In our first guest blog by past finalists, Nick Cross (UV2010), whose extract was Back from the Dead, reflects on how being short-listed ten years ago changed his life in unexpected and positive ways.
Ten Years as a Discovered Voice: What I’ve Learnt
Just over ten years ago, I received the call that my extract had been selected for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices anthology. I thought my life was about to change, and it did, but not in ways I could predict. Here are ten things I’ve learnt in the process.
1. Success is how you define it
Although I’ve written a further four children’s novels since UV2010, I haven’t had a book published. But I’m still writing (and now illustrating too) despite the many knock-backs and rejections. And I have had lots of children’s short stories published and even won an award!
2. You have to ride the rollercoaster
A career as an author is not a dependable thing – you are at the whims of your own creative impulses, the publishing industry and ultimately your readers. I’ve seen writers whose first children’s novel got picked up for publication in a blaze of hype, but who then struggled to get a second contract. I’ve seen others who had to keep diversifying into other age groups and genres to survive (or even, gasp, writing for adults). And there are a lucky few who found the right publisher and audience, and by working incredibly hard have been able to carve out a steady career path.
3. Everyone needs a side hustle
Because authors’ careers are so volatile, you’ll need to maintain other streams of income, whether those are school visits, teaching adults to write/illustrate or selling merchandise on Etsy. In my case, I’ve worked full-time ever since leaving university, so writing and illustrating are actually my side hustle!
4. The world is out there
Through my involvement with Undiscovered Voices, I was pitched (pun intended) into a social whirl of publishing events. I got introduced to all sorts of writers, illustrators, agents and editors, many of whom are still my friends today. It was incredible to step into a world I’d only dreamed of, and to find that the reality of the publishing industry was more vibrant and complex, and yet also more grounded than I could have imagined.
5. Be open to the unexpected
While my Undiscovered Voices novel didn’t find a home, I did. I realised I liked the people and the industry so much that I wanted to work in publishing. So I changed my day job and I now manage a digital publishing team of ten people, which is demanding but also highly rewarding.
6. Give your creative aspirations room to grow
As I became more experienced as a writer, I was increasingly drawn to illustrated fiction. There was something so appealing to me about being able to tell stories in both words and pictures simultaneously. But the nature of the publishing process – in which an illustrator generally isn’t chosen until the publisher has acquired a book – frustrated me. I couldn’t express what I wanted to in just words, and yet I also hadn’t picked up a pencil since secondary school. Could I really be an illustrator? It turned out I could!
7. Feel the fear and do it anyway
Becoming an illustrator at the age of forty-five is just one of the slightly mad things I’ve done since Undiscovered Voices. A couple of years ago, I walked out onstage to pitch my novel for SCBWI British Isles’ The Hook, in front of a panel of four agents and an audience of two hundred people. I have a chronic anxiety condition, so it definitely wasn’t easy, but I’m proud I could do it.
8. Protect your health
Creative practices can take a toll on your body and mind, whether from sitting in one position for long periods, staring too long at a screen, or not getting proper rest and exercise. While it can be tempting to keep pushing yourself harder and harder to succeed, you only have a finite supply of energy. I learnt this to my cost, and barely a year after the exhilaration of Undiscovered Voices, I crashed into a long period of exhaustion and depression. But I also learnt that…
9. The community will help you through
Nurture your contacts and support network through the good times, and they’ll be there for you when things get tough. This last year of the pandemic has been impossibly difficult for many creative people, but virtual support networks have been a great way to stay sane. Along with the wider SCBWI community, the Undiscovered Voices alumni have been an invaluable comfort to me. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in person at the 2022 launch!
10. It’s worth entering Undiscovered Voices, whatever the outcome
Looking back on my ten years as an Undiscovered Voice reminds me that nothing in life is certain. While dreams of countless book launches and reaching the New York Times bestseller list have yet to be realised, I’m immeasurably richer in terms of friends, inspiration and experience for having been a UV finalist. That’s why I encourage you to put your fear aside and try out for Undiscovered Voices 2022 – who knows where it could take you?
Nick Cross is a writer, illustrator and blogger whose novel extract Back from the Dead appeared in the Undiscovered Voices 2010 anthology. Nick has had more than ten short stories published in children’s magazines, and was honours winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction. He is a long-time contributor to SCBWI-BI Words & Pictures magazine – as well as his fortnightly Blog Break column, he is currently writing and illustrating a monthly comic called Antisoci@l Media.