How Neil Gaiman saved my day

by The Book Consultancy on April 2, 2014

Bologna Children's Book FairOver last week I attended the 2014 Bologna Book Fair. This was my first book fair and, while I admit had no real idea what to expect, I certainly didn’t expect what I saw. I also found myself in a state I didn’t expect: I felt intimidated. Here, around me, were publishers, agents, rights managers, illustrators — so many people trying to make a name for themselves I felt washed up and tumbling in the undertow rather than staying above the water. How was one person supposed to stand out in such an environment?
So, I came home a bit rattled and was trying to force my mind back onto work and just nothing was working. My intimidation had given me a form of writer’s block that I didn’t know how to fix other than to either quit or have someone give me a very large boost of confidence. Well, I knew I didn’t want to quit, so I do what most people do and stared mindlessly at the internet. As you can probably guess, nothing worked until after a brush in with Pinterest, I ran into a speech pinned by our friends from Thriller School. It was a keynote speech given by Neil Gaiman to the 2012 graduates at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was twenty minutes of the jolt that I needed to get going back in this scary world we live in.
“I hope you make mistakes,” Neil Gaiman said. “If you make mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.” I had never felt so relieved until I heard him say that. There’re people out there who say, you’re going to make mistakes, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard anyone tell me to get out there and make them. Everyone’s afraid to make mistakes and, after that Bologna trip, I felt like I had made a lot of them. I didn’t ask the questions I should have. I didn’t approach the right people or sound “smart enough.” This past year, for sure, has been about making good impressions and I felt that on this occasion I fell short, but Neil Gaiman was there for me again. One of the main things he regretted he hadn’t done more of was enjoy the ride of his success. Stephen King gave him this advice, “You should enjoy it”. The easiest thing for us, though, is to forget about the progress and just focus on the deadline.
So what if I didn’t stand out as much as I wanted to? I went to the Bologna Book Fair and learned a lot about the industry I hadn’t really envisioned until now. Some people had their moments and that’s fantastic! I hope many of the people who attended the event took a couple more steps towards their dream. “Make up your own rules,” Neil Gaiman said, because “the gatekeepers are leaving their gates.” This is the time to shine, everyone, whether it be by painting that picture you think no one is going to like or by writing that book that you think won’t go anywhere. Someone out there will appreciate it, even if they don’t let you know. And if you love to do it, completing it will always be a success.
Thanks to Neil Gaiman, I gained a bit of confidence, and learned where to find a bit more confidence and wisdom if mine is running a bit low: “So, be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And, if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.”

Kelly Mundt

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