Going for the Gold: An Author Intervention

Posted July 28th, 2019

I’m on my way to ALA, the sweet land of children’s book award ceremonies. I’ll only be there to promote my new memoir, Ordinary Hazards, not to pick up any plaques, or medals this year. Still, it got me thinking.

Coretta Scott King honor

Who doesn’t want a book award or citation, or even a starred review? We welcome them, pine for them, lust for them, hope for them. We do so, in part, because we assume they will guarantee success and longevity of our books, and keep them in print. Sadly, that is not always the case. I would know, having a number of such award-winning titles on the proverbial scrap heap of out-of-print books. A notable book citation didn’t keep What is Goodbye? from hitting the pile, nor did the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award keep Something On My Mind from disappearing from bookstore shelves. (These aren’t my only OP titles, but ouch!) Then, there are those beautiful books that never stay in print long enough to find their market (Under the Christmas Tree, anyone? I dare you to say the paintings by Kadir Nelson are anything less than scrumptious! My poems weren’t too shabby either, if I must say so. I’m getting off point, though. Sorry.)

If awards and major citations don’t keep a book in print, what’s the point? What’s the deal? The truth is, book publishing has always been a crap-shoot. There’s really no nailing down which book will make it, and which one won’t, which book will be chosen for special honors, and which won’t. Don’t waste your time taking bets. Besides, awards, while lovely (I won’t be giving any of mine back, thank you very much!), those shiny stickers don’t come with any guarantees. (Okay. So maybe there’s one or two exceptions. Still.)

Don’t get me wrong: awards are certainly worth celebrating, and I’m ready to do the happy-dance whenever one comes my way. Even so, an award can’t be the reason I write a book. If it were, I’d constantly writhe in misery (well, more than I usually do) whenever one of my books failed to take home the gold, or even the silver. No. I write books because I have to, because I have stories to tell, because I want to entertain, encourage, inform, inspire and challenge young readers. I write because I want to touch hearts and, ultimately—I’ll admit it—hopefully change minds, and maybe even lives. Whether I fail or succeed in the trying, an award is beside the point. Every time I receive a glowing letter from one of my readers, or a teacher, a parent, grandparent, or a librarian, I remember that. You should, too.

Chin up, my fellow scribes! Hope to cross paths with you on the road as we share our stories, and our hearts, with the young readers who move us to put pen to paper, in the first place.