David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: see me after class

Roxanna Elden

How to Publish Books in Different Genres: Roxanna Elden on Books, Dogs, Kids and Agents

We first met Roxanna Elden at Miami Dade College where we were teaching a class on publishing. From the second she opened her mouth (which she did frequently) it was obvious she was a published author waiting to happen. She asked so many questions. And they were good questions. She was funny, she was engaged, and she had a great idea for a book. In fact, after many trials and tribulations, she got that book published, and now she has a second book coming out. So we thought we’d check in on her and see how the process went.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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The Book Doctors: After the success of your first book, See Me After Class, what made you want to write a picture book for kids?

Roxanna Elden: The idea came from watching my dog, Rudy, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. Like a lot of dogs, Rudy was the “baby” of our family before we had kids. Ever since, he’s had to deal with all kinds of indignities–pulled ears, missed walks, and lots of interruptions to his couch naps. And, of course, he has had to learn to share the spotlight. A little after Rudy’s first new human was born, I was suffering pangs of “pet parent guilt,” and called my friend, Ginger. She already had two kids at the time, and she noted the similarities between Rudy’s situation and what older siblings go through when a baby comes along. She also just happens to be one of the Chicago-land area’s top illustrators. By the end of that conversation we had a book in the works.

TBD: Since your first book was nonfiction, did you have to find a new agent, develop new social media outlets, or find a new publisher?

RE: Same agent: magnificent Rita Rosenkranz. New publisher: marvelous Sky Pony Press. There is a bit of crossover from the audience of See Me After Class, because some elementary teachers have told me that they’re reading the book with their students, and high school writing teachers sometimes do picture book projects. And, of course, lots of teachers are moms and dads and dog lovers. We are in the process of posting lesson materials on a popular lesson-sharing site called Teachers Pay Teachers. Despite the name of the site, everything in Rudy the Dog’s “store” will be free.

TBD: Obviously your two books are in very different categories, but what did you learn from your first book that you were able to apply to this new book?

RE: The whole publishing process, from pitching the book to working with editors to looking for ways to connect with readers, was actually similar for both books. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published was my road map through the process the first time, saving me years of trial and error. For this book, I reread the sections I needed to review and also ordered a copy for Ginger. The main lesson I learned from my first publishing experience is that marketing a book is (a) ongoing, and (b) unpredictable. With See Me After Class, I’ve done hundreds of different things over the past ten years to get the book into the hands of teachers who would love and benefit from it. These efforts ranged from epic to tiny, and the results ranged from total wash to big break. There hasn’t been a recognizable pattern. For authors, if you do 100 things and only 6 pay off, the temptation is to wish you could have saved the time of doing the other 94 things. But it’s important to remember that what “worked” wasn’t the six lucky breaks you got. It was the fact that you tried 100 different approaches.

TBD: How did you go about getting your book deal for your new book?

RE: Our agent, Rita Rosenkranz, showed it to Jenny Pierson at Sky Pony, and she made an offer on it immediately. Having gone through the publishing process already, I knew this was pretty rare. We all had a conversation and by the end of it, Ginger and I both agreed that Sky Pony would be a great fit for the book.

TBD: How are you planning to promote and market this book?

RE: We have a website, www.rudythedog.net, where people can sign up to have Rudy send birthday cards to their favorite little humans and pet birthday cards to their pets. Also, because Rudy the canine-narrator is based on my real-life dog, we made a stamp out of Rudy’s paw so he can “paw-tograph” books at book signings. We’ve authorized kids in six different cities to be paw-thorized paw-tograhers. They have a stamp and a notarized letter that lets them sign copies on behalf of Rudy. And I spend more time than I’d like to admit thinking of dog-related puns.

TBD: Have you learned anything about picture books from being a teacher?

RE: No one knows better than teachers how important it is to read to kids as often and as early as possible. I’m hoping that as both a teacher and children’s book author, I can find creative ways to help more parents read to their children in ways that encourage a love of books and develop early reading skills. We’ve already put a reading guide on the website that describe some skills any adult can help kids develop, and we’re working on more materials now.

TBD: What was it like working with an illustrator?

RE: In most cases, the publisher buys the book and then chooses the illustrator, so our experience is unusual, but in this case I pitched the book as a team with illustrator, Ginger Seehafer. The two of us are longtime friends–we met about 20 years ago as the only female caricature artists at a Six Flags theme park. That was the end of my career as an artist, but Ginger went on to become a top professional illustrator, doing work for big companies like Glade, Tropicana, and Hotels.com, all the way down to small companies just getting started. She had done my sample cover art when I was pitching See Me After Class, so I knew how good she was at turning verbal ideas into pictures without losing anything in translation. While discussing the book, we kicked ideas back and forth in both text and visual form until we came up with a final product. My description or text might spark an idea for Ginger, or she might send a picture that gave me an idea for a line in the book.

TBD: How did you determine how much text and how much picture would be on every page?

RE: We have a pretty good sample size of kids in the 2-6 year old age range, so for early drafts we just thought about what they would understand. Then we worked with the editors at Sky Pony, Jenny Pierson and Julie Matysik, who had experience with children’s books and helped get the book into its final form.

TBD: What you want readers to take away from this book?

RE: We hope it will help older siblings adjust to having a new baby in the house–and reassure them that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about sharing attention with another little human. (From what I’ve heard, I was horrible when my sister was born, and now we are best friends.) We also want to calm the nerves of new parents whose dogs used to be the baby of the family and who are now experiencing “pet parent guilt” as they find themselves juggling vet and pediatrician visits, dog feeding and baby feeding, and yeah… maybe have forgotten to clip the dog’s nails for a while, okay?

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for picture book writers?

RE: Young children read books differently than adults do. Adults form a mental picture of the action as they read the words. Kids mostly look at the pictures while someone reads the words aloud to them, so the picture has to tell part of the story. Ginger and I learned this the hard way. There was a page in the book where we had put an exclamation point over Rudy’s head to show that he was surprised. In the first round of comments, the editors pointed out that punctuation marks don’t mean anything to kids who can’t read yet.
Roxanna Elden has been a teacher for eleven years and is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. Her inspiration for Rudy’s New Human came from watching her dog, Rudy Elden, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. She lives in Miami, Florida, with Rudy and his (now two!) little humans.

Ginger Seehafer is an illustrator who works as a commercial storyboard and
concept artist in the Chicagoland area. She studied at the American Academy of Art and started her art career as a caricature artist at Six Flags Great America. Ginger loves making art that inspires joy and creativity, especially in children who may become future artists themselves. She lives with her husband, two little humans, and two cats in Roselle, Illinois.

Rudy Elden has been a professional dog for eight years and is making his literary debut as the canine narrator of Rudy’s New Human. He likes lunchmeat, cheese, long naps, and medium-length walks.

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Huffington Post: The Book Doctors Interview Roxanna Elden on Getting a 2nd Shot at Publishing Success

SeeMeAfterClass_2ndEditionCover-1To read on Huffington Post click here.

When we first met Roxanna Elden during our workshop at the Miami Writers Institute, she said she had an idea for a teacher book. This made us skeptical at first — we’ve run publishing workshops for years, and in that time we’ve met hundreds of teachers who wanted to write books. Quickly, though, we realized Roxanna’s idea was different: a book that debunks Hollywood-movie teaching myths (see Hilary Swank, Edward James Olmos and Michelle Pfeiffer), and shares honest, funny stories and practical advice from teachers around the country. She described it as “Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul.” Arielle and I were impressed, but we know writing doesn’t work like Hollywood either. Many talented writers give up before their work gets into the right hands. That’s why, along with quality writing, thorough research, and smart networking, our workshop emphasizes a fourth component: Persistence. Roxanna took this message to heart.
See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers was first published in 2009. Unfortunately, just as the book was beginning to gain national attention, the original publisher stopped printing its entire line of career books. Situations like these, as we mention in our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, can test even the most persistent of authors. But take heart, orphaned authors. The book caught the attention of Sourcebooks — one of our favorite publishers. A second edition of the book is out this month with an even better cover, a top-notch publisher, and an author with several years of experience promoting a published book. We are now checking in eight years since we first met Roxanna when she was a writer dreaming of being an author at our workshop. We asked her about teaching writing, writing about teaching, and getting a second shot at publishing success.

The Book Doctors: Congratulations on the second edition, but let’s start at the beginning. When did you start writing your book and why?

Roxanna Elden: My younger sister began teaching three years after I did, and during her first year, I started writing the book I needed during my first year — a funny, honest, practical collection of stories and tips from veteran teachers. There are so many books that share heartwarming teaching stories, but on a day when a second grader curses at you, you don’t want to read a heartwarming success story. You want to read a story about a kindergartener punching a teacher in the eye. You need to know that teachers can bounce back from their worst days and still go on to become successful. Then you need to know the next manageable step you can take to be a better teacher in the morning.

TBD: What has changed for teachers since the first edition of your book came out?

RE: New teachers today spend a ton of time comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels. They are also caught in the middle of political debates about education that have become much more public, polarized and angry. New teachers are usually not interested in getting caught up in politics, though. They just want to focus on getting kids to stop throwing wet toilet paper at the bathroom ceiling.

TBD: What has changed in your life since you first became a published author?

RE: I’m now a relatively experienced teacher, but I have recently become a rookie parent. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a beginner at something where the stakes are so high, and it kind of brings me back to that feeling of being a beginning teacher.

TBD: How does being a new parent compare to being a new teacher?

RE: Both teachers and parents need humor, honesty, and practical advice. The most important difference, however, is that there is that there are very few parents who quit within five year. Nearly half of all teachers do quit within five years. At low-income schools, half of all teachers leave within three years. Students at low-income schools are much more likely to have a rookie teacher at the front of the classroom. Any lessons new teachers learn the hard way, they learn full of a class full of kids. <em>See Me After Class</em> lets them know they are not alone.

TBD: You have attended the Miami Writers Institute for many years. How did that community help you with the writing and selling of your book?

RE: People travel from all over the country to attend the Writers Institute at Miami Dade College. I’m lucky enough to live ten minutes away. The Writer’s Institute has been like an express train, moving me to each new publishing milestone faster than I could have gotten there on my own. They offer workshops and opportunities that help with every part of the process. My first time attending was the year the Book Doctors were presenting. Your book and workshop gave me a map to follow that kept me from taking unnecessary detours. In later years, I attended workshops on structure and revision that helped make the book everything it could be. Four years into the process I met my agent, Rita Rosenkranz, at a workshop she was presenting on non-fiction book proposals at the conference.

TBD: For many authors, finding an agent is one of the most difficult parts of the publishing process. What was the process like for you?

RE: It was the longest part of the publishing process for me, and the most difficult, ego-wise. I spent many weekends eating pizza in my pajamas and reading “The Rejection Section” of your book. Then, each time, I would decide I’d put in too much work to quit, and start researching other agents. Most of my early queries led to one-line emails and rejection form letters. Then I started getting personal rejections with feedback. Later there were agents who showed interest at first and then said no after months of preparation on my part. This was frustrating, but their demands forced me to strengthen my platform — I launched a website, began performing standup comedy, and began finding public speaking opportunities. I also became a National Board Certified Teacher, which enhanced my credibility within the teaching profession. When I attended Rita Rosenkranz’s workshop about four years into the process, I immediately had the feeling that all of my experiences with other agents — even the frustrating ones — had prepared me so I would be ready when I met her. I handed her a business card and followed up by email the same day. Within a week we had a contract, and less than a month later she got a great contract with our first publisher. Later, when the book went out of print, she acted immediately to get the rights back and find a new home for the book at Sourcebooks, who has done an amazing job with the second edition. Without Rita’s help I would never have had the courage to switch publishers, and even if I did I can’t imagine I would have ended up with such a good one.

TBD: What is different in your promotional plan this time around?

RE: For this edition, I am starting with a much larger network of people who have read the book and are now happy to help promote it. The past four years have also provided a tremendous opportunity to connect with other writers and organizations that work with teachers, which has also helped in promotional efforts. Best of all, in the process of speaking to spread the word about the first edition, I’ve realized I love speaking to teachers and others interested in education. The past few years have brought many new offers for paid speaking opportunities, which has led to an unexpected side-career speaking on a variety of education-related topics.

TBD: We usually hate to ask writers to give writing advice, but you teach writing at a high school — what advice do you give students based on your own experience as an author?

RE: I usually don’t tell students that I’ve written a book until late in the year. Then I do a short unit on the publishing process and also try to relate it to other careers in which people advise you to “keep your day job:” music, acting, art, dancing, etc. I have a Xeroxed packet of my past rejection letters that I pass out early in the talk. Then I tell students the happier parts of the story. In the process, I try to reinforce the same four points your workshop emphasized four years ago, adapted for a high school audience: Put in the time to do it right, make an effort to meet people who can help you, and do your homework to see where you fit into your market. Most of all, be persistent: even if you hit roadblocks along the way, the story is not over until you say it is. But also keep your day job.

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified high school teacher. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a funny, honest, practical guide with tips and stories from teachers around the country. Elden also speaks on a variety of education-related topics. For more information visit www.seemeafterclass.net.

The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who reads this article and buys the print version of this book gets a FREE 20 MINUTE CONSULTATION with proof of purchase (email: david@thebookdoctors.com). Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. Arielle is not only the author of seven books, but she also co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand that now has stores from Disneyland to Disney World to 5th Avenue in NYC. Her new book is The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.  David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book is a 10 year anniversary of his memoir, Chicken, an international bestseller, which has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is a coming-of-age, Mort Morte, black comedy that’s kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as told by Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry.com

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