The Author's If - Katherine Roberts

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you...

The famous poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling needs little introduction. But did you know this poem was originally published in 1910 as a mere introduction to a chapter in a book of historical fantasy stories for children called Rewards and Fairies? (I didn't, and I write historical fantasy for young readers myself.) Several other poems and short stories by Rudyard Kipling appeared in that collection, and yet "If" is the one most people remember today.

The poem is now in the public domain, so you can read it in full by following the link below.


There are obvious lessons an author can take away from "If" - not the least that a single story or poem buried in a collection might turn out to be the most important work of your entire career... so watch those contracts, people! I've been having the kind of year (and it's only February) when it's important to remember that such miracles can happen to authors big and small. In fact, by replacing a few choice words, Rudyard Kipling's famous poem makes perfect sense to an Electric Author writing today.

The Author's If (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your imagination when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust your story when all editors doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait for a publishing contract and not be driven to despair by waiting,
Or being tagged on Facebook, don’t deal in tagging,
Or being ignored, don’t give way to ignoring,
And yet don’t look too desperate, nor blog too much about it:

If you can dream of popularity—and not make sales your master;
If you can write—and not make daily word counts your aim;
If you can meet with Bestsellerdom and Returns
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to see the stories you've written
Twisted by reviews to make a trap for readers,
Or watch the books you gave your life to, remaindered,
And revert rights and republish them with digital tools:

If you can make a heap of all your earnings
And risk it all on another book,
And lose your way, and start again at the beginning
And never breathe a word about your failure;
If you can force your heart and imagination
To serve your stories long after they are broken,
And so keep going when there is nothing in you
Except the Muse which says to them: “Keep on!”

If you can talk with publishers and keep your innocence,
Or walk with Famous Authors—nor lose the common touch,
If neither critics nor fans can hurt you,
If all writers count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of truth written,
Yours is the Book and everything that’s in it,
And—what is more—you’ll be an Author, my friend.

Apart from writing dubious pastiche poetry, Katherine Roberts writes historical fantasy for young readers and (to fill those unforgiving minutes while waiting for the next contract) is experimenting with some novella-length fiction for older readers.

Her most recent release is part 2 of the Legend of Genghis Khan, available now for Kindle at £1.99/$2.99, or subscribers can read it free on Kindle Unlimited.

Visit for more details of this series and Katherine's other books.


Wendy H. Jones said…
Truly brilliant. I feel like printing this out and framing it. What a great start to my day
Sandra Horn said…
Fantastic! What a great start to the morning to read this clever and apposite post!
Excellent! And all too true.
Mari Biella said…
All very good advice, Katherine - and, like Wendy, I think I ought to print it out and hang it above my writing desk. There are days when I really need something like this...
Bill Kirton said…
Hear, hear to everything the others said. Thanks, Katherine.
Lydia Bennet said…
yes very good advice, and a salutary tale about IF - we don't know if any of our work will survive or succeed or vanish, and can't predict which of our works will do best ie reach most people. However if all authors heeded your pastiche, most of facebook's posts and a lot of the blogosphere would vanish!
Dennis Hamley said…
Katherine, that's absolutely spot-on And I love the way you've expanded Kipling's meanings into such a complete summing-up of our many writerly situations but still kept the poem's basic, distinctive rhythms. That's what pastiche is for!
Glad you liked it! Though, of course, all the hard work was Mr Kipling's and I am merely balancing on his giant shoulders.

Facebook and blogs vanish, Lydia? Unthinkable! I just picked on them as representatives of social media... same could be said of any of the newer sites. I suppose the "If" lesson here is what to post about - and when it's probably best to stay silent.
Fran B said…
'IF' has been my favourite 'old' poem for many years. I was a bit worried when I realised you were going to pastiche it but no, it's fine! Clever, insightful but not losing RK's distinctive rhythm and thrust. Nice one!
Ann Turnbull said…
Loved this! And it's just what I needed...

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