THE SECRET LIFE OF A CHILDREN’S AUTHOR
Just before Christmas, I stumbled across the following Tweet from Joanne Cannon, author of the splendid ‘The Trouble With Goats and Sheep’ and its follow-up ‘Three Things About Elsie’.
‘Dear Ms Cannon,
My friend & I started a book club. We’ve chosen your book next & wondered if you’d donate 23 copies.
Thanks in advance!’
Yep, Joanna Cannon is lucky enough to have two bestsellers, but all that probably means is she could earn a decent wage for two or three years. What it doesn’t mean is that dumper-trucks will be delivering bundles of £50s to her front door on a daily basis and she’ll have an attic full of free books that her ‘assistant’ will happily post off to anyone who requests one. Or twenty-three.
But Ms Cannon’s despairing Tweet made me think about the assumptions people have made over the last twenty years about my own job; being a full-time children’s author. And I thought the Audrey Book Club the perfect place to lift the curtain and give you a quickie peek at what being a ‘successful’ writer of children’s’ books looks like…
“A children’s author? That sounds glamorous!”
It is indeed very glamorous, if sitting in a glorified box-room staring at a computer screen for hours a day, every day, is glamorous. Once in a blue moon, I might get asked to a meeting with my editor, which I will prepare for by running to Superdrug for a box of Root Touch-Up, and hope my best jeans still fit me after months of living in my yoga pants, which have never seen the inside of a yoga studio. Perhaps once a year, I might get invited to some book industry do. These events consist of many over-excited children’s authors – who have come shyly creeping out of their writing caves – drinking and talking too fast, after which they will leave early. #Giddy #Overwhelmed #TooMuchSocialInteraction
“It must be a lot easier writing for children than adults! Less words!”
My friend is a dentist. She fixes adults’ teeth and children’s teeth. She does not treat the children’s teeth as inferior and in fact spends more time on the children’s teeth, as she knows she has a responsibility to give them the best experience possible. #Ditto
“How do you write? Is it like, a couple of hours in the morning or something?”
Do I squeeze out a tortured, short blast of writing before I collapse on my velvet sofa, creativity spent, where I’ll gaze wistfully out of the window till my muse returns? Or will I be working 9am-6pm, and later/weekends if I have a pressing deadline? #GuessWhich
“Wow! You’ve had 92 books published now? You really churn them out, don’t you?”
To earn enough money to be a full-time writer, I write a few books a year, for different age groups, in different genres, from longer novels for older children, to funny series for younger kids, to quick-reads for children with dyslexia. Refer to my work as ‘churning’ and I may have to kill you. #OrCry
“Oh. So you’re selling books after your talk? Well, you’re certainly raking it in, aren’t you?!”
As said by a teacher. So yep, I’d been invited to come by another member of staff, and paid a fee for the day (in the not-that-well-paid world of children’s publishing a few day-rate school visits a year are very gratefully received). But the books spread out on the table at the back of the hall? The school had invited the local bookshop to come along because it’s a book, not a giant bag of sherbet, so parents tend to think that’s worth paying for. And for the record, that day I did make a point of asking the audience to guess what proportion of the £6.99 cover price I’d receive, should anyone care to buy a copy. I don’t think anyone – the teacher in question especially – got the right answer of 7.5%. #RakingItIn #NOT
“How much do you earn?”
During school visits, it generally doesn’t take long for “Where do you get your ideas from?” and “How long does it take you to write a book?” to morph into “What’re your favourite crisps?” and the inevitable “How much do you earn?”. At that point, a nearby teacher usually gasps and goes to strangle the questioner, but it doesn’t bother me. I answer in a way that a child/young person will understand; I get paid about the same as your teacher. What I don’t tend to tell them is that it varies; just like any freelance career, some years are better than others. One shiny, glorious year long ago, I had a hit series and earned the same as my head-teacher friend. Conversely, a while back I did my accounts and figured I’d earned about the same as a newly qualified teacher. #BestCrispsWalkersMaxPaprika
So there you have it; a behind-the-scenes glimpse of my chosen profession. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s financially insecure and endlessly rewarding. Right, I’m off to shoo my PA off the keyboard so I can crack on with my next book…
Karen McCombie is a best-selling children’s author. Her latest novel – ‘Little Bird Flies’ – is out now, a gripping historic drama following the adventures of a crofter’s daughter who dreams of escaping her remote Scottish island home (Nosy Crow books).
It was also selected as Children’s Book of the Week by both the Times and Sunday Times. @KarenMcCombie