Author Janet Wong answers three questions she has always wanted to be asked in this special CBC Website Feature!
What is the stupidest thing you did at the beginning of your career?
Margaret McElderry included me as a guest of honor at an S&S party when my first book, Good Luck Gold, was almost one year old. I had been signing that book all year long with gold ink—but discovered, at the beginning of the dinner, that I had left my gold pen at the hotel. What I would do now: sign the books with the nearest pen. The stupid thing I did then: I ran two blocks back to my hotel, grabbed the pen, and ran back at top speed, arriving red-faced at the end of the salad. My table guests were baffled, of course, by my odd behavior. I can only imagine what Margaret thought (but thankfully she never mentioned it). I mention this only because there might be a library marketing person reading this post who will take pity on a new author who has done something baffling recently. Or maybe a new author is reading this, someone who will benefit from this bit of advice: JUST BE NICE. You don’t have to be witty. You don’t need to be brilliant. You definitely don’t need to sign in gold. And when you get nervous in the company of the movers and shakers, as most of us do, just let your gratitude bubble up. Say thank you lots. That’s all you need.
What is the smartest thing you’ve done in your career?
Starting a little “artisanal” publishing company, Pomelo Books, with Sylvia Vardell. My first 21 books were published by wonderful companies—McElderry/Simon & Schuster, (HM)Harcourt, Foster/FSG, Candlewick, Charlesbridge, Richard C. Owen—but I had lost my main editors (Margaret McElderry and Frances Foster) and was feeling a bit lost when Sylvia suggested a few years ago that we partner on The Poetry Friday Anthology series. Being an editor/marketer/sales force/graphic designer/typist has given me a renewed sense of purpose, deadlines to structure my writing days, and a greater appreciation of all the work that my publishers do to keep my books in print. My tasks with Pomelo Books have also led to my involvement with the ALA-CBC Joint Committee—which has given me a terrific awareness of broader perspectives and issues in publishing.
What advice would you give to a brand new author who is just starting out?
Try getting published the traditional way first—but if it doesn’t lead to a book sale within a few years, consider “indie publishing” (see APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki for a great summary of how to do it). You don’t have to use your real name, or at least not your complete name. What you’ll gain is: 1) experience in building your audience; 2) practice in finding your voice; 3) less urgency to get published; and 4) more appreciation for your publisher’s editorial, marketing, and sales teams if/when you are eventually published the traditional way. Indie publishing today isn’t like the self-publishing of decades ago, when you needed to shell out thousands of dollars and fill your guest room with boxes of books. And if you do create a book on your own, remember the lesson in Answer 1 above: let your gratitude bubble up. Say thank you lots. JUST BE NICE.
About Janet Wong
Janet Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who became a children’s poet. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other shows. She is the author of 30 books for children on identity, chess, creative recycling, yoga, and more—published by Simon & Schuster, HMHarcourt, FSG, Candlewick, Charlesbridge, and Richard C. Owen. Along with Sylvia Vardell, she is also the co-creator of The Poetry Friday Anthology series and the Poetry Friday Power Book series published by Pomelo Books.