Career Achievers: Carolyn Crimi on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author

Learn more about Carolyn Crimi.

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?

My kneejerk reaction to that question is, “What success?”

So I suppose one way I’ve managed to stay in the game is redefining what that word means and how important it is to me.

Sometimes success means writing the next page, or figuring out a sticky plot problem, or exploring a new genre.

Those are the successes that get you through your tough days. Because there will be tough days, I know that now.

While I’ve won some nice awards, I consider the acceptance of my first novel (Weird Little Robots (Candlewick, 2019)) my biggest success simply because I honestly thought I couldn’t do it.

It was incredibly challenging, but I amazed myself by actually completing and then selling the dang thing. I’m still gobsmacked.

I was able to do that by telling myself that even if this novel was never accepted, writing it was worth it. As a picture book author, I found the idea of spending so much time on a longer project daunting. But what if I just did it for the joy of writing and completing a novel? Of really throwing myself into a project for…fun?

5/14, “Edge of Tomorrow”

I put all thoughts of selling it aside and dived in with my whole heart. It was exhilarating, nerve-wracking, gut wrenching, and absolutely the highlight of my career.

I also have a motto, which I’m embarrassed to say I heard from Tom Cruise (yup!): “Keep your head down and do the work.”

If that means leaving Facebook for a while, do it. There will always be people more successful than you are. Big deal.

Just keep your head down and do the work.

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

I’d have a book signing party for my first book. I felt funny and shy about doing that way back in 1995, but I now realize I’ll never have a first book published ever again!

Overall, I’d celebrate more and agonize less.

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?

Picture books are much, much, shorter than they used to be when I started out. Back in the ’90s, you could get away with a 900 word picture book. Nowadays they’re usually about 500 words or less.

I’m often asked to trim something down so much that I’m left with a manuscript that’s mostly dialogue.

While I love splashy, gorgeously illustrated picture books, I also love and appreciate lyrical language. And yes,I know that the reader will understand a lot of what’s going on the through the pictures, but a few well-chosen words that are fun to say can only add value.

I’m a bit tired of snark. It’s so easy to do, and seems to have been done to death lately. In this political climate, I’d like to see a little less snark and a little more kindness.

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

Save some money from your advance and hire a publicist. They are not cheap but they’re worth it. I plan on using one for Weird Little Robots, my first novel that’s coming out with Candlewick in 2019. (And yes, I will be throwing myself a huge party!)

Like most writers, I dislike marketing and promoting intensely. I’d much rather spend my time writing my next book.

Also? Know that there will be many ups and downs in this career. If you manage to climb back up after being in a writing funk, remember how you did it so that you can do it again. Because you will be in a funk again. And again.

Know that it happens to everyone and that the people who stick with it are the ones who have strategies for pulling themselves out of that muck.

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

Courage to write the story they’re aching to write.

Courage to try a new genre.

Courage to write about what scares them.

And joy!

There’s nothing like that fizzy feeling you get after a good writing day. I would send gallons of that feeling to all my friends if I could.

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

I’d also like a healthy dose of courage to keep going in this topsy-turvy publishing environment.

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.


One thought on “Career Achievers: Carolyn Crimi on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author

  1. Cynthia:

    Love that you spotlighted Carolyn! Her advice about what she'd tell her beginner self, esp the publicist bit and throwing yourself a huge party for your first book are things I'll use when the time comes.

    As Carolyn and I are co-reps for a Chicago SCBWI network, I engage with her frequently, and there's not a more fun and generous person on the planet. She deserves every success she's gotten!

    If you end up in Chicago anytime soon, I hope you'll let me know. Would love to have you come speak to our group in the Northern Suburbs. (Think near the Book Stall.)

    Takc Care,
    P.S. Tell Greg I'm very impressed with all of his physical triumphs of late.

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