Maisy Daisy and the Not-So Lazy Storyteller

"When I made peace with failure, happiness and success courted me. And I kissed both back." -- Katherine Kotaw, Chief Storyteller at KOTAW Content MarketingOnce upon a time I wrote a children’s book. And thrice (or more) upon a time, I ended dates early if the boy dared to plan an activity I didn’t like.

I was good at writing, bad at dating. But both taught me a lot about success as a storyteller.

I wrote my first children’s book when I was 16 in collaboration with an artist friend. I did some market research (asked two teachers to read the book to their children) and bought enough stamps to send the manuscript to five publishers.

I was shocked that no one bought the book – the story was clever and my friend’s illustrations were superb. What was wrong with HarperColllins? Didn’t anyone at Penguin appreciate brilliance?

After the fifth rejection – and without knowing if the manuscript had ever reached an editor – I gave up. I thought about trying again, but I lost touch with my friend and didn’t know if she would still agree to publish the book. Plus I really didn’t want to hear another no.

A Scratch Ball, a Gutter Ball and a Double Kiss

I ended a lot of dates well before my curfew, but the one that sticks most in mind was a double date that began at a pool hall and ended at a bowling alley about 90 minutes later. I liked the boy just fine, and I wasn’t being snobby about his choice of venue (I picked up that bit of discrimination later in life). But I was a sub-par pool player and a truly lousy bowler. And there was no way I was going to embarrass myself twice in one evening. My date was tying up the laces on his bowling shoes when I demanded to go home.

He wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t care. It was better to be alone on a Friday night – and an unpublished author – than risk failure of any kind.

I took a safer path to writing acclaim – newspapers and magazines – and married a man who never asked me to go someplace I didn’t want to go.

I ended up frustrated at work and abused at home. Without realizing it, I was failing on all fronts, and my safe approach to relationships nearly got me killed.

But, when I didn’t die, I started taking risks. And, when I made peace with failure, happiness and success courted me. And I kissed both back.

Hello Frustration, Goodbye Defeat

And then I started working on the tough part – building long-term relationships with them. When I decided to write Quicksand, a memoir about my escape from a sociopathic ex-husband who stalked me, I knew I would sell it to a publisher. I didn’t know how – and I had less stamp money than I did when I was a teenager – but I knew the book would sell, that I would get a large enough advance to keep my daughters and me in food and rent money for the year it would take to write the manuscript and that it would bring me enough acclaim to resurrect the writing career I’d abandoned after going into hiding.

Since I knew these things would happen, it was easy to see past the obstacles – and face the rejection – without feeling defeated. I was often angry, frustrated and exhausted in ways that made my days of early motherhood feel like a spa vacation. But defeated? Hell, no!

In the end, I got both the money and credibility I wanted plus an amazing bonus: the heartwarming humility of knowing that my story (the PG version of it at least) reached millions of viewers when Lifetime adapted it into a movie called Run for Your Life.

Sane, But Crazy About Maisy

When I announced somewhere between the first and eighth showing of Run for Your Life that I was writing a second memoir, a lot of people started asking me when they could buy a copy. As if I’d bang it off in a couple of weekends, format it as an ebook and add it to the 14 million or so books already on sale at Amazon.

There’s little risk and scant reward in that approach, so it’s not for me. When people ask when Thank you, Evil, the happily-ever-after sequel to Quicksand will be ready, I usually say, “when the time is right.”

I realize that this sounds like a copout, as if I’m waiting for Jupiter to align with Mars or for a godmother to sprinkle fairy dust on literary agents and publishers. I realize it sounds as if I’m not terribly committed to the project or just plain lazy.

So, let me tell you about Maisy Daisy, my second children’s book.

I wrote Maisy Daisy a dozen years ago, and I’m as bonkers about the book as ever. Partly because it represents my biggest-ever career risk and partly because it pushed me into marketing, a field I couldn’t even define at the time.

Sketching Storytelling Success

I illustrated Maisy Daisy myself. I have no background in art and could never stay within the lines of a coloring book drawing. But I could see Maisy Daisy in my head, and I knew the way I wanted the pages to look. I didn’t know how to communicate my imagination to an artist, so I started sketching the pages myself.

And, before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I sent the story and illustrations to one of the most powerful literary agents in New York.

She didn’t agree to represent me, but her rejection letter elated me: “Funny story and cute pictures, but the children’s market is so tight that we’re only taking on new authors who have already reached celebrity status. Maybe if you do…”

Why was I so happy? Because the agent liked the pictures, which were a lot more challenging to create than rolling a 10-pound ball down a wood floor alley. And she didn’t tell me that Maisy Daisy belonged in the gutter. She told me I wasn’t famous enough.

And it was truer than she knew. I didn’t even have a valid driver’s license at the time because I didn’t want my address in a database that my ex could access.

Rather than crush my dreams, my agent gave me a new challenge: change my circumstances.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I learned marketing through research and practice and got really good at it. I made other people rich, famous or both. Could I do the same for myself?

Watch this space to find out. But, if I were a gambler, I wouldn’t bet against me, not even in a game of pool. There’s more than one way to sink the eight ball into the corner pocket.

Do you bet on yourself to win or are you thankful if you break even? Is failure a necessary part of success? Or a signal to give up and try something different? Please share your thoughts below. And, if you’d like to take a calculated risk to achieve the branding and storytelling success you deserve, give me a call or drop me a note.

I’d love to hear your ideas over a glass of iced tea (unsweetened, extra lemon) – or game of pool.


  1. Elizabeth says:

    You are always such an inspiration Katherine! I love Maisy Daisy and I would never bet against you! You have and will continue to soar to the top.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Awwwww, thank you, Elizabeth! It’s so nice to see you here — and it’s thanks to you that I can see ANYONE here. Thanks for restoring the Comments feature and thank you for always lifting my spirits! You bring me more joy and gratitude than you could possibly know.

  2. Brian J Wood says:

    My take on your post is OT but will be appreciated by you as an impact storyteller on a mission in search of WTG, Go You Brave Soul feedback I hope. Reading your reflections like this one and paying attention to your mild rants about your “Call 911” life events make me think about a slew of things. I remember things from my past, go back to reflect on life decisions I made in the past and wonder what could happen if I had decided to change my course and do things differently maybe 15 or 20 years ago. OT in the sense that I am not really commenting to your key points just saying to you that I really enjoy reading your blogging efforts and don’t have much to add here to your specific post of Kotawawesomeism. Not OT in saying your posts rock at Kotawesomeness in other words. If every writer posted stuff like you do the world would be a much better place to live in. Keep writing Katherine! Love it

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I’m a major fan of off-topic comments, Brian, so you’re welcome to post them here — or anywhere — any time.

      I want this space to be a free-flowing discussion. The only thing I get rid of is spam. (so please don’t try to post links to discounted Coach bags)

      Besides “what if?” questions aren’t really off-topic. Much of what I write about includes reflections about the choices I’ve made — and what I learned from them. And I’m happy if I inspire you to do the same.

      So, tell me…do you wish you’d changed course? Or are you just curious about how your life might have been different?

      Looking forward to your answer (or OT comments, if you prefer)

      Thank you, as always, for keeping things interesting here. :)

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