Virginia Law Manning

The Imaginary Table

Virginia Manning15 Comments

The other day I was talking to a friend about an upcoming SCBWI conference. During our conversation, she said, ‘I’m just looking forward to going to one of these conferences someday from the other side of the table.’  I wasn’t sure what she meant, so she explained, ‘you know, when I’m published--established.’

Say what?

I reminded my friend that: 1) she has an agent, 2) after signing with this agent, she was offered a two-book deal, and 3) she could look forward to the publication of these books in the near future.

‘Yes, but I mean when I’m published by a trade publisher.’

This is when the ‘wow, us kidlit people sure are messed up’ light bulb came on in my head, and I started thinking about the wall we build between ourselves and our vision of true children’s book creators. It’s the same wall that causes us to introduce ourselves as “trying to write children’s books,” rather than as authors.

I wonder if this disconnect is partially related to how we see the journey. Do we see it as linear, and published author and illustrators are on the trail ahead of us, perhaps even out of reach? Are we hoping to follow in their footsteps?

From hearing enough artists tell their road to publication stories, I’ve learned that no two paths are the same. Some artists are talented or lucky enough to merge onto a secret expressway to the quick publication of their debut book. While others spend a decade or longer writing, revising and submitting before securing a contract with a publisher. Some have success getting published in magazines but find book contracts elusive. Some are thrilled when they get an agent, only to discover later it was the wrong agent.

What I’m coming to believe is it doesn’t matter which path we take. They’re all good, because being an artist is about the journey. It’s not about the end result.

So, how do I see my journey?

When I decided to become a children’s book author-illustrator, I entered a ballroom filled with other artists with the same goal. At first, I wandered about this room, a bit lost and definitely alone. But then, I started going to children’s book events—book festivals, SCBWI meetings/conferences/workshops, illustration classes, etc.--and I started to meet other authors and illustrators.

We swapped business cards, emailed, became Facebook friends, formed critique groups and went to exhibits. In this grand ballroom, we dared to hold hands. At first, our chain was still floating. But, as our knowledge and network grew, we became grounded and this gave us permanence.

I love introducing my children’s book friends to each other, and, in this way, we’ve formed a circle. Some artists in my circle are agented, others have contracts, and several are published, but we’re all on this journey together and my circle continues to grow. As we learn, write, and create, we take steps towards the center of the circle. (Obviously the center is a fun place to be, right?) And, when we share our knowledge, we pull the others in our circle towards the center as well.

Of course, I hope my debut book is on the horizon. But I’ve learned to see myself as a writer without an agent or contract. I write. I revise. I dig deep to tell stories that will have an impact. I enjoy my time at the computer and relish feedback from friends, editors and agents. In the center of my circle, it’s not a published book that awaits. It’s me and I’m the best writer I can be.