So, What Exactly Do You Do? by Lindsay Bandy

Let’s face it: Explaining what we do is harrrrd. Sometimes, we might opt not to tell anyone that we write or illustrate until something big happens, like a multi-million dollar contract. But that’s a little sad, right? I mean, my husband tells people that he golfs. My kids tell people they like to do crafts and dance. So why is it so hard to tell people we write and/or illustrate?

I think it’s because people “get” golfing. They get kid crafts and dance class and yoga. But the publishing industry? Half the time, we don’t even get it, ourselves, because it is the Wild Wild West. There are no hard and fast rules. There is no one path. It could take ten weeks or ten years. And the hard truth is, not everyone makes it to the six-figure contract stage.

But there are some perks to this Wildness: We can work within the rules and get wildly different, creative outcomes. There are many different paths to success, and multiple definitions of success. You don’t actually have to be J.K. Rowling to do what you love. And if you educate yourself in order to educate others, you can even talk about what you do without (too much) trepidation.

Try these tips next time you hesitate to talk about your work, and please let me know any of your own!

Q: So, are you published yet?? 

You worry that saying NO will make you sound dumb, incompetent, and delusional, right? But if you can explain some of the process, you’ll actually educate someone else on how incredibly complex it is. Being knowledgeable and providing examples can go a long way to helping you feel both understood and positive about your efforts. For example, if you’re in the querying phase, explain what that looks like:

Well, I finished my manuscript, got some peer reviews, polished it up, and now I’m sending query letters to agents that I think would be a good fit. Many agents get about 40 queries a day, and they have their own clients to take care of, as well, so it can be a long wait to hear back from them. Some successful authors query for years before landing their agent or publisher. Did you know that Stephen King had so many rejections he drove a spike into his wall to hold them all? Did you know Harry Potter got like 11 rejections from publishers before being picked up? Did you know it took the creators of Phineas and Ferb 16 years of rejections to get their TV show off the ground? So I’m just trying to be patient and focus on a new project for now. It’s a long haul.

phineas-and-ferb               harry potter

Q: Where are you going this weekend?

Umm….to…a..uh…..writer’s conference. It can feel weird to tell people you’re going away for the weekend to a writer’s and/or illustrator’s conference, because people have expectations. Like you’re going to walk through the door and a beam of light will rest upon your head, and suddenly, publishers will bow down to your genius and throw money at you. If that happens to you, please take a picture. But if not, try something like:

I’m going to a conference to meet other writers/illustrators and learn from industry professionals. I’m also helping out at the registration table!

This brings me to another really important point:


Being involved in an organization like, oh, I don’t know….SCBWI!!! can help you to share your activities with others who get it, as well as those who don’t. Telling people you help out at events, or writing a post for this very blog and sharing it on your own social media sites can be a great way to be doing something…something you can feel proud to talk about and share. Be brave and reach out to an author, illustrator, or agent you admire and see about an interview for our blog or your own. Tweet and interact with authors and illustrators to tell them you love their work. Build relationships, and let them bloom! Don’t just wait for the big thing to happen. Start making things happen now!

I hope that helps you to feel a little more comfortable talking about the awesome and important work you do.

Keep on educating yourself and others, and take the words of Louisa May Alcott to heart:

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.


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3 Responses to So, What Exactly Do You Do? by Lindsay Bandy

  1. Great post, Lindsay! I love your quotes, tidbits of trivia and advice on how to manage those pesky questions. I totally agree that spending more time with people who get the industry and writer’s/illustrator’s lifestyle is a huge help.

  2. Perfectly describes all of my “so, what do you do?” Interactions! Thank you!

  3. hmmmmm says:

    All of what you describe is spot on Lindsay! On top of the writer insecurities I also have this added struggle of feeling like I am too shotgun — without a single focus.
    I was at a (not writing-related) meeting last night, and we had to go around the room and introduce ourselves: name, what we do, etc. After I provided my disjointed spiel involving “… former early childhood teacher… landscape architect… play advocate… children’s writer…”, the facilitator said “oh! I met someone like you at a meeting a few weeks ago — she described herself as ‘a hyphenated person!'”
    I was tickled: I felt like I’d finally found my (hyphenated) tribe!!

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