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Authors Gather for National Library Week: A Behind-the-Pen View

Over forty authors and illustrators who call Ohio home spent Saturday at the Hudson Library and Historical Society as part of this year’s National Library Week celebration. Representing several counties across the state, these writers also represented a wide array of genres ranging from adult non-fiction and fiction titles to inspirational stories for teens and creative picture books for the younger set. 

AuthorDay4During what became quite the extra-special outing for the floppy-eared puppy, Doodle Dog and I were honored to be among these featured wordsmiths and have the opportunity to meet and greet new readers, loyal fans and many visitors who expressed a hope to one day be on our side of the table, pen in hand (or paw in ink), autographing their own future published work.

From “this side” of the table, the day began by making sure that all necessary display materials were packed up and ready to make their journey to another land ruled by books – the library: the collection of specially-designed bookmarks featuring our main characters, the pristine stack of business cards with our contact information (yes, please email us – we love to hear from our fans!), and some sort of small souvenir that each tiny tot could take home as a token of the visit as well as, with any luck, the brand new shiny copy of our book purchased and signed on the spot. For visitors to my table, that was a fuzzy pipe cleaner butterfly reminiscent of Doodle Dog’s winged friends fluttering around the screen as the animated cartoon version of his world played on my netbook. Eye candy in all forms truly abounded from the various desktop mini-worlds each author created for the occasion. For self-proclaimed (and unashamed of it!) book nerds, it’s our own form of literary trick or treat.

Once everything is in place – including choosing just that right outfit and the perfect pair of cute-yet-comfortable shoes! – there’s no time to relax before the fun begins as local news crews and reporters want to get the story of the person (or puppy!) behind the story. It’s definitely a pleasure to briefly talk about the inspiration or that tiny idea that grew and grew until it became the tangible form to hold in your hands. On-camera interviews are inevitable, so any nerves and jitters about public speaking simply have to take a vacation. As the other media members circulate around the scene, one of the best parts of being involved in one of these events is the camaraderie between fellow attendees. I was able to reconnect with other members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and catch up with each other’s latest projects since our last conference. Chatting with your tablemate helps keep the time in between curious customers interesting, and it’s great to hear about and learn from the personal experiences each author had in seeing his or her book through the publication process. Even though the formula is basically the same, no two writers’ journeys are identical. Writing is a solitary activity and these events definitely help you know you are not alone in this field.

Indisputably one of the questions most asked of authors is “How do you do it?” The long answer could be a book in itself – and believe me, there are many hardcover attempts concerning that exact inquiry shelved at the local bookstore or library – but the short answer is that although writing is a solitary activity, producing a book is a team effort.

When an actor or actress earns an Oscar it may seem unfathomable why they need several minutes for an acceptance speech, but when the number of people that helped get them to that point is considered, it makes sense. Friends and family serve as an indispensable support system, fulfilling roles that can include physically helping cut out those hundreds of bookmarks, making sure that checklist you made has been checked and double-checked or acting as chauffeur for the day, or standing by for moral support with a sincere “Yes, keep going!” when you start to question your sanity and start to hear voices. (Oh, wait, those are the characters talking to you, never mind.) Whether it be the video editor who traded for services so you have the most adorable book trailer to help you get noticed or the agents and editors who noticed you and gave you a chance, that “acceptance speech” list can really grow.

At the end of the day, the reasons behind doing what we do vary just as much as the storylines and personalities of each author. Most acknowledge they’re not in it for the money (but selling those copies is certainly awesome!) and I can tell you that when a little kid picks up your book and his face lights up as he starts to flip through it, reading the words and discovering your character’s world, that goes a long way to helping you remember why writing isn’t a career – it’s very much a calling.

So now that this book fair is done, what happens next? Like all good stories, the page turns and it’s on to the next chapter!

For those who really want to know “How DO you do it?” my Reference Librarian alter-ego will be presenting a free program at the Garrettsville library on Saturday, May 4th at 11:30am on “How to Create a Children’s Picture Book” and you’re welcome to attend and find out! Call the library at (330) 527-4378 to register.

Reader Responses

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In addition to her role as a contributing reporter for the Weekly Villager, Mialie T. Szymanski is the creator of the bi-weekly column “Puppy Tails”. This children’s story time column stars Doodle Dog, a floppy-eared puppy who has an optimistic perspective of the world around him. Szymanski's picture book “Doodle Dog Enjoys the Day” chronicles a day in the life of this “paws”itive pup. The upcoming read-aloud anthology “Puppy Tails: Adventures of Doodle Dog” is a collection of the columns and illustrations as seen in The Weekly Villager over the last year.

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