The parting of the Red Sea, or.... not.
"Did you get discovered?"The first words out of my bosses mouth upon my return from the New York SCBWI conference. Not intending to be rude, I stared back my face void of any emotion. I could see he was expecting something.... anything but the blank stare he got, straight through him to the clock on the wall. Tick....Tick....Tick.
I'm sure his intent was to be optimistic and supportive. He had no idea what a terribly loaded question it was. And, at that moment, between the jet lag and information overload, I kind of wanted to punch him. Instead, I took a breath, managed a smile and answered politely, "No, ....not yet." It was the simplest way to avoid a long drawn out explanation that would most likely bore him to tears. He was just trying to be nice, he didn't really want to hear the seven part, two-tiered answer complete with footnotes, references and a three page bibliography, compiled over the past fourteen years as to why being discovered is an ambiguous and I might add ridiculous question. Frankly, it was just the wrong question.
The right question would be, What did you discover? But, in hindsight and fairness to him, and looking back to the beginning of this journey I did think of it as being discovered. But it was an abstract dream, kind of like when we refer to an arbitrary group as they, merely a metaphor and not an actual group.
If you're good enough you hang around the right people and follow their words of advice until eventually you get your big break, the red sea parts, they see your fabulous talent and poof! You're discovered, and on easy street! Just sit back and let the contracts roll in.
Back to Reality, sort of.Los Angeles, 2003, my first SCBWI conference. I received immediate recognition with a portfolio award. So, check international portfolio award winner off my list. Now onto that book contract. Right!
At the risk of sounding smug and ungrateful, recognition so early on really just muddied the waters. I didn't know that wasn't supposed to happen. The next couple of years were a bit frustrating as I waited for things to just fall into place. I'm not quite sure how I expected publishers to know about me when I didn't actually contact anyone. It takes years of making stuff, lots of stuff, mostly bad stuff, taking risks, putting yourself out there and talking to people, everyone you can, asking questions then putting out more stuff. I now understand all the hard work it takes to gain the respect and craft necessary to sustain success as an author/illustrator. And, I'm still here.
With all of the information and advice I have acquired from conferences, writing workshops, my mentorship program and my newest endeavor, a Summer Artist's Residency program at California Institute of the Arts (more on this later), I realize that it's not about being discovered. It's about meeting people and asking questions, immersing yourself in your work and just plugging away at it every day. This industry is full of amazing people and resources and I haven't met one (okay, maybe one) fellow author or illustrator that isn't rooting for me and everyone else in this crazy industry. We are all capable and it's a matter of doing your work, lots of work, volumes of work! It's about The 10,000 hour rule and not being afraid to fail, knowing that even the bad stuff has to be created to get to the good stuff.
Okay, guilty! When I started this journey I was hoping for that magic bullet, the parting of the Red Sea and being discovered! If that's what you're looking for, I regret to inform you that you're probably in the wrong place, at the wrong blog, in the wrong industry. I have been doing this for a long time, writing and illustrating (among other things). So long in fact that had I chosen a different field, I could have an MD by now open up a nice little family practice. Through the journey, many things have happened, good and not so good. Although I focus on the good, I am grateful for all of it.