Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Headshots

For the holidays, I was lucky enough to get gifted a photo session with the talented Sam Bond. A few weekends ago I met with Sam, a plucky Brit transplant who has been stateside for a number of years—Boston and now Austin— at Mayfield Park for our session. It was a gorgeous day—in the high 60s and the sun was shining, a funny feeling for this NYC transplant since it is December but December in Austin looks autumnal and autumn is my favorite season. 

I’ve had a few professional sessions—one when I first moved to NYC and was acting and instead of feeling confident with that camera zooming in, I felt shy.  I wanted to disappear.  I believe now, though I still have that headshot of that 26 year-old Bethany, that I wanted to disappear because acting wasn’t for me. Writing was.

For my second headshot sitting, even though a friend took it, with her husband’s professional camera (he was out of town…but takes fab shots…go take a look here.) I was nervous. It was late afternoon so we opened a bottle of wine and I had a glass to loosen me up. (A tip I learned from one of my writing mentors, Sue Shapiro.)

The about to be published Bethany…

And, while I love the headshot, it no longer looks like me. I am older, wiser, wider.
I’ll let you in on a little secret even without the wine I am not too camera shy. I love having my picture taken….oh, that’s a lie. When I am thin, I love having my picture taken.  Getting my picture taken when I am…more…shall we say curvy (with some curves in the right places, and many more in the wrong) is a bit more of a challenge. But the older I get the more I want to accept the me that I am right now.

And that’s what a photo session with Sam does.  It got me to be the me I am right now. The one who is a bit fuller—in figure—and in life. 

We laughed, told self-depreciating stories (but not mean ones) and while she snapped away I reminded myself that these pictures were for my writing career. That my dream of writing flesh and blood books is happening. It is happening now. And the me that I am today—the older, wiser, wider one has a lot to smile about.  Thanks, Sam.

I totally recommend Sam to Austin authors or any author who will be in Austin for the Texas Book Festival or the Texas Librarians Association or for any other reason—look her up. (New moms and children’s portraits too.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Inspiration: How to Succeed in Children’s Publishing, Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Children’s Publishing, Without Really Trying

In Six Easy Steps

[Image]Hmm. That doesn’t sound right does it? The movie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) directed by David Swift or the newly remounted Broadway show, starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and John Laroquette is a comedy but is pursuing a career as a children’s author a comedy or a tragedy? Maybe creating a career in the kid’s biz of publishing is a dramady—a bit of the comic and a bit of the tragic. But the only real tragedy, as we read last Monday, is not trying.

But how do we create a career? You got me? I am still figuring it out but I have learned a few things in my ten year pursuit to publish and my now two years (gee, that isn't a lot of time) on the shelves.  And here they are:

1.      Put writing first.               
No, this doesn’t mean to ignore your family and friends, to not do well at your day job, or to let the laundry pile up until it buries you alive. But what it does mean is keep creating as a top priority.
2.       Keep reading.
It can be hard to find the time to read when there are school visits to book, presentations to create, blogs to write and read. But keep reading. Read critically. Read for pleasure. Just read.
3.      Attend the biz of writing workshops/read biz of writing blogs.
Do we twitter? Facebook? Blog? V-log? Create fliers? Audio clips? Podcasts? Social media is here and it is here to stay. Go learn from PR professionals but remember your first priority is not to run a social media empire. It is to write. So write and pick the couple of business tools that feel good to you. 
 Create community.
We are not in this alone. Even if you live in the Artic tundra or on the equator and you think there are no other children’s authors or illustrators around, look. Are there any in your town? Your state? Becoming an Austinite was easy. We have a thrilling and thriving kid-lit community here but even if you aren’t in Austin tap into the creative people in your area. Together you can lick wounds, celebrate successes and keep the solitary confinement to times when you are deep in the cave. 
Paay it forward.
All artists have mentors. When a writer whose work we admire sees something in us—believe them. They have been where you are. They are lending a helping hand. Take it. Listen. Be grateful and don’t forget to pay it forward. When your time comes, and you see a talented newer writer—reach out.
6.       Develop a split personality. 
Author Jenny Shank, who I mentioned in last week’s post on perfectionism, advises: “You can’t stop looking if you want to publish a book; you just have to compartmentalize the looking. I turned my publication-seeking activities over to a fragment of my personality…let’s call him Johnny Business—while the rest of me didn’t think about it, worry about it, and went about my days without pining over it. What Johnny Business does is none of my business.”

So how does that work?  Well, the business side of you keeps sending out work while the creative side of you is creating. The business side of you thinks about ways to raise your profile while the creative side is creating. The business side of you works a business plan, makes contacts, follows them up, while the creative side of you is creating. Think of it as the yin and yang or rather the Biz and the Whiz. The biz side of you is necessary but without the inner whiz- kid creating there would be nothing for Biz to do.
Creating a career is not a knee-slapping musical comedy—not even if Harry Potter appears and dances across the stage.  The title of this post should be: How to Succeed in Children’s Publishing, While Really, Really Trying.

It takes more than six easy steps. It takes a lot of trial and error. It takes a lot of chocolate and wine. It takes a lot of work and even more access to one’s inner whiz-kid.  Simply put, it takes what it takes. And it is worth it, even the bruises.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inspiration: Persecuting the Perfectionist

March is here. It's rainy. It's chilly. We could all use a little inspiration so our Monday Reading Like a Writer series will take a slight deviation this month to focus on things we can do to stay inspired.

I am not one of those writers that brandish a whip and berate myself when the day’s prose is not worthy. I don’t have a vision of what perfect prose is. I don’t write sloppy— well sometimes, but not once a book is published or seen by my editor or agent. I do experiment though. I make mistakes. I try. If there is a word for the kind of writer I am it is (and I just made this up) a Trier.

Are there any other Triers out there?

Triers are work horses. We show up. We know there is work to do. We know it won’t be easy but we try. My mother tells the following story about me. When I was a little girl I had trouble learning to ride my bike. I came back in the house every afternoon with more and more bruises. Black ones, blue ones, and as they healed they turned that sickening greenish brown color. I didn’t hurt myself on purpose but I didn’t mind the bruises. They were my war wounds. I wanted to ride that red bike with its read and white seat and by golly I was going to.

My mom once took the bike away from me for a few weeks. She worried I was hurting myself and she also worried the school nurse would take one look at me and call up Children's Services having come to the conclusion some kind of abuse was going on.

Was it self-abuse?

No, I don’t think so. I had a goal and I was going for it. I was not going to let a few bruises stop me. Pursuing publishing has given me, like all authors, a fair number of bruises but the little girl writer in me-the Trier—remains unscathed.

When I saw Pulitzer playwright Suzan-Lori Parks speak recently, she told us all to lower the bar, to lower the perfectionistic standards that can keep us from creating art. That can keep us from trying. And in the Jan/Feb addition of Poets & Writers, debut author Jenny Shank (The Ringer, Permanent Press) reinforces this idea. Use it as a permission card to try. She writes:

I’m not going to dazzle anyone with lyricism or structural ingenuity. But I put my head down and work and sometimes a story comes of it. I ham-and-egg my way through. It took me a long time to figure out that not every writer has to be brilliant.”

So lower that bar. Be a ham-and-egger and write. Won't you at least try?