Last Tuesday, I was invited to attend “Career Day” at my younger daughter’s middle school, where parents would come in and spend about a half hour presenting to, and taking questions from, the kids on what they do for a living. I asked the guidance counselor who was running the event if he’d like me to discuss my job that actually pays the bills, or being an author. Seeing as I was the only writer among the grown-ups, novelty won out over practicality.
My talk was mostly to dispel any illusions the kids might be under: I told them, “If you want to be an author just to be rich and famous, you’ve probably picked the wrong career.” I told them that they should get day jobs first to sustain themselves and then write on the side, because it’s hard to be creative when there’s no food in the fridge and no heat. I also discussed traditional publishing vis-à-vis self-publishing, and some of the 31 things I’ve discovered (the hard way) about the latter.
Lest you think I spent the whole time channeling Debbie Downer, I also told the kids that writing was a lot of fun; that I got to meet and learn a lot of things from other authors; that one can actually make a decent living at it; and that while it’s important to know grammar and spelling, one doesn’t need a lot of schooling to be a good writer. I offered that real-life experiences are extremely useful for writing interesting, believable stories and characters.
I particularly enjoyed the question-and-answer session, especially with several girls who were planning to or were currently writing their own stories. Two of them are writing a tale set in New York City in the 1900’s, so I encouraged them to research that time and place as much as they could so that they could inject little details that would provide verisimilitude into their writing.
The kids were engaged the whole time and they asked good questions. It was a lot of fun for me, and I think a lot of fun for them, too. I left the school feeling like a rock star, and several of them asked me how they could get copies of Dragontamer’s Daughters.
So that was the high. The low was attending the Gaithersburg Book Festival last Saturday. Like everywhere else in civilization, Gaithersburg is an hour from my house in Scenic, Convenient-to-Nowhere, MD. I had to get up early after a physically grueling day before of decorating the cafeteria for a dance at my daughter’s school: said decorating involved moving lots of heavy things, crawling around in dusty places, climbing on scaffolds, etc. So I was tired and in a poor mental state from the get-go.
I got lost driving to the festival, but got there in time to set up. All of the “children’s authors” were grouped together under a long tent, and I was lucky enough to be assigned next to Kacie Bawiec and her mother, both very smart and very charming. The festival ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., so it was a long day; it was also cold and rainy, and I had forgotten my jacket. No doubt, the weather kept some people away (about 18,000 were there).
Most of the folks who were there were more interested in attending the presentations being done around us rather than seeing what my colleagues and I had to offer. And the vast majority of the kids there were definitely not the in “young adult” age group that Kacie and I had written for. We joked that the playground there at the festival was getting more visitors than any of us. The sad part was, it was totally true.
The day was not a total loss. I did make a few sales, I gave a lot of promotional handouts to people, and Kacie and her mom and I exchanged marketing tips. I also got to speak briefly to author Richard Due about his experiences at the Baltimore Book Festival (which I’m considering attending) and to Joe Sergi about Balticon (where I’ll be on Memorial Day weekend).
But overall, not a fun day at the office last Saturday. I left feeling very discouraged. A very un-rock star moment. I’m currently 50/50 on whether I’ll attend the Baltimore Book Festival (at the end of September); I’ll wait and see how Balticon goes before I make my decision.