At some level I feel my entire career as an author/illustrator of picture books has been one banana peel moment after another. Even though I have published books, that real people can buy at real bookstores, I still somehow struggle to feel successful. I will say that yes, getting that very first book deal is not easy. That is often what people want to know from me. How does one get a book published? How does one even get a manuscript read by an editor or illustrations seen by an art director? And those are all good questions…but I feel like people don't often think about what happens next. What IF you get that book deal? What is it really like to make a living as a freelancer? I want to share the banana peel moments that I never even saw coming…because I too had never thought beyond my first book deal.
I did not write my very first published picture book, Brooke Shields did. And I know that getting to do a book with a celebrity is a once-in-a-lifetime, amazing, true luck experience. I AM grateful. But it was not exactly what I imagined it to be. The book did not lead me to fame and fortune. First off the fame…no I never met Brooke Shields. In fact I never even spoke with her…not even over e-mail. But that's actually very typical for any author and illustrator working on a book…communication is all done through the editor. But still…to this day if someone finds out about my book, the first thing they ask is, "Did you get to meet Brooke Shields?" That is what gets people excited, not the book itself. So naturally I disappoint.
As for fortune, I left my full-time job to illustrate the book thinking I would be completely financially secure with a sure best-seller. Everyone loves celebrities, right? The reality is that most books don't turn into best-sellers. I received one royalty check and that is all. I'm not sure if people consider that as a freelancer, you truly have no control over whether you make money or not. I know it was a big reality check for me. The Brooke Shields book was a wonderful experience, but in the end I made more as a nanny…and that income was guaranteed.
Now the first book did well enough that they hired me to illustrate a second book with Brooke Shields. This is what lead to perhaps the biggest banana peel of my career. As I pointed out above, I was in no position to turn down work. Having left my job, I needed to agree to any book that came my way so I could continue to pay basic bills. So even though I was about to give birth to my first child, I agreed to illustrate the book. I know now that I simply didn't understand what having a baby would be like. Most women take a maternity leave. Nobody is crazy enough to think that they can give birth and immediately begin work on a very demanding, high-profile job.
I know now that I was wrong. I slipped the hardest I ever have in my entire life. Now for the moms out there, I don't need to go into how exhausting a newborn can be, or how you need to recover not only physically, but mentally, and emotionally. Life is never the same after a baby is born. I never considered being up all hours of the night with a colicky baby. I never considered the strain it would put on my marriage. I never considered that I wouldn't be able to somehow both care for my tiny infant and create 32 pages of hand-painted, full color art in less than three months. I guess it is no surprise that I ended up with postpartum depression and a sense of inadequacy about myself as both a creator and a mother that still haunts me today.
The ironic thing about it all, is that Brooke Shields herself is famous for her battle with postpartum depression. A fact that didn't really buy much sympathy from the publisher, although they did send me a copy of Brooke's book, "Down Came the Rain". In the end I did manage to finish the book on time with a small deadline extension. Seeing the art now is like looking at something painted by someone else. I cannot even remember how or when I painted that book…but I did.
My daughter is now four years old, and even has a little brother. The second time around, I had nothing to work on. My son's birth and babyhood has been mine to savor. On the flip-side, nothing to work on does mean no money…but I think being able to treasure the first months of your child's life with even a shred of sanity is worth all the fame and fortune in the world.
Cori has offered to give away one of my family's favorite books, Little Bunny Foo Foo. Just leave a comment below describing when you plopped a little too much onto your plate. (This book is fabulous for those times when you DO have too much going on and just feel like bopping something/someone on the head.)