Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Writer's Block Interviews: Susan Ross
1) Describe your journey as an author.
I used to be a storyteller. One day a woman came over to me and told me I should write my stories down for my grandchildren (which I STILL don't have by the way). Years later I saw the movie "The Bucket List". So I decided I wanted to publish the stories I had told years ago before I "kicked the bucket."
2) Do you specialize in any particular genre(s)? Why or why not?
I write children's books, picture books to be more specific, for children three to ten years old. That's always been my favourite age group. I used to be a teacher.
3) What inspires your stories?
One never knows what will end up being the inspiration.The Great Bellybutton Cover-Up was inspired by a sheep shearing event at Fanshawe Pioneer Village. I thought, "What if one of the sheep didn't want to be sheared because everyone would see her bellybutton?" Say Please to the Honeybees was inspired by kids saying, "We want another book about Violet the sheep!!!!"
4) Tell us about your most current project.
I am working on a book called Emma the Mouse Brings Joy to the House. It is about a little mouse who lives in the dollhouse of her best friend, a little girl named Sydney. The original inspiration for this book was a corn event at Fanshawe. I made up a story about a little mouse who lives in a farmhouse of a little girl with the long blonde hair. The mouse wants long blonde hair, too. At the corn harvest she realizes corn silk looks just like the little girl's hair. She makes herself a wig.
Over the years I thought about this story and my friend Sydney, who was 12 when she succumbed to leukemia back in the 1960's. The ideas merged and now the story focuses on the friendship and love between the mouse and the girl. The girl gets cancer and the mouse helps her cope with the loss of her hair. It is meant to alleviate some of the stress children have coping with hair loss from chemotherapy. It is mainly a funny story offering hope but also offers a simplified explanation of why they are losing their hair. The book is geared to children ages three to ten who are dealing personally with hair loss or those whose family members or friends are dealing with hair loss.
5) How did you become a published author? Describe that process.
I decided I would self-publish. My reasons were: very few publishers were accepting manuscripts: finding a publisher and getting to print could take years: and I wanted control of the art (publishers generally find their own artists unless the author is doing the art).
This involved writing the book, testing the manuscript on its target audience, finding and working with an illustrator, getting the layout done, finding a printer, marketing and selling the book, creating a website, and on and on and on.
I found out that self-publishing is NOT as easy as it seems. The financial and time commitment are huge. It is not for the faint of heart.
6) How did you and your illustrator come to work together?
I found Megan Stiver at a Beal High School in my city. She was in their post-high school art program, Beal Art. It took me six months to find someone who could draw Violet the sheep the way I envisioned.
7) What are the benefits of author visits to schools?
Author visits encourage children to WANT to read and write. Meeting an author is very exciting for children and personalizes the writing experience. Children learn that writing is a process, not something a writer does in one shot: it involves multiple drafts, editing and proof-reading.
I introduce children to the world of publishing and take the mystery out of how books end up on their library shelves by explaining all the steps that go into getting them there.
Children get inspired to write and/or illustrate their own stories. They get to ask questions about the story or the author that would normally never get answered. They get to hear how the author reads and interprets her writing. It's exciting and educational.
8) How do you promote your work? What strategies have been the most successful?
I'm certainly not the best person to ask for advice on promoting a book. Although I've sold over 5,000 copies in all, I haven't achieved near the success I am hoping for as yet. So far author visits, book signings, book fairs and craft shows have been the most successful but they are a crap shoot. Sometimes I do exceptionally well, sometimes not. The best thing to do is try an idea and see how it goes. I also do social media but have not been successful to date with my promotions in this media. Also I am constrained by a very limited budget so that narrows my options significantly.
9) What advice would you give to budding writers?
The most important advice I would give is to test your manuscript on your target audience if you intend to self-publish. Having friends and family read it is not enough. Many of these people will not tell you their true opinion in order to spare your feelings. I had to scrap one of my books. What Megan (my artist) and I thought was a hysterically funny story, children found mean. You just never know how your audience will react until you try the story out on them.
10) What is your definition of success as a writer?
Is it making lots of money? Is it selling lots of books? Is it notoriety? Is it personal satisfaction? Everyone defines success in their own way. For me it's when I get feedback from parents, teachers and children telling me my books are some of their favorites.
Susan Ross is a children's author living in London, Canada. She has four published picture books: The Great Bellybutton Cover-up, Say Please to the Honeybees, The Kit Kat Caper and The Rose and the Lily. She is currently working on two titles: Emma the Mouse Brings Joy to the House and This Place is a Zoo. Susan is a former primary education teacher and storyteller.