Sylvia McNicoll is an award-winning children’s writer with more than 30 books to her credit. She is a highly driven author, teacher, and mother of three and yet manages to juggle several roles efficiently. What is it that makes her so successful? Is it just an abundance of luck or something more? I sought Sylvia out to unravel the secrets of her outstanding success and how she makes it all work. Take a look:
You didn’t think you would be a writer in childhood. So, what changed for you and made you take up writing as a profession?
Well, I am from Canada, and though we didn’t have our publishing initially, we grew our publishing industry. I write for children, and that was a new sphere in the 70’s, and I came on to the scene in the late 80’s. Also, becoming a mother changed things for me. I knew I liked writing and I went on to take a course on children’s writing. The teacher of that course was a young adult writer, and I read all his books and loved them! His name was Paul Kropp, and it helped to have a teacher championing me. I wrote my first novel ‘Blueberries and whipped cream’ as a project and then I went on to find a publisher for it. The book was based on the painful experience of the death of my friend’s mother in school, and it sold very well. I also sold the movie rights for it though it never came to fruition.
Sylvia, you are a mother with children, and successful author, too. So how do you manage all these responsibilities?
My husband is a full-time professional, and we support each other. Other than my writing for children, I also wrote articles for various magazines, editing for a magazine, public speaking, and school visits. And I managed all of that with household chores and looking after my children. As a children’s author, I can write in chunks when I have time, unlike adult book writers, so that helped as well. I work in airplanes, cars, and trains (particularly the GO train that is slower) as well to make use of time that is available, without waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to write.
So what about the business end of being an author, how do you handle that?
I’m a major in English but a minor in economics as well. So I do understand the business aspect to some extent, but I have an agent as well to look over the business end. But getting an agent is not enough, I understand about contracts, and I read through my contracts however tedious it is. The contract is worded very carefully and if there is a problem with the contract the writer won’t have the money to fight so that’s where having an agent is helpful who will go to a courtroom and make sure the writer gets the rights back.
When I started womELLE, I felt that there is only a small percentage of women helping other women instead of thinking of them as competition. What are your thoughts on that?
Yes, Naghilia, I see that there are more men on the bestselling and nomination list and the sad thing is that the librarians who choose people for the nomination list are women. So it is the women doing this to other women. Women also listen to men more, give them more focus and let them headline events.
Talking and sharing thoughts with Sylvia made me realize that women don’t support each other much. We let emotions take over their feelings for other women. We need to help each other if another woman is more successful. We need to stop burying ourselves. Sylvia and I agreed that there is a strong need for gender balance in the writing profession as well as others. Women also tend to apologize a lot more than men. My grandfather taught me to stop saying ‘sorry’ when I was not doing anything to be sorry about. It’s the nature of women to apologize for or provide extended explanations, and that needs to end. It was truly wonderful to view an author’s business perspective and her standpoint on a woman’s role in the profession, especially from one as accomplished as Sylvia McNicoll!