It’s Thursday so it’s time for another author interview. Today I talk to Carol Gordon Ekster. When Carol is not thinking about writing or teaching, she does yoga, biking, is involved in critique groups and works on her books. The English version of her newest book, You Know What? with Clavis Books, will be out September 2017. She is grateful that her writing gives her another way to communicate with children.
When did you decide to become an author?
My life’s passion was teaching. I loved influencing children to become lifelong learners and to strive to do their best always. I worked with children on their own writing in my classroom. My Master’s degree was in reading and language, and I read picture books daily to reinforce the curriculum I covered. I found picture books powerful in their ability to get across academic concepts as well as teach about life and social skills. I think as I neared my thirtieth year of teaching, a miracle occurred… I started to write children’s books. It was not planned, it just happened to me. So I didn’t really “decide” to become an author. I believe writing came to me…on a beach in the summer. It truly was the strangest experience. I felt a need to write and walked to my car for a pen and post-its (the only thing I had to write on) like a force was pulling me. I wrote my first book that day. And though it’s never been published, this beginning of a new career was a blessing! It allowed me not to fear retirement. Being a teacher was my identity. Now I had something I could do that would enable me to continue to communicate with children. Writing became my new passion.
Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
I truly believe I wouldn’t be published if I hadn’t become a member of SCBWI, which I was advised to do by a friend as soon as I started writing in 2002. The request from a publisher for stories about divorce and some other issues was listed in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2006. I heard back in a few weeks, that he was interested. It took two years from that time for me to hold my first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? (A Story of Divorce), Boulden Publishing, 2008, in my hand, but it’s still in publication, and it still sells. I feel very fortunate. And by the way, that was the 20th book I had written, but the first to be published.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
No, I got some great responses to my work early on. And I was teaching full-time and just enjoying this new adventure in my life that I loved sharing with my students. Sure, rejections hurt. But I learned that it was all part of the process and I kept persevering. This has worked for me. Imagine if after my first rejections I gave up. Not until I wrote my 20th manuscript did I get my first contract. Despite over 1,300 rejections, I continue to write. I am active in a few critique groups, and I submit avidly. I have an e-book out with a digital library, I had a story bought by Library Sparks Magazine, and my fourth book, the 60th manuscript I wrote, comes out this September 1st with an international publisher. You Know What? came out first in Dutch, Mama, Wist je Dat?, in December 2016. And I recently heard that a Korean publishing company bought the rights as well. In this business you have to hang on to all the good news you can.
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Yes! I had no idea about the marketing side of writing books. I dealt with being a teacher for 35 years, interacting with others so intensely, that I enjoyed the quiet side of writing, that going inward that writing requires. I didn’t realize I’d have to be selling my books and myself. It’s a bit uncomfortable for me, even though I was completely at home in front of my own classroom of fourth graders.
I’m also surprised that I continue to get rejections from publishers who I’ve already worked with. But I’ve learned that in publishing, whether something is rejected or accepted is all about each individual story. It’s not personal.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Join SCBWI, persevere, and read as many books as you can in the genre you write in. I’m an avid reader of picture books. I am a frequent visitor to my local library.
Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
I have over 75 picture books that I’ve submitted and many more that I am working on. Every book has gone through revisions with the help of my critique groups. I am open to the suggestions of others as I feel they are given to me for a reason, allowing me to take advantage of ideas that help me write the best books possible. I work hard on each and every sentence to see if I can improve it in some way.
My students are always surprised to hear that authors don’t always get to approve their illustrator and some don’t even see the pictures until the book releases. What was that process like for you? Did anything surprise you when you saw the illustrations?
Yes, I was surprised by the illustrations of my first book. It was not at all what I expected, but it ended up being right for that story. In my first three books, I did get to preview the illustrations and let the publisher know if there were any corrections that needed to be made. But I did not actually communicate and work with the illustrator. With my new book coming out, it was an amazing process. It was the first publisher who encouraged that the illustrator and author should work together. I absolutely loved the back and forth with the illustrator as well as getting input from the art director. I felt they were always interested in what I thought, and accepted my suggestions. We worked as a team. And I am thrilled with the result!