Wednesday, January 31, 2007

stage fright

I'm terrible at promoting my work, at least in comparison to most of the illustrators I know personally, or by reputation, so it was somewhat of a relief to read Meghan McCarthy's post about the subject at the Blue Rose Girls blog. I found myself nodding my head while reading it: answering questions about my work with clipped responses, check; slandering my work in the presence of others, yep; seeing only the flaws in my, uh-huh, yeah. Humility is an admirable trait. It's just not the most useful trait to possess when you work in an industry in which self-promotion is practically a requirement for success.

Here's the thing: I'm not that humble. The way that I talk about my work to others is (usually) not how I feel about it myself (okay, with the exception of the "flaw" comment; I'm convinced that's impossible to get around when you're the one who both creates the work and has to spend the most time with it-see previous post). The clipped responses are more a reaction to wanting to get "off stage" as quickly as possible. Same goes for the slandering. I've never been comfortable being put on the spot, although I do enjoy getting out to see the folks who have read one or both of my books (and I think having advance notice before a reading/signing allows me time to get used to the idea, even if it can't stop my face from remaining a bright shade of red throughout the entire event).

In fact, if you ask my family or friends, people that I am very familiar with, they probably won't tell you that I can't shut up about myself. They're lying. I love talking about anything I'm working on, and I'm sure I've tested the patience of several, if not all of them, at one time or another.

So, am I letting a little stage fright come between me and success? I recently found this item at the Horn Book Virtual History Exhibit (which is so cool, I still can't believe it exists). It's a letter that William Steig wrote to Paul Heins, a former editor of the Horn Book Magazine, regarding his Caldecott Award acceptance speech (Steig won that year for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble):

May 10, ’70

Dear Mr. Heins,

Bob Kraus just read your letter to me (the one about my Caldecott acceptance speech) over the phone. I’m afraid now that in addition to having to make a speech, which for me will be like walking on red hot embers & broken glass, I will have the additional burden of feeling that my speech will leave people dissatisfied & make me seem both ungracious & ungrateful. I sincerely meant what I indicated in the opening of my speech: I would almost rather die than have to formally address a group of people larger than two in number. I’ve successfully avoided doing so for 50 years; I’ve been depressed ever since January & will not realize happiness again until after June 30th when my trial is over. I’ve told this to many people, but no one believes me & I feel like a character in a Kafka novel. Please believe me when I say that speaking only a few words will require a superhuman effort for me; that I can no longer, in my sixties, hope to change my character; that I am making this effort only out of genuine gratitude; and also because I worry about my publisher, who could be an innocent victim of my neurosis.

I want to make more books, books good enough to win prizes, & I’m hoping that my inability to make speeches will not hamper my progress.

Sincerely yours,

William Steig

Now, I am no William Steig. But, I want to make good books, too. Hopefully, they'll do most of the talking for me.

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