Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Excuses," indeed

Joe Konrath recently posted a list of author excuses for why they don't self-promote. Second on the list? "I have a family/kids/a husband/pets/plants that need my attention."

Okay, the husband, pets, and plants really are an excuse. Kids... not so much. Not if you parent little ones, anyway.

Those who read Joe's blog regularly know that his is a rather "my way or the highway" approach, as one of his commenters noted. So, I emailed Joe asking him to clarify for those of us who do have small children. If my novel hypothetically sold this year or next, I asked, would it be fair to expect my children (assuming I have more than one by the time I have to think about promotion) to put up with Mama hitting bookstores, traveling, spending large quantities of time on radio shows, etc.? Or should I wait until they're both school-age, more independent, and better able to understand that Mama leaves sometimes for a few nights, but still loves them very much?

Joe's response? I'm still waiting. I don't know if he even has kids, but I suspect it doesn't matter much if he does; after all, he's got a wife to care for them while he writes and promotes. Same with Stephen King, whose wife, Tabitha, wrote several novels while taking care of their three littles. Granted, she probably doesn't need to wonder where her career would be if she hadn't been a mother; she's married to Stephen King. And if she does wonder? I bet ultimately, she doesn't care. Because she mothered children... while married to Stephen King.

So what about those of us whose spouses hold down the jobs that keep us fed, clothed, and housed while we pursue our dreams, which makes us primarily responsible for our littles along with our novels? There are groups like Momwriters and The Writing Mother, where professional and amateur writers gather to talk about mothering and writing. And there's the blogging community. Some mother-writers are even lucky to find each other in the same geographic locations.

In the meantime, Ann Douglas posted a wonderful double shot about mommy guilt. Ultimately, that's what it comes down to: guilt that we may not be doing enough to promote ourselves and our writing. Guilt that we may not be doing enough to promote our children's emotional health. Guilt that father-readers, to the best of my knowledge, don't feel as acutely as we do. Both choices impact society in one way or another, and the fact is, none of us has any way of knowing how. Sell more books, and you may touch more lives for the better. Spend more time with your child, and it may be your child who touches more lives... or maybe not.

It's a gamble. All of it is a gamble. That's why I don't think it's fair to make mother-writers choose between books and babies. As I told Joe, I want to do everything I can to promote myself and my books, but not at the expense of my children's emotional health. To that end, I would like to think there are some forms of self-promotion (blog book tours, local bookstores/readers club talks) that are more conducive to child-rearing than others (multi-city book tours, conferences). I've met several other struggling mother-writers through blogs and Internet groups; when the time comes, I just bet we'll be able to come up with new and bold ways to promote our books and still be home in time to put our littles to bed.

Mom-writers? Weigh in. Do we have to choose, or can we create options for ourselves? Dad-writers, too. Do you feel guilty about writing or promoting more than you spend time with your kids, or do you feel confident knowing your wives or partners have it all under control?


Blogger Serenity Now! said...

I would feel no more guilty about self-promotion of my book than I would about choosing to go to work full time.

I am not one who believes that I need to be 100% accessible to my children 100% of the time for them to be 100% emotionally healthy.

Sometimes it's ok if daddy is there and mommy is not. Sometimes it is ok the other way around. My son has spent time with non-family childcare and I have no concerns about his emotional health.

If at all possible, I would take my child with me wherever I go to promote my book. Were I to go to a radio station, perhaps I could get my mother to come with me and watch my son while I am in the 'quiet room' speaking. If I had to go to another city, perhaps my husband can come with me or even watch the kids at home while I go.

I think that for many, the 'kids' excuse is a safe haven because no one is going to directly criticize them for choosing their kids over their career in the same way that women who choose their career over their kids are criticized.

For what it's worth (or to help you put my point of view in focus). I currently work full time and I write 'the rest of the time'. I am published in non fiction articles, but do have to attend functions out of town with the magazine I freelance for. I am currently pregnant with my second child and I intend to focus more on my writing and stay home rather than work outside of the home with Baby#2 is born.

Just my 2 cents (Canadian)!

30/4/06 12:23 PM  
Blogger anne frasier said...

i'm still not convince that self-promotion does much other than drain my bank account. and you know how quickly babies outgrow those 6-12 months outfits.

1/5/06 11:53 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I...I've seen this from all sides, as someone in the education field watching kids be separated from their parent for the first time (insert Mom - I mean primary care parent).

Honestly, sometimes it's the parents who stay home with their kids 24/7 who drive you the most nuts. Okay, I don't like the absentee parents either - I'm talking in education here, because in early childhood intervention work like I did, communication with parents is critical.

But I worked with one child, 3, whose Mom had been home all his years and then she decided to take a temporary job. That month, because he'd never ever been without her, destroyed the rest of our school year. He reverted behaviourally, and a lot of his educational progress disappeared overnight, and issues that we'd been working 7 months to overcome suddenly reappeared.

Whereas the child that was in a care environment, even with the addition of a new baby at home didn't go through that kind of regression because he had an alternate secure environment that maintained stability and routine for him. Some kids really need that.

I have mixed feelings on it, because I've seen stay at home parents who are excellent, and stay at home parents who're awful and the same for working parents. I've seen kids well-adjusted and happy from both types of parents, and I've seen kids screwed up from both as well.

To be honest - and this is me, personally - I don't have the patience for 24/7. I would need break time. I know that, I've worked with kids too long for there to be any doubt. And I believe that healthy, routine separation time from a young age, be it in a care environment or a preschool, is a tremendous asset for both the parent and child if done right. The parent is usually able to invest much more attention gladly because they've had a chance to clear their plate, and the child has received external stimulation, is acquiring social skills, etc.

But at the end of the day, there's one thing for certain: telling someone how to parent is a big no-no. Even in my field, where I was paid to consult about school choices and such. All the good schools in the world can't correct for *some* parenting issues, but nobody wants to hear about that.

I suspect in the present marketing demands many publishers would weigh an author's availability to promote (not talking self here, just their promotion schedule) into their consideration of a contract. One deal I was offered, I was asked beforehand if I had kids and there were appearance stipulations in the contract. So, it is something to consider. It may not be a factor at all...but then, it might.

2/5/06 7:52 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Hello there,

I am hosting a contest on my Blogger site for "Mom's Who Blog" in honor of Mother's Day and I found your Blog to be very well written and creatively inspired.

Winners of the Contest will be announced and recognized until Mother's Day; May 14, 2006.

Winners who wish to do so - will be given a " Mix
Pix Award Button
" to display on their site or sidebar. This will help to direct traffic and readership to their wonderfully created

If you wish to be included in my list of nominations this Saturday evening please email me at Tell me a little about yourself, why you choose to blog, what's your biggest challenge in being a Mom and how do you keep your own identity while being a Mother at the same time. Stuff like that. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for making the Blogger world a wonderful experience!

Margie Mix

2/5/06 8:20 PM  
Anonymous jamie ford said...

I travel a lot with my agency job so my kids are kind of used to it. To compensate we moved from a big city to a small town six years ago. Instead of a 90 minute commute each way I live four miles from my office. It takes me 15 minutes on my bike. That was the plan, and so far it's working.

3/5/06 10:12 PM  
Blogger PJ said...

Oh-oh. This is one of those "it might be a mine field if" type topics.

This may sound off-topic, but I wanted to share a quip I read somewhere. A couple's kids were arguing with the mother, getting rude and so on, and the father walks up and says, "Hey, why are you speaking that way to my wife?"

Strangely enough, I do have a point. Yes, you are a mother - and yes, these are your children, your offspring. However, you are still someone's wife, and daughter, and so on. And aside from all those things, you are still your own person. Too many moms take on the "role" of Mom - mistakingly under the impression that that means that their duties as Mom always come first. That somehow that other them cannot exist while the children are at home. Not true. If you look at the span of your life, you are only really responsible for your children for only a part of it. After they've moved out and gone on to start their own families, you and your spouse will be left to your own devices again. If you allow yourself to put your life completely on hold until they're gone, you will lose 18 years of ground in whichever hobbies or fields you want to pursue.

So, while I give my children my full attention when they need it; while I give them all of my free time that I can, I still carve out time for myself and time to be with my husband. That time is my time. If I choose not to write and instead play a game with my kids - that was my choice, and I don't feel guilty about it. The same way I don't feel guilty about handing the kids over to hubby and closing my office door. The same way I don't feel guilty about occasionally leaving them with a babysitter. As long as you give them your full attention when you are with them, as long as you set your priorities to show them they are important, kids handle less-than-100%-mommy (or daddy) time pretty well.

In spite of sounding cliche', it's the quality, not the quantity. Sure, to make things work with my family, I may not opt to go on a great deal of whirlwind book tours, but that doesn't mean I won't ever go. The kids will live for a few days without me - even if it means subsisting on mac-n-cheese for dinner every night. ;-)

Sorry to run a bit long. I just can't believe so many people think it's an either-or kind of choice.


4/5/06 12:12 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Hmm, I might not have been clear enough in my original post. :)

I am definitely not one of those sacrifice-it-all-for-the-kids moms. If I were, I wouldn't write for a living! I can't afford childcare, but we (he and I, or he and his daddy) do make it out of the house as often as is feasible, and we're at the point where Mom or Dad (though not both) can be away for his bedtime without trouble. And I know it will get easier as he ages/matures.

My point with making this post was to question whether Joe's way - the apparent all-or-nothing-ness of book/self-promotion - was indeed the only way to sell books especially when you are parenting young children.

I'm all for teaching independence, but I also practice attachment parenting. Some kids have an easier time handling parental absences; others don't. So, while I'm confident that my son would be fine if I left him overnight to go on a mini-tour, I definitely wouldn't want to leave him for a whole week or more.

I guess my main point was that it all depends on the family, not just on the nature of the book business - and that it's important for parents to decide what their and their children's boundaries are, along with how to promote within them.

Thanks all for the great thoughts!

7/5/06 3:51 PM  
Blogger Steve Allan said...

Well, I think that anytime away from your kids makes you feel guilty in some way. There are times when I shut myself in my den to write and there are little knocks on the door. It's hard as hell to ignore that - and I usually don't. Most of my writing is done after everyone has gone to bed, but that means little sleep for me.

Now, as for being away from your kid for writing things, it's like torure. Throughout my MFA program I have to be away for a couple weeks a year - and the worse part of that is getting a voice mail message that says "Hello Daddy." It breaks your heart. However, I think that doing what you want to do as a writer requires some sacrifice. And ultimately, when you are doing what makes you the happiest, then all of your relationships will be stronger for it.

9/5/06 7:32 AM  

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