Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Old Truths are Todays Truths

St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers. 
Prayer for Writers (taken from Saintly Support: A Prayer for Every Problem)
May the Lord guide me and all those who write for a living. Through your prayers, St. Frances de Sales, I ask for your intercession as I attempt to bring the written word to the world. Let us pray that God takes me in the palm of His hand and inspires my creativity and inspires my success. St. Francis de Sales, you understand the dedication required in this profession. Pray for God to inspire and allow ideas to flow. In His name, let my words reflect my faith for others to read. Amen. 
We writers can be our own worst critic - we worry ad nauseum about our writing style, our characters, our plotting technique (or lack thereof); we wonder what our agent thinks of the current manuscript on his/her desk, we worry about getting that first or subsequent book published... the concerns are endless, especially these days, in tough economic times. Success seems harder and harder to attain, obstacle seem insurmountable -- but that's human nature I guess. Then you think back to the good old days when things seemed easier... or did they? 
Reading an article by Jennie Nash, in the Huffington Post put things in perspective. In her article, The Making of a Novel: 8 Enduring Truths About Publishing, she talks about a book she's been reading, DEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDTROM, Nordstom being he children's book editor at Harper's in the 50's & 60's, responsible for some of the world's most enduring children's books -- think the LITTLE BEAR books, Maurice Sendak's masterpieces, Louise Fitzhugh's HARRIET THE SPY and many others. In it she sees 8 Truths that were evident then, as they are today:
  1. The creative process takes time. Nordstrom's authors started books and stopped them, came up with ideas and abandoned them, turned one idea into another as they searched for the best stories to tell and the best shape for their stories. There are not overnight successes.
  2. Writers need critics. It's hard to imagine that a book like WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE was ever anything less than perfect, but Nordstrom picked apart all her writers' stories, questioning every word of the story and every line of art. She was ruthless. And it worked.
  3. Deadlines loom. Nordstrom is forever writing her authors to ask, "Where are your pages?"
  4. The sales people matter. Nordstrom travels to Boston and Los Angeles, among other places, to attend sales conferences and pitch the books she's working on. She talks about what illustrations to put in the catalog to capture the sales' people's attention, and how to present the stories in the best light.
  5. The competition is at your heels. We think of today's marketplace as being wildly competitive, but it wasn't so different back in the day. Nordstrom would go to great lengths to prevent her writers or illustrators taking a contract from a competitive house, and she seemed to hate it when a competitive house came out with a book she considered great.
  6. It's good to win awards. Nordstrom had many Newbrry and Caldecott winners, and there was always much rejoicing because awards almost always mean bigger sales. Nordstrom often spoke about wanting to help her writers and illustrators make enough money to stop doing their day jobs.
  7. Books need champions. Nordstrom helped usher a book to publication that included the first-ever homeoerotic scene between teenage boys. (She was a staunch believer that books should never speak down to children -- it's very inspiring.) She wrote several letters to leading psychologists in order to get a quote that would lend the book credibility.
  8. Making books is satisfying work. What comes through Nordstrom letters is, above all, a sense of absolute joy. She obviously loved her work in a very profound way -- and that love is still the only good reason to do it.

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