What if you had a great big dream?
What if you pursued that dream — working faithfully to hone your craft for years? What if during those years, you faced hundreds of rejections?
Would you continue?
Caroline Starr Rose answers that question with a resounding yes. Even as those around her wondered how she could keep going, she pressed forward. She refused to give up. Most importantly, she accomplished her dream.
Caroline can now add published author to her list of accomplishments, and today on the podcast, she'll share her beautiful story, along with excellent advice and resource for aspiring authors who are in the trenches.
We hope you'll decide to continue on too. As Caroline says, “you only need one yes.” Press forward towards that yes!
On the Podcast
01:15 – Roald Dahl, the Oregon Trail, and Caroline's Journey
04:24 – The Most Honest Thing She’s Ever Written
07:48 – What about Mr. Chapman?
09:59 – The Apprentice Stage
13:34 – Maniacal Optimism
16:54 – Why a Traditional Publisher?
19:29 – How to Get Published
22:50 – Finding an Agent
24:59 – Advice for Apprentice Authors
29:31 – Does a Web Presence Matter?
31:02 – A Day in the Life
34:34 – How Much Does an Author Make?
38:56 – Resources for Aspiring Authors
44:30 – A Funny Mom Moment + What Caroline’s Boys Think About Having an Author Mom
Roald Dahl, the Oregon Trail, and Caroline’s Journey
Although she has wanted to write for as long as she can remember, Caroline’s journey began in earnest as she was teaching the 6th grade. A few weeks before the end of the school year, her class watched a video about Roald Dahl, and he shared his daily writing tips
- Write for 2 hrs every day whether you have something to say or not
- Always stop at an exciting place so that it’s easier to begin your work again the next day.
- Write your work on yellow legal pads. (Caroline does not follow this bit of advice.)
So in the summer of 1998, Caroline spent two weeks researching the Oregon Trail, earned her Ph.D. in Oregon Trailology (totally kidding!) and set out to write historical fiction.
Caroline confesses that her first novel was awful. It was a really hard process, but a great learning experience.
After that point, every summer Caroline would write, and during the school year she’d revise her work and send it off to publishers.
The Most Honest Thing
After sending off 10 manuscripts to hundreds of publishers, and 12 years of working, Caroline was finally offered a book deal for her novel, May B.
Caroline was frustrated with the distance she felt between the ideas in her head and what she was putting on the page.
She read a book called, Read this Only to Yourself: The Private Writings of Midwestern Women, 1880-1910
She was struck by the patterns that frontier women used to communicate with each other. Their language was spare and careful. Whether they were talking about something awful, mundane, or celebratory, the language was all very controlled and contained.
Lightening struck: “If I could capture this aspect of communication…if I could really mirror the voices of these women, I could tell the story most truthfully. I could access May Betterley’s life really directly, and this would be the best way to tell the story.”
For this reason, May B. is a novel written in verse. As Caroline spoke with her mother about the project early on, she shared, “I don’t really know what to call it, but it feels like the most honest thing I’ve ever written.”
What About Mr. Chapman?
You’ll have to listen to hear Caroline’s interpretation of this new character, along with her take on May B’s coming to terms with who she is and how she sees herself.
The Apprentice Stage
Caroline wishes she had this understanding of her process 10-15 years ago, but she now realizes that for many years, she was in the apprentice stage of becoming a writer. She was still finding her way.
For many jobs, there’s a clear timeline for obtaining education, training, and finally getting hired for your first position. As an author, this just isn’t so. Many are self-taught. Who is to say how long the apprentice stage should last before a professional career results?
As Caroline worked through the apprentice stage with 2 young boys at home, she read books on the craft of writing, read writing magazines, spent time reading re-reading her childhood favorites, and time getting to know the new titles on the shelves.
As Caroline wrote picture books as well, she would lug home the 50-book library limit. After she read the stories with her boys, she would write notes in her notebook. The book had different pages for different publishers and imprints. (Imprints are little individual publishers within the larger publishing house. They each have their own style, flavor, and flair.) She became familiar with which imprints published which kinds of books.
When asked how she kept going through years of rejection, Caroline points to her maniacal optimism.
She confessed that you don’t quite know if you’re pursuing something that’s a dead end, or if in the pursuit of this dream, you’re feeling so strongly that it’s something you want, and your work will only get better as you continue to try.
The years of rejection were not quite as easy for her husband to handle. She would run to the mail truck like a little girl on her birthday…every day for 12 years. He often wondered how she kept going, pressing to make sure this was what she really wanted to do.
Caroline’s attitude: “If the worse you can tell me is no? My gosh, I’ve found that “no” is not that bad.”
“What really just kept me moving was a love for the stories, a curiosity about what would happen next, and again this maniacal optimism that someday the next story, the next editor…. those would be the ones.”
(We are so glad Caroline did not give up! Let’s all muster up some maniacal optimism to keep going!)
Why a Traditional Publisher?
We were curious to hear why Caroline continued to pursue traditional publishing through years of rejection versus self-publishing her books.
She confessed that she hopes this doesn’t sound snobby, but she always hung her hat on a traditionally published book. That was her goal.
Caroline points to the benefits of a traditionally-published book, such as the team of talented individuals who surround you to ensure that the project is a success.
Editors serve as professors, she said. They see your weaknesses – the pattern of things that you don’t do well. They find ways to work on those. They point out the things you do, in fact, do well and figure out how to develop those strengths more fully.
If it was up to Caroline to create a beautiful, cohesive novel all on her own, she doesn’t believe she could produce anything that was worth a reader’s time.
How to Get Published
- Find an agent. (It’s still possible to get published in the children’s market without one, but it’s very rare, and very difficult.)
- Your agent becomes your advocate and business partner. They have the contacts that you don’t have.
- They figure out which editors would be a great fit for your book, and then submit it to the right people.
- An agent speeds along the process of getting published. They’re already seen in the industry as someone “in the know”. They’ve earned their stripes and can put a little pressure on an editor to make a decision more quickly.
- Once your book is sold, the very fastest it will go to print is 12 months after the sale, with 18-24 months being a far more standard timeline.
- For picture books, an illustrator must be brought in and go through their own round of revisions, so picture books often take 3 years or more from the point of sale to printing.
Finding an Agent
- Caroline found her first agent through the GLA Blog (Guide to Literary Agents).
- This agent was new and hungry for more clients.
- She had 80 agent rejections when her first agent, Michelle, took her on.
- Caroline warns that finding an agent is NOT an extra step. An agent is ideally there for you for the life of your career as an author. They will continue to represent your work in the future.
- An agent has connections and clout that you simply don’t have as an aspiring author.
“You only need one yes. The no’s aren’t fun, but you really only do need one yes.”
Advice for Apprentice Authors
- Read, read, read.
- Read books published in the last 5-10 years, with a strong focus on the last 2-3.
- You need to have a sense for what is selling now and what agents are interested in publishing now.
- Take note of the way the pacing and descriptions have changed over the years.
- Your goal as an author is to take the reader through your story, hook them, and ideally, never let them place a bookmark in the book.
- Read plenty of books on craft.
- Second Sight by Cheryl Klein
- Writing Irresistable Kidlit by Mary Kole
- Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison
- Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision Weekend Retreat
- The Narrative Breakdown Podcast
- Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)
What About a Web Presence?
When you’re ready to submit work, Caroline attests that it is important to have a web presence. Editors and agents will look you up.
From her experience, her own blog hasn’t helped her to get published, but it can in some cases for non-fiction writers who have a large following online.
Another reason to blog? The immediate feedback on your work that comes from blogging is wonderful, particularly after years of waiting to hear from editors and publishers!
A Day in the Life
There are no typical days for Caroline, but she shares some of the the ways she might spend her time as an author.
- Most days start with a run or a trip to the gym.
- With her boys in school, Caroline has a window of time each day that is all her own.
- When the boys were young, she had to find little nooks of time. She had to be satisfied with even just 10 minutes per day during that busy time, because otherwise, she would have gotten too discouraged to keep going.
- If Caroline has work back from her editor, that has to be tackled first because a deadline is always attached.
- Once her work has been sent back to her editor, she’ll have a period of 2 weeks to 3 months where she must start working ahead on her next project.
- During this time last month, she started research and drafting for her next novel.
- In addition, she has blog posts to write and a questionnaire to fill out in preparation for her book’s launch next March.
- She’ll also talk to her publicist for the first time this month (November), again, for a book not coming out until March.
- Overall, Caroline says that there are always several balls to juggle at once.
How Much Does an Author Make?
Despite one boy asking Caroline if she was “as famous as Justin Bieber”, Caroline confesses that most authors are not making a killing.
For comparison purposes, she let us know that her first book sold for less than her teaching salary in New Mexico in the mid-90’s! (New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country.)
“Unless you are highly, wildly, successful and have a number of books that come out one after the other…As far as sustaining yourself on this income, it’s not exceptionally easy.”
For Caroline, she considers herself successful if she can keep her boys in glasses and braces, and re-cover the couch. She’s done all of that plus paid for a back yard and a new bathroom.
Thankfully Caroline doesn’t have to put food on the table, and that’s hugely liberating for her. She can pursue the ideas that speak to her heart.
Resources for Aspiring Authors
- A few times a year on Twitter, you can participate in #pitchwars.
- Agents will tweet what they’re looking for with this hashtag, and then you’ll know to whom you should submit your work.
- Get the CWIM (Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market Guide). It costs $25-30 and is published every year by writer’s digest. It’s an enormous phone book with information on the magazine market, agents looking to represent authors, which editors work where, what they’re looking for, and guidelines to submit to an editor.
- The CWIM will also give you an idea of the style each individual imprint looks for.
- Read the acknowledgement section of books you love, because authors will often thank their agents and editors.
- From there, you can write a query letter saying, “I just read your Northern Lights, and I’m writing something along a similar line. Perhaps you might be interested in it.”
- Subscribe to the Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf. It’s an online publication that comes directly to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- The PWCB shares industry news about who the big authors are, what they’re doing, new books coming out, interviews with editors, news on the publishing industry, and at the bottom there is always a list of the most recent books sold to which editors with a synopsis of the book.
- You’ll get a great sense for what topics are selling and which editors and agents are buying.
- Again, join the SCBWI, and try to attend their annual conference if you can. You can make connections with other authors and meet with industry professionals.
Funny Mom Moment
Caroline’s two boys have plenty to say about her writing and what they think of having an author for a Mom. Tune in to hear her son’s criticism of her latest book!
Stay in Touch with Caroline!
I know Sarah and I learned a ton from Caroline. I've never seen myself as an aspiring author, but Caroline sure provides enough resources and wisdom to make me believe it's possible.
The maniacal optimism? That's something I'm resolving to pack with me along every journey towards an impossible dream.
~ Beth Anne