Career Achievers: K.L. Going on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

Learn more about K.L. Going.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey, what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

For me, it has been all about adaptation. Allowing myself to write in a broad array of genres has helped me to remain active as a writer.

This was definitely something I needed to give myself mental permission to do since the “formula” for success (if there is one!) is to write a series, or at the very least, produce the same sort of book so your readers know what to expect and you can build a strong, core audience. You can then create a marketing brand that sells you and your work. But that was never going to be me, and at a certain point I needed to let go of that ideal.

My biggest hurdle was adapting to parenthood, which completely changed not only the amount of time available for my writing, but also the quality of that time. Once I had my son, I no longer had long, quiet stretches of time, but rather short bursts.

Writing picture books is a long-term process (sometimes I work on a picture book for years), but each individual work session can be shorter. Writing novels takes me longer to get into the mind-set and to reach the point where I can write new material.

When Ashton was young, I was reading picture books aloud to him, so I was immersed in that world, but I stopped having time to read full-length novels. The realities of my life changes meant that I was ready to make a shift in what I was producing.

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

I was working on Pieces of Why (Kathy Dawson Books, 2015) when I got pregnant. I didn’t push myself to finish it before my son was born because I had very unrealistic expectations about how soon I’d get back to writing.

I had no idea the ways that being a mom would change the course of my life!

If I could go back, I would have pushed myself harder during that pre-baby time period because it was a really long while before I felt ready to write again.

For writers, our primary tool is our brain and for my brain to work at its best, I need to be well-rested, focused, and immersed in the alternate world I’m creating.

Once my son was born, well-rested went out the window, focus was a thing of the past, and I didn’t want to leave the world I lived in because I was so damn happy with my amazing little baby!

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing,
literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

I think the biggest change is, of course, social media. Most writers, myself included, have a love/hate relationship to social media. On the one hand, it allows us a bit more control over our marketing, so even if we’re not one of the big name writers on a publishers list who can garner a lot of the publicity department’s time, we can still work on our own to get the word out about our books. On the other hand, marketing isn’t something many of us enjoy.

When I first started out, it was a big deal that I simply had a website. I had certain fun features I’d update periodically, but there was not any expectation that there would be new material every week or every few days. There was no Twitter or Instagram. It took very little of my mental energy.

(Beach Lane, 2017)

But over the years, social media venues have bred like rabbits and it’s hard not to get caught up in each new trail, not knowing which ones will pan out in the long run.

It’s too easy to spend all of your creative energy on coming up with clever or prolific posts instead of writing new books.

These days, there’s a much higher demand to do marketing well.

Also, feedback on your books comes instantly from many sources and it’s detailed. It feels personal.

In the past, there was a general sense of a book’s reception, but there wasn’t that kind of instant reaction from Joe Smith in Washington, D.C. who gave your book a certain number of stars.

General feedback is wonderful because it can help improve your writing skills for future books, but specific feedback can feel disproportionately important even when it shouldn’t really have any impact at all.

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

(Beach Lane, 2017)

Allow yourself more grace than you think you deserve.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

Being a writer can be a scary career choice. You have no benefits, no job security, no retirement, and you pay your own taxes.

Not everyone can manage to pull that off long-term, and I fear that a lot of voices are silenced because of these realities.

People who don’t have enough money to sustain themselves get to roll the dice once (maybe twice) to see if your book makes it to that top echelon of the best-seller list, and if it does you’re set, but it’s a very small minority of writers who make it.

If your book doesn’t become a bestseller and you don’t have outside income, then you probably won’t choose to continue writing as a career.

There’s a lot of conversation within publishing about wanting to attract minority writers into the field, but very few of those conversations focus on the economic realities of being a writer because money tends to be a taboo subject. But I do think it plays a part in who can afford to continue publishing and who can’t.

It isn’t just skin-color that makes someone a minority voice. There are also economically marginalized people who could speak about very different ways of living within our country.

I don’t have any answers to these problems.

Is there a way to make writing and publishing into the kind of job that would offer long-term security?

Or will it always come down to who can afford to pay their own health care and invest in their own retirement, either because they are independently wealthy, have a spouse who can offer those economic benefits, or they hit it big?

I guess what I’d wish for in the future would be a health care system that works for everyone so we could take away one of the biggest roadblocks to self-employment.

That would be a great step forward.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

I’ve been writing a screenplay adaptation of my picture book, Dog in Charge, which I’m really excited about. I hope it sells!

And there is also a Broadway version of Fat Kid Rules the World in the works.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed about both projects.

Cynsational Notes

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

2 thoughts on “Career Achievers: K.L. Going on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

  1. This was a great interview, that although a little late in the game for me, made me feel not alone, inspired, and guilty for not making more time to compose music (I have to put moment a special needs kid first) and making laundry more important than playing guitar or piano. Or making time to read even more kid lit books. I wish you both the best. Peace, Annie Lynn

  2. How lovely to hear from you, Kelly! And to see images of your current books and projects, including that most amazing little project, Ashton.

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