Thursday, February 11, 2010

you have to be GOOD

There's something else you need besides drive to make it in this industry. That's talent. It's true that once you get to a certain level it's a bit of a crap shoot. It's really hard to tell what book is going to be successful... but during the beginning... the getting published part... requires you to have a certain something. You can have all the desire in the world but that isn't going to get you what you want.

When I first started out w/my first book deal I was right out of college and only 22. I was eager to learn as much as I could but I also thought I had some things to share. I participated on a lot of chat groups for writers. Some people didn't like what I had to say. I got a lot of "You are young and just lucky." LUCKY stuck in my mind. What an awful thing to say! I think I've proven by now (I hope) that this, for me, is more than luck. I DO know what I'm doing! I'd say things like "A few spelling errors on a manuscript is not going to get you rejected by a publisher." I still think that's true. If you've got a great story and you make a few mistakes, I think they'll be overlooked! If you have a perfect MS and a terrible story, however, you will not get your work accepted... and I think that's what some people do not like to hear. How DARE this young person who can't spell and sent in a sloppy manuscript got published!

The lesson is this is that if you're a diamond in the rough, you will be discovered! Work at it and it'll happen. I pounded the pavement when I moved to NY and dropped off my portfolio to every big publisher I could think of while working a 7 dollar an hour job pricing paint brushes. I got a lot of great comments back when I picked up my portfolio... and a few criticisms... but soon enough I got a book deal. I've told others the same thing and for each of them it's eventually happened.

So, if you're good enough, you'll be found eventually.

32 comments:

alvina said...

Yes, talent certainly plays into it, but I think by hard work someone can become a stronger writer or artist. But to me, the #1 factor in "making it" is persistence. I've seen way too many hugely talented people not try hard enough, and therefore don't end up getting published.

And you're right--if a story is good, I'll definitely overlook typos. We can fix typos. I make typos all the time. But there's a difference between one or two typos and a manuscript that is riddled with typos--it's the difference between just making a mistake versus showing that you just don't care.

I guess if I had to quantify it, I would say "making it" is 10% talent, 40% hard work, and 50% persistence.

Meghan said...

I've had this discussion with other people. You can certainly work at becoming a better artist with practice but you can only get to a certain level that way. Let's say that there are 3 different levels. The top level will never be reached no matter how much practice one puts in if there isn't enough talent. I've witnessed this too many times. Art school is full of people with lots of talent and people who are semi-talented. The semi-talented people stick out like a sore thumb. Their perspective is wrong. Their colors are odd. You can just spot them.

I agree that you definitely need to be persistent. It's essential. But I swear to you it's easier than you think to get published if you have that extra something. I've seen it happen again and again. The ones who don't have the talent take SOOO much longer to get there. Alvina, going by your percentages ANYONE can be published if they try hard enough and that just isn't true. Look at SCBWI--it's full of people who try as much as possible. 90% will be published?

Meghan said...

hmmm. maybe I should put this another way. Alvina, maybe since you're so surrounded by talented artists all the time you don't know how bad it can be. Bad art is SCARY. I mean, do you really think that the artists you work with are mostly with you because of their hard work? It's really only 10% talent? You work with some talented folks!

I'd say this: It's not as much talent and hard work as it is talent and being clever. You have to know how to get in the back door. There are ways. You have to make connections. It's possible. There is no need to send out a million manuscripts like a crazy person. Also, I was discovered in the slush pile. I sent out 6 MS. That's it. That's all it took.

Anonymous said...

To quote the fantastic Jane Yolen who spoke at the SCBWI conference in NYC... "The working writer simply does that. Writes." Who knows if it's talent, hard work, persistance or even a little luck? It seems to me if you are writing then you are doing your job. If you don't get paid to write I don't think it takes away from the fact that you are working. Writers write. Writers grow. Writers change. And writers continue to write. Simple idea? Yes, absolutely. But it helps me keep my focus where I want it. On the writing.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see some gnarly observations once in a while. I get what you're saying.

Here's a scary thought about the wrong kind of result from the wrong kind of persistence. It's gross injustice to have an editor publish something because he's worn out from a non-talented writer's persistence and maybe begins to think (like the writer) that the fifty-first ms. he received is good and just needs a little editing. It could happen. Pity us poor readers who start reading it and almost immediately pick up on the mediocrity of the writing and despair.

You've said things aspiring writers need to hear. We all speak from where we're at in life and what you say is authentic to many who're in that stage.

Anonymous #2

Dad said...

Totally have to disagree. Talent is overrated, you make your own luck, and a person's abilities (artistic or otherwise) are not fixed. Not even the range of abilities is fixed.

There's a substantial body of research suggesting that a belief in fixed ability or fixed intelligence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. I'm not talking about new-age self-actualization stuff here. I'm talking legitimate scientific inquiry. In short, if you think you can't get better, smarter, etc., then you won't.

As an educator, I am in a constant struggle to help kids overcome their feelings of helplessness when it comes to their own abilities.

As an author/illustrator with zero formal art training, I've found persistence and self-efficacy to be the most essential ingredients in any artistic endeavor. I'm a newbie in the business so I speak with limited experience but I know, like all other pursuits, good things come in time and only after lots of hard work and practice.

Meghan said...

I never said that you don't need to work hard. You do! I have worked hard at honing in on my skill MY WHOLE LIFE. I drew and painted the minute I could hold a paint brush. I went to one of the hardest art schools in the country. It was like bootcamp .The teachers made grown men cry! Trust me, I have always worked hard and will never stop working hard and I expect others to do the same. What I was and am saying is that without the talent to go with it you won't achieve that top level of success. I think it's sort of arrogant to suggest that if you work hard you'll be able to paint like Van Gogh or Chuck Close or make books like Chris Van Allsburg. Really? Because everyone would like to if they could. But they can't! And it's not for lack of desire or drive or hard work.... it's because they weren't born with it! I'm sorry if this is something some of you don't want to hear but it's the truth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Meghan,
I've come to realize that recognizing talent lies in the aesthetics of agents and editors, if they have an aesthetic. God help us if they don't. If they fail to see talent for whatever reason, they contribute to a possible decline in the "canon" and true writers' voices are lost forever that should have been heard.

It is probably irrational to hope that all judges be practitioners of the art. But not so irrational when you consider poetry. Can you imagine professionally judging how good a poem is, much less a body of poetry, without having written any poetry? There is only a limited amount of "knowing" we can have as lay spectators if we are not equipped to fully appreciate the work.

christine tripp said...

Talent is at least 50% of succeeding at any career. AT LEAST! Sure, you may have a decent voice and with training even become an accomplished signer but... there are those with that talent you can only be born with and that can NOT be taught, nor will it come from hard work. It's just there, then it is up to the individual to nurture it and, yes, promot it.
I was born with a talent to draw. It got me attention all through my elementary school years and distracted from the fact that I couldn't add worth a darn nor spelling. I still have to do math on my fingers... so I don't have the talent to be an academic and no amount of training could turn me into one. But, though I have never gone to school for art training and am not the best at self promotion, I'm published.
Luck can play a role but luck is just what the word implies, at best a one time thing. Your portfolio MIGHT land on the desk of an AD who is looking for just your style at that moment. The luck is that your TALENTED work landed there and not just so-so art. There are thousands and thousands of persistent, hardworking, hopeful illustrators out there submitting daily. They will not all get published and it will not be for lack of trying. It will, in the end, be about the inborn talent they have or don't.

alvina said...

This is such an interesting discussion! I still stand by my 10% talent assessment, though. I'm not talking about "making it" as meaning that with only 10% of talent you can win the Newbery or Pulitzer or Oscar Award or whatever. I mean "making it" as becoming successful (earning a living) in whatever career you're trying to succeed in. We see it in every industry, including publishing. People with lesser talent "making it"--because they have something else that pushes them to succeed.

Meghan, it's interesting--Stephen King talks about the levels you mention--he called it a pyramid. At the very top are the geniuses--and yes, no matter how hard you work, one will never attain that unless they were born with it. Then comes great writers, then good writers, then competent writers, then bad writers. King says that you can't move from any level to the next, with the exception of from competent writer to good writer. I think I'd disagree with that--aside from the genius level, I think you can go one level up from wherever you are if you work really hard to hone your craft. But that's just my opinion from seeing writers continually improve over the years.

Sara Z. said...

Gotta agree with Alvina on this one. Like she says, the 10% talent people may not be winning awards or anything, but let me throw a couple of names of very hardworking, persistent, smart people out there: Thomas Kinkade. James Patterson. Now, few would argue what they do is "art." But they are damn well persistent and hardworking, not to mention popular. (What that says about culture is a whole different topic...)

I once heard the great illustrator/writer Barry Moser say at a conference, "Talent is as common as housedust and useless as tits on a boar." What counts, he said, is persistence, hard work, patience, discipline. If you have those things, you've got a much better chance of taking that little piece of common talent and growing and shaping it into something uncommon.

I've been in enough writers' groups to see some incredibly talented people who write stuff way better than what's in the marketplace not succeed, because they just don't have the patience or persistence or fortitude or whatever it takes to overcome the practical obstacles as well as the mental demons of fear and discouragement. Meanwhile, Mediocre Writer #4,531 has a nice career because she's willing to do the work, and has figured out how to overcome the psychological aspects.

For every truly talented person who doesn't persist, there is a hardworking mediocre person waiting to take your place and fill the world with work that, at best, is harmless, and at worst trivializes or reduces the human experience (in kid's books, the childhood experience, the teen experience, etc.)

Read Tim Gautreaux's PINE OIL WRITER'S CONFERENCE in the collection "Welding with Children" for a beautiful parable about this. I take it as a personal call to persist even when the work feels impossible.

I think this comment might sound a little snotty...I'm just staying talent doesn't exist by itself in some precious display case. Even a little sliver of talent can grow with hard work and persistence. On the other hand, even if you've got a gigantic talent, it can't actually DO anything unless accompanied by hard work. It has very little power in and of itself, while the power of hard work is immense.

Peter B said...

I think you need talent, but equally important is an intelligent approach to your career. You need to think about which of your ideas are most publishable. You need to consider the tastes of your audience, not just children but also parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and publishers. And obviously, you have to make work that you are genuinely excited about, otherwise you won't do your best work. Slaving away on a project that you love, but that nobody will want to see, may feel good for your soul in the short term, but when it gets repeatedly rejected it may do more harm than good.

The luckiest author/illustrators are those whose writing and illustrating styles just happen to line up with what our audience wants most. They do what comes naturally to them, and everybody loves it as is.

The rest of us have to struggle with finding the right balance between following our own creative passions, and making works that people actually want...I think this is true whether you're a seasoned veteran, or just looking to get your first book deal.

At the end of the day, this is a business. Looking at my career objectively has worked pretty well so far.

Anonymous said...

I think that having a spark of talent is important; that "certain something" that only you do. Equally important is having the talent for navigating the business aspects of your chosen career. I also know excellent artists and writers who will likely never get published, and several well-published folks who are, frankly, just OK writers and illustrators. But they have figured out where they need to be, who they need to know, etc., and made it work. Bravo to them- that's talent.

Dan Santat said...

I have to say that there is a lot to be said about Alvina's importance of persistence and hard work and Meghan's belief in talent.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Outliers", he talks about what factors it takes to make people hugely successful. One example he talks about what he calls the 10,000 hour rule. (If you spend 10,000 hours on anything you will be good at it) so, yes, hard work is definitely a factor, but there are other factors that contributed to the astounding success of some of the most famous people such as Steve Jobs (that less than 1% of 1%) Your upbringing, your education, etc. all factor in to the success of a particular individual, but that also includes some luck. If Steve Jobs never met Steve Wozniak, he would have never developed Apple.

Now, as for talent, I have to agree with Meghan in that regard as well. Whether you like to hear it or not some people just 'get it'. No matter how hard I try I will never be as fast as Usain Bolt, no matter how many times I audition for American Idol I will not win. Some folks just excel at certain things. One thing I think that people don't understand is that 'talent' is synonymous with 'passion'. I love to draw so much I do it all the time. It was all I ever did my entire life and you learn things much quicker when you consume your life with it. You want to improve, you're open to criticism, you draw the same things over and over again and you don't get bored by it because you're passionate about it. I've done many SCBWI portfolio reviews and you can't believe how many folks get defensive about the criticism they receive. Then the following year they shell out the same $300. They come back with the same portfolio and get the same comments and it becomes a repetitive cycle.

It essence, it comes down to all those things. Hard work, persistence, talent, and SOME luck.

PDunn said...

I don't know I have seen hundreds of writers who when starting out would have appeared to have no talent at all, but they stuck with it, worked their asses off, and developed into brilliant and unique writers. Talent is so subjective. And I would just be caustious as to who is making this call. It's just too easy to use this concept of "talent" as a why of excluding voices who need to be heard.

Sara Z. said...

Also agree w/PDunn.
You can never say "this person will NEVER be a writer."
It's a craft. It's not magic. It's a craft you learn by doing, and through mentoring, and time. There might be a time you top out, and the ceiling of your ability is lower than, say, Faulkner's or Van Gogh's. But you can't ever really know that about yourself until you spend a lifetime striving to get better, and you definitely can't know it about another person 1 or 3 or even 10 years into their efforts/careers. Another Moser quote - whether or not something you do is art, you can't really know until 100 years after you're dead. Meanwhile, keep working.

Meghan said...

Alvina, I agree that there are a lot of other things that will cause someone to be successful. A great book might get ignored but a so-so book might make the NYT bestseller list. But what I was talking about here was getting that initial book contract. Once you're published things become easier. You can publish stuff you'd previously get rejected. That initial sell has to shine. Editors--what makes you buy a book? I want to know! Is it how much it was pushed in your face or how wonderful the prose and artwork was? You can't tell me that only 10% of that is talent.

And I hate to say this. I mean, I REALLY hate to say this. I mean, I want to vomit here! Okay, here goes... Thomas Kinkade, painter of light... grrr... has... has... has... ugh... has...some... at least a tad... a tad bit of talent. Ugh. I've said it. What he has is a LACK of taste. But he can paint. What he choses to paint is creepy lit houses in fairy lands that make me want to puke, but he can still paint those lovely little houses. I can't comment on James Patterson because I've never read any of his books.

He's my story: I have been great at art my whole life. If a kid is TALENTED at art (and when I say talented, I truly think it's an intelligence) then it'll show early on... at least for things like art. I SUCKED at things like math. I was diagnosed with A.D.D in the 4th grade because I was having so much trouble. I went to special math classes and remember how embarrassed and stupid I felt to have to leave the classroom and be taken aside. I still feel stupid about it to this day. Please, people, at least give us talented people what we deserve. Some people like me don't have much else!

And to the guy who said that "talent is overrated" - yeah, you ticked me off. Especially because you're a teacher and you're teaching or rather encouraging kids, in my opinion, the wrong thing. EVERYONE has a talent--a special thing he or she can do well. What teachers need to do is FIND IT. Instead what seems to be happening lately is EVERYONE gets the blue ribbon for the best picture and EVERYONE gets the gold for the fastest race and so on. This is helping NO ONE! Really. The world doesn't work like this. It isn't fair and it doesn't give everyone what that want whether they're good at it or not. Just look at all the idiots on American Idol. Do you really think they all deserve a record deal? Would you listen to them? Um... it takes talent to sing. It really does. Live with it. So find that thing that the kid can do well--maybe they're really good at making friends and talking - they'd be great in business... maybe they're great at making people feel better-- they'd be good counselors. Art may seem like the cooler thing to do at the time but that doesn't mean they should all be encouraged to do it...or at least to the level where they think they can then make it their profession!

Meghan said...

I should also say that I think writing and art is different. Art stands out as bad way more than writing does. And you writers may not know that getting noticed when submitting with art attached is so much easier! A good art sample will get that editor to look. A great writing sample will not stick out from the bad writing sample--letters are letters! That is, until the editor reads it. We artists have a huge advantage. And that's why I say that talent matters when submitting for artists. A bad art sample will get the thing thrown in the garbage pretty fast!

Sara Z. said...

And I hate to say this. I mean, I REALLY hate to say this. I mean, I want to vomit here! Okay, here goes... Thomas Kinkade, painter of light... grrr... has... has... has... ugh... has...some... at least a tad... a tad bit of talent. Ugh. I've said it.

Haha - totally agree. Same with Patterson. But their success is not the result of their talent so much, as their hard work and business smarts. It's not like if Kinkade was undiscovered and someone found his paintings in his garage after he died, people would be like, "HOW DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS GENIUS?" He took what he had, understood how best to turn it into a career, and did it. But who knows...maybe if he had looked at his talent and sought mentors that helped him develop that into something BETTER...who can say what the result would have been?

Anyway, I think we're actually all basically in agreement. If you're completely tone deaf, and/or devoid of stage presence, you're not going to get a record deal. Unless you are a novelty act. But it is amazing what hard work and perseverance can do in terms of developing what seems like a totally inadequate amount of talent into something good. I went through 10 years of rejection before selling my first novel - my work just wasn't good enough. I could see it that as not having enough talent, or I could see it as undeveloped talent. Work, practice, sticking with it, is what developed it.

A few weeks ago I ran into a friend who hadn't seen me in a while and she asked, "Did you lose more weight?" I said, "Yeah." She sort of sighed and said, "Lucky." I laughed and told her it was not luck! It was hard work, and it was sometimes miserable and sucky but I did it for my health. I feel like sometimes it's like that for authors who haven't yet been published. They see someone else succeeding and they think, "Wow, that person just got lucky when talent was handed out, that will never be me." Most of the time, that is simply not the case. If I weren't totally mortified by it, I might post my first attempt at a novel from 15 years ago. It would definitely not qualify as "good."

Meghan said...

I take it all back:

www.williamhung.net

You can be bad and be good! This is another phenomenon that I forgot about it - the gag. If you don't mind being made fun of then you can have your 15

Anna Alter said...

I am jumping into this conversation late, but I just wanted to add that I think the goals for teaching young kids and college kids are inherently different. While I don't think that everyone should get a blue ribbon all the time, I think kids should be rewarded for the skills they learn (hard work, perseverance, dedication), not their talents. Because these are things they need to function later on. And if focusing on their talents helps in this pursuit, great. If not, no big deal.

In college though, I think teachers owe it to their students to help them discover their talents and make the most of them. But they would never be able to do that if they hadn't learned hard work and tenacity early on.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Meghan said: "But what I was talking about here was getting that initial book contract. Once you're published things become easier. You can publish stuff you'd previously get rejected."

Really?

Things become easier?

Wow. Not in my experience.

I think *staying* published is just as hard, if not harder at times, than getting published in the first place. I think talent becomes more and more important actually, because with each book, both readers and the publishing house expect better.

I could name ten people off the top of my head I know who have published a book in the last five years and are madly frustrated because they haven't been able to sell again.

Meghan said...

I think every kid needs to learn the basics in school. I also think they should be pushed to do things that they might not want to do. For example: who knew I'd be able to talk to groups of people later in life... I was so shy! But what I meant was that there are things that kids are obviously good at and I think they need to be encouraged to do those things. And when a kid hits high school age, I think it's time to stop pushing them to do stuff that they're obviously not good at. I was terrible at math... so stop making me do it! It's not something I'd ever use again! It would have been more beneficial to let me go to art class.

As far as my comment about it being easier to do books once published... I'm pretty sure that if your book does well then you get more liberties the next time around. And the more you work with an editor the more he or she will trust your judgement and your abilities and will let you take more risks. Maybe this is just my experience?

Oh my god, I really need to get some work done! Can you say procrastination? By the way, if any of you want to watch an interesting video about kids and the new internet age go here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/

and click on "digital nation" - watch about the first half of it

Anonymous said...

Hello, Meghan.
I'm in agreement with you that it's overall easier to have work considered once you make that first sale. I think you'll agree with me that if that first sale was a product of primarily luck or contacts or the idiosyncracies of an editor, then maybe the next sale will be harder because the lack of talent will show up. If it was there in the first place, it won't disappear and eventually, the odds are that the writer or artist will be published again.

That a just adequate writer's fiction gets better and better with time can't be used per se as an argument for underrating talent. It needs qualification. When the editor is putting practically as much time and persistence (that p-word again) in shaping the final product, it is perhaps the editor's aesthetic judgment that makes pedestrian writing look good. Why did she pick it? Maybe the topic is a hot market trend. The coddling will continue with an author who writes strictly for the market and the author will polish each ms. more and more with the tricks picked up from the editor. But writers who have to depend on editors' bolstering of their works due to lack of talent won't be able to escape a shallowness that will be apparent in their works. Parents who are astute readers or writers and actually read their kids' book choices will discourage reading such books and won't buy that writer's works.

Meghan said...

Writing can be fixed with an editor's help... and they can even hire a ghost writer!-- but this can't be said for illustrators and that's what I'm talking about. Editors can't help illustrators paint. If they suck they suck. And that's where TALENT comes in. Yes, training too. In some cases I've seen illustrators do bang-up jobs w/out formal training but I personally grew a lot with the help of schooling. The seed was there from the beginning, though. It HAS to be there. I think kids' book illustration is a good hiding ground for people who may think they can get away with drawing cartoon characters that are kid-like, and therefore no perspective and drawing skill is needed... but it's not true for the most part. I can tell when someone can't draw even when they're doing kid-like stuff. They stick out. I HOPE editors can tell the difference as well. I HOPE talent matters. After this blog post I'm starting to wonder. Perhaps that's why there are so many crappy books out there???? But here's a question for the editors: if talent doesn't matter then why isn't the art and writing done in-house? If all it takes is persistence and effort then why don't publishers do it--editors work very hard! It would be cheaper! Just a thought.

Meghan said...

Oh, and I know that there are novels done at least partially in-house that are very successful. Gossip Girl anyone? How do you feel about those?

Sara Z. said...

I really don't think anyone said (or implied) "talent doesn't matter." But talent in and of itself is useless. It will go nowhere and do nothing without hard work and persistence.

Meghan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meghan said...

Needing talent to be only 10% and talent being "over rated" in my mind means it doesn't matter all that much. What I got from a lot of people is that they think hard work matters far, far more than anything else and that artistic ability can be learned. Again, I agree that you need hard work to get anywhere in life. My sister is a great writer but she's too lazy or too scared (I'm not really sure) to write so she will never be a novelist. Books don't write themselves. I don't think being able to write a brilliant novel or paint an amazing painting can be learned and achieved with hard work and practice. If you ain't got that thang then you ain't got it. I swear I will come up with solid proof somehow. I just need to think...otherwise, I'm just becoming a broken record.

walkinginpublic said...

This is such an excellent debate... one that I hear echoed over and over again in my own life (i'm a senior in art school - what else do we talk about??). All of your comments are so valuable to those of us who are just starting out.

It's been my experience that once you hit the most prestigious, survival-of-the-fittest art schools - talent becomes essentially a given. I'm surrounded by talented illustrators in class every day, and yet, we all know that few of us will actually make it to be known for what we do. I'm not the most talented artist in my year, but I'm often asked these days whether I feel any competition. I always give a resounding 'no' - because I know that persistence and passion is what gets people to where they want to be.

Meghan, it sounds like I am going through a very similar experience to how you started out, and I was really struck by what you said about being "young and lucky". Since I'm a little funny around praise, I've actually caught MYSELF saying "oh, I'm just lucky". But you are SO right... it's awful to trivialize your success and the amount of hard work that it takes to get there! I'll remember that next time I get uncomfortable around a compliment.

Anonymous said...

An opinion: the gifted writer or artist who bemoans not being published should not automatically be faulted for not working hard enough. Even with the same amount of hard work and perseverance, non-talented work more often gets published than talented work for commercial reasons. But don't give up, you gifted ones. E-publishing and the next generation of editors may be more receptive to genuine writing and genuine art. Keep on fighting.

christine tripp said...

>there are those with that talent you can only be born with and that can NOT be taught, nor will it come from hard work. It's just there, then it is up to the individual to nurture it and, yes, promot it.<

As I stated above earlier (the last line in this quote) talent has to be promoted in order to succeed. Of course if you just sit there with your talent hidden and wait to be discovered, it ain't gonna happen (the stories of discovery in all art forms are totally exagerated)
Kindcad and (oh what is that bushy haired painters name that used to have a TV show on how to paint landscapes in 20 minutes???) any way, and that guy too, have a talent but it's a talent for business more then the art itself.
That is a fine talent, not everyone has it. Not putting them down at all.
I agree that elementary teachers (children's parents too) should put more emphasis on a childs hard work and dedication in school... but they don't in most cases. Sad to say that if even with all the hard work a kid can muster, if they do not have success in the final result, be it math, be it reading or spelling, they will still end up with a big fat F and feel like a failure. Often, if these kids have a real talent for one thing, it keeps them going so I think many times a real talent should be recognized early on. Before that child feels like a complete dummy.
I worked hard with all my might but (back in the day, before they labelled it dyslexia) no amount of work would switch those darn letters around. I would never learn to spell like the others, nor add numbers. Thankfully enough teachers made me feel special at least about my cartoons and art. My french teacher in grade 4 even PAID me to draw the illustrations she used in class. I was a big shot then with the other kids, so laugh about the fact that I can't sound out school if you will, the stopped laughing when they saw I was earning $10 a week:)
As for having talent nurtiured later on in College. Well that would be great, except I would never have gotten into a University or College with my grades.
I've often been asked to teach classes on how to draw to kids. I've tried a few but never again. How do you teach something when you don't even know how YOU do it? It's like trying to explain to a sighted person what it's like to be blind, when you know nothing else. What can you compare it to? I'll say this, you may not be able to teach talent but you can have a talent to teach (I obviously have none of the latter)
I do agree that talent is in the eye of the beholder and we all will have a different take on WHO is talented. I have found myself scratching my head over a few Caldecott winners and puzzled at a number of works hanging in great Art Galleries.
I still feel that talent is 50% of success in Children's Book Illustration and then how about 40% promotion and 10% luck.
Oh and I personally define success ( that will also be subjective) as making a living, not necessarily a RICH one but a living, with your talent.