Carol knew she wanted to be a writer in the 4th grade. She is the author of 22 books and 175 articles. Among the most memorable books for young people include the acclaimed series, Breakthroughs in Science (The Earth, Astronomy, Inventions, and The Human Body), 50 Nifty Science Fair Projects, the Super Science Project Book, and 50 More Nifty Science Fair Projects.
Her current work includes the exciting middle-grade mystery series, The Phantom Hunters. Each mystery takes readers to a different culture. Book #1, The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun, takes place on the Navajo Nation.
Book #2, The Secret of Blackhurst Manor, set in Lincolnshire, England, is due out next spring. Her other recent titles include The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun Teacher’s Guide, How to Start and Run a Writers’ Critique Group, and So You Want to Be a Writer?, a creative writing course for 4th-6th graders.
Carol has a B.A. in Spanish and French from the University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, and an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from California State University - Fullerton, Fullerton, California. She lives in Southern California with her family.
Katie: Carol, you mention that you have published 22 books. That’s quite an achievement. How difficult was it to get that first book published?
Carol: Very difficult. I had written two novels (a western and a science-fiction novel) that had made the rounds of the publishers with no luck at all. Once I started writing nonfiction, I had much better luck. I began to sell articles, and that gave me a track record to send to publishers. Twenty years lapsed from the time I sent out that first novel to the time I actually sold my first book. Scary, isn’t it?
Katie: Did you use an agent, or query the publishing houses directly?
Carol: I queried the publishing houses directly. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with my query. I got a four-book contract for a series called Breakthroughs in Science. The titles were Inventions, The Earth, The Human Body, and Astronomy. Based on the success of that series, which was printed in French in addition to English, the same publisher asked me to write another book, Inside Out: The Wonders of Modern Technology. Once I had that track record, selling my books became a much easier proposition. I sold another five traditionally before starting my own small press.
Katie: What changes have you had to make in your writing, querying or publishing, if any, over the years as publishing has gone through many changes?
Carol: Regarding writing, when I started my career, there were many markets for short stories and many publishers. These days, the smaller publishers have been gobbled up by the Big Five, and the short-story markets have disappeared, so I’ve stopped writing short stories. In addition, there were a lot more freelance opportunities for articles in newspapers and magazines back then, and these have also dwindled. As a result, I’ve started writing what the market wants as opposed to necessarily what I want.
My first book was a western. I love westerns. Even though that early book has a salvageable plot, westerns haven’t been selling in years unless they’re written by Larry McMurtry. I’ve given up on that genre for the present.
Regarding querying, I think this has gotten easier. Now that we can look up magazines and publishers on the Internet, we can get the current names of the editors and ensure we have the spellings right. We can see the guidelines and make sure we are following them. We can submit our queries online and save ourselves lots of money in postage.
The big change now in publishing is producing material for e-readers. That means not only new material but e-book versions of existing print books. More technology to learn!!!
Katie: Here’s a brief synopsis of your paranormal mystery adventure, “The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun:”
An ancient legend, two suspicious archaeologists, and a mysterious warrior lead twelve-year-old Anny Bradford, her twin sister, Scout, and their friends, Eric Larson and Ben Lapahie, on a quest for a 500-year-old lost treasure on Arizona’s Navajo Nation. The story helps readers learn tolerance and respect for those who are different.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
Carol: I have a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, and this helped tremendously where the Navajos were concerned. I had made several trips to the Navajo Nation before I even got the idea for the book series, The Phantom Hunters, of which The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun is the first book. Even so, I had to make another trip, and I had to do a lot of research regarding modern Navajos versus traditional Navajos.
Things have changed a lot on the Navajo Nation. For example, the first time I went there, we had to have a four-wheel drive to get around many places. There were no hotels or restaurants, no telephones for the most part, and no modern amenities of any kind. The last time I went, which was about six years ago, I had to pull off the side of the highway in shock when I drove into Window Rock. Instead of the sleepy little town it was before, it now had Bank of America, Wells Fargo, MacDonald’s, a supermarket, and all sorts of other trappings of mainstream American life.
When I mentioned to a woman that the ambience of the town was really disrupted, she said, “At least I don’t have to drive 40 miles to Gallup anymore for a Big Mac.” I guess there’s no stopping “progress”…. The Navajo Nation also has a junior college now and a Quality Inn. The junior college is terrific, because its focus is ensuring that young Navajos are well-versed in their cultures arts, crafts, and history, in addition to offering a regular curriculum. There are also cell towers all over the reservation, so most people have cell phones (where they had no phones at all before).
Katie: Can you lead us through a “normal” writing day for you?”
Carol: I wish I could say that I write from dawn til dark. I do work from dawn til dark, but now that I own my own small press, a lot of time is spent dealing with customers, doing layouts for marketing materials, marketing via social media, and doing all the other chores that come with being part of the publishing industry. I am working on a series of short, nonfiction books that will be e-books of 30-50 pages. They deal with topics that will be useful to writers and small businesses, but they are too short to be regular books.
Katie: Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Carol: Ideas are everywhere. I see holes in the information that people need on certain topics, so I write about those. I interviewed some teachers and librarians to get ideas for what they are looking for in kids’ books, both the ages and the material. The news can give a person lots of ideas (you know… “ripped from the headlines….”). Talking to people at conferences and trade shows can give you lots of business and other nonfiction ideas.
Katie: How long does it take you to write a book, from beginning to it being ready to send to agents/publishers?
Carol: I’ve written books on very short deadlines, like six months. I wouldn’t advise having to do that. I have one right now for which I want to write a proposal. It’s about the year I spent at sea on an oil tanker. (You’ll have to read the book to get the details on that one!) I’d like about a year to produce the book, but it could take two if I can’t work on it fulltime.
Katie: There are so many things we can learn through a prolific writer like yourself. What three pieces of advice would you give to writers, even those who are already published?
Carol: The first tip is to join a critique group. Belonging to one is critical. You need feedback before the editors get your manuscripts and reject them for things that could have been corrected had they been pointed out to you.
I currently belong to four critique groups, and I’ve been a member of one of them for many, many, many years. I can honestly say that without that particular group, I would not have been published as soon as I was. I was the first unpublished writer they had ever taken into the group, which was actually composed of several critique groups, broken down by type (fiction, nonfiction, juvenile, poetry, and scriptwriting). I belonged to the fiction and nonfiction groups. The comments they gave me whipped my writing into shape.
The second tip is to present yourself professionally, no matter what aspect of writing you’re dealing with. That means learning to write excellent query letters, whether you are pitching fiction or nonfiction.
The pros already know this, but for those who are new, be sure to research the publisher or market to which you are sending a manuscript. Don’t send a query about a nonfiction manuscript to a magazine that has published that topic within two years. When you do send in a query, reference the previous version, if any, and be sure you have a different or additional angle to that version. Learn the style of the magazine and the length of articles they accept.
If you’re writing fiction, send your query only to publishers that take that genre of writing, and if you’re new, send only to editors/publishers who accept unsolicited material. Send only what the editors ask for, learn the style of writing they publish, and don’t call to ask when they are going to look at your manuscript.
The third tip is to be tech savvy. Get your computer skills up to par. You need to be proficient at MS Word to produce a decent-looking manuscript. It never ceases to amaze me how many writers don’t know how to use their word-processing program properly. Learn to market yourself and to use the power of the Internet. Have a website, a blog, and accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media platforms. Take advantage of all the free and low-cost webinars and teleseminars that are available on using social media, marketing your books, etc. I’m just getting up-to-speed on social media myself. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it pays off in the long run when it comes to building a fan base.