Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Debut Author Interview with Rob Sanders

I love Christmas!  It's a time to remember when Christ was born.  It's also a time of love and joy.  And a time of sharing and giving! 

Today's debut author interview is a special one.  I am bringing Christmas to you early.  My interview is with Rob Sanders, the author of the new release, COWBOY CHRISTMAS, published by Golden Books/Random House.

Rob Sanders is a writing resource teacher at a Title 1 elementary school.  He teaches creative writing to children, kindergarten through fifth grade, and mentors and coaches teachers. 

I had the pleasure of knowing Rob through our online critique group.  That's when I learned of his fantastic blog- Picture This! where you can gain valuable information on the art of picture book writing.  If you haven't already go check it out:

Rob has lots to share with us in his interview and he will reveal his secret to becoming a better picture book writer.  Well, it's not really a secret, but everybody loves a good secret so I'm calling it a secret because it's a really good one.

Oh, and there's more!  I did say Christmas is also a time of giving.  So I am giving away a signed copy of COWBOY CHRISTMAS!   Find out how you can enter to win a copy at the end of this post. 

Now let's welcome the wonderful Rob Sanders and learn about his fascinating journey to becoming a picture book author.    


When and where do most of your ideas originate?
Golly-gee-whillickers, there’s no way to answer that. Where don’t ideas come from? I get ideas from songs, billboards, street signs, things people say, Youtube videos, kids at school, and so on. Sometimes I force myself to come up with new ideas—a strange character in an unusual situation, a normal picture book character with an abnormal problem, and so on. Sometimes my agent will feed me an idea. Sometimes the comments from an editor will inspire a new project. Ideas truly are everywhere. You have to tap into them and try them out.

How did you come up with your story idea for Cowboy Christmas?
I was driving back from Lisa Wheeler’s boot camp and my mind was wandering. For some reason, I remembered hearing a men’s chorus perform a song called “Hanukkah Hoedown.” Immediately the thought came to me to write a book called HANUKKAH HOEDOWN. Only one problem, I know nothing about Hanukkah. So the idea immediately morphed into COWBOY CHRISTMAS. I had the characters and their problem in mind before I finished my drive home.

Golden Books, a division of Random House does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. How did you get your foot in the door?
I met Diane Muldrow, Golden Book/Random House editor, at my first SCBWI, LA, conference. I had paid for a personal consultation and was assigned to Diane. She liked my story, but wanted revisions. I had a revised copy, which we also went over together. She suggested other changes and said, “Send it to me. No promises.” Two weeks later I mailed off the manuscript. Two months later I had a book deal. Face-to-face contact is the best way to get someone interested in you and your work. The rare writer gets discovered through the slush pile—and that gets rarer every day.

Most picture book writers cannot get an agent until they have a book deal, have an editor interested in their work, or have some success as an author. Most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Thus, the face-to-face meeting at a conference is the best bet. (NOTE: I do not mean stalking editors and agents in the restroom or the elevator. LOL! I mean signing up for critiques or consultations, attending sessions and introducing yourself, taking advantage of offers editors often make at conferences for participants to submit manuscripts, and so on.)

You have another picture book coming out- Ruby Rose on her Toes, to be released by Harper Collins. Was the second book easier to sell with a PB under your belt?
Ruby Rose is a two-book deal with HarperCollins. The first book, RUBY ROSE ON HER TOES, comes out in Summer 2014. The second book will come out in 2015. Was it easier? Yes and no. I’m working with an agent now, so he can get my work into more places than I could before. So that’s easier. But I probably had fifteen different manuscripts rejected multiple times by multiple editors before we landed the RUBY ROSE deal. So from that standpoint there was nothing easy about it. But I am nothing if not prolific and persistent!

What 3 books, conferences, or workshops have helped you become a better picture book writer?
  1. Lisa Wheeler’s Picture Book Boot Camp. Visit Lisa’s web site at She usually has a list of her boot camps posted there.
  2. SCBWI, LA. That’s where I got my first picture book deal, and it’s a conference like none other. You’ve got to save your money and go. Once you do, you’ll be hooked.  If you have not joined SCBWI yet, you have to do it ASAP!
  3. Paid critiques. For a couple of years I had three trusted authors I would go to for paid critiques. They helped make my writing better, helped me grow in confidence, and taught me about the business. Find someone you trust, someone who has written books you admire and wish you had written, and ask them if they hire out for critiques. It’s been worth every penny to me.
What do your students think of you now that you are a published author?
My students are thrilled that I’m published. But the process takes so long that many of them wondered if the book was ever coming out (and so did I). I have some new writing creds with my students now, but I can also tell them about the struggles of a “real” writer. When I ask them to revise now, they know that editors ask me to revise, too. I was talking to some students today about being logical in their writing, and I was able to tell them that an editor just said about one of my stories, “I like it. But there are a few logic problems.” So writing is more real-life for my students now.

So what is your average day like these days?
Is there such a thing as a normal day? My “real” job is teaching creative writing. I work in a Title 1 elementary school as a writing resource teacher. I mentor and coach teachers and work with and teach children in kindergarten through fifth grade. There are 800+ students at our school, so it keeps me busy. I work on my writing every day. Some days (like today) I revise. Other days I create. Other days I just write and write and write and let ideas flow out as they will. 

A good bit of time these days is spent promoting my book, COWBOY CHRISTMAS, working on work-for-hire picture book assignments, working on my new two-book deal with HarperCollins, revising a middle-grade novel, keeping my blog and social media info up-to-date, making school and store visits, and so on. In my spare time I coordinate our Florida SCBWI group in the Tampa Bay area, run two critique groups, and live my “regular” life. Like I said, there’s never a normal day. (And I like it that way!)

When do you have the time to write?
I make time to write. I spend at least two hours every day/night writing (and try for more).  I usually write in the evenings after work, and I dedicate the weekends to writing, also. Truth is, I can’t not write. Even if I think I’m going to take a day or two off from writing, I’ll find myself scribbling notes on a restaurant napkin (the paper kind, I promise), jotting down words I want to remember, or sitting in my office chair typing away on a new project. The secret to writing I’m coming to believe, is to write. It’s as simple as that. Write. Then write some more.

Thank you so much, Rob, for squeezing me into your day.  I wish you the best in your upcoming books!

Here is a video trailer for COWBOY CHRISTMAS

I told you Rob has lots to share with us.  Now for the giving.  If you want a chance to win a copy of Rob's new picture book, COWBOY CHRISTMAS,  all you have to do is: 
1) Follow my blog and 
2) comment below. 
I will choose the winner by in 2 weeks.  

Have a Merry Christmas ya' all!

Fun Facts About Cowboy Christmas:

  • It took 2 days to draft the story
  • It went through about 10-15 revisions before it was submission-ready
  • It was sold on the first and only submission to Diane Muldrow, Golden Book/Random House editor
  • It took 2 months from submission to acceptance
  • It took exactly 2 years for it to be published

For more author interviews: 
Nessa Morris, author of REACHING FOR RAINBOWS
Donna Earnhardt, author of BEING FRANK
Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE
Karin LeFranc, author of A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS


  1. Great interview! Thanks for sharing, Romelle and Rob.

  2. Wahoo! Super interview :D
    I would recommend to all picture writers to take Lisa Wheeler's Boot Camp and for every conference you attend, grab a paid critique from a pro!!

  3. Thanks for your encouraging words. I will definitely save my pennies for more conferences. It's an expensive proposition, but I am confident I will some day be published. Congrats on your successes. Cowboy Christmas looks like a lot of fun!

    1. Yes, Jill, you will be published! I have my eye on you. Saving my money too for the Summer conference in L.A.

  4. Excellent interview, Rob and Romelle! I already won a copy of this book from Debbie Ohi's blog, and so I'll pass on that. But I love reading author's story behind the story!

    1. Lucky you, Tina! Debbie is illustrating Rob's upcoming PB Ruby Rose. Can't wait for that book too.

  5. Loved the interview and a look into the process! Thanks so much.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Hope you got something out of it.

  6. Great interview! I love when Rob listed 100 things he was doing and then said "in my spare time" without skipping a beat. I also one a copy from Rob's blog- my 4 year old loves it!

    1. Ha, ha! Yes, I thought that was a great response.

  7. Oh, yea! I'm so glad I stopped by today. Would LOVE to win a copy of Rob's book. (Rob, you're amazing!) Thanks both of you for the wonderful interview. Very enlightening.

    1. Well then. Hold on to your lucky clover! Thanks for stopping by, Christie.

  8. Excellent interview. I didn't realize Rob taught creative writing to kids. I would have consulted him about my creative writing lesson plan. Volunteering in my kids 1st grade class next Friday to teach creative writing. My first time and am I nervous.

    Loved Rob's Directory of Blog Posts - good resource.

    1. Wow, Darshana! Have a great time with your class on Friday. You still have time to contact Rob.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...