.