Jonathan Roth is the author of the debut chapter book series, Beep and Bob, published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. Scholastic recently included Beep and Bob in their list of 50 Magical Books for Summer. It is a must read if you have kids in grades 2-5!
I first met Jonathan at our local Kidlit Night. He quickly became a resource, sharing his experiences, insights, and tips with the group for publishing in the children’s book industry. Now we get the chance to learn more about Jonathan’s writing journey, and the adventure beyond publishing!
Let’s start by learning a little bit more about you. Tell us about yourself; what is a day like in the life of an author?
Jonathan: By day I’m an elementary art teacher, so my usual workday involves commuting about six miles by bike to my school in North Bethesda and teaching art to about 125 enthusiastic and creative spirits a day. My ‘author’ days, which are evenings and non-school days, involve writing, editing and illustrating the various books in the various stages of my series. The part I never expected is also how much having a book or series is like running a small business, with many of my hours going to publicity, outreach, booking and doing events, creating bookmarks and stickers, and all that. Whatever fantasy I may have ever had of sipping coffee at my sun-dappled drawing board while creating books that magically appear in kids’ hands is pretty much that: a fantasy.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Jonathan: The moment I was exposed to the classic children’s literature of my youth – i.e. Marvel and DC comics and the newspaper’s funny pages – I knew I wanted to do something like that, too. I drew and wrote stories as early as I can remember, and never really stopped. I’ve also never stopped reading, which I think is the main impetus to writing.
Tell us about your writing journey. When did you start writing Beep and Bob? How did you become a published author?
Jonathan: I began the first draft of Beep and Bob in 2015 after I heard Dav Pilkey speak at a bookstore and realized I wasn’t letting myself be quite as silly and wild with my writing as I knew I could. So I abandoned yet another middle-grade novel I was working on and just let myself go. The result was definitely sillier than my previous work and, I assumed, probably completely unpublishable. But it got great feedback and I revised and began to submit.
I was between agents at that point and had no leads on any who represented the strange in-between genre of chapter books, so I reached out to Natalie Lakosil at Bradford Literary, who had requested but then rejected, an earlier novel of mine. But I had a good feeling about her, and after a little revision, Natalie signed me and soon sold Beep and Bob as an initial four book series with Aladdin. The only small details that then remained were editing and illustrating book one, and then creating books 2-4 from scratch. And the real fun began!
I attended a talk you gave in which you spoke about the business of being an author. What are some of the challenges you have faced on the more business and practical side of authorship?
Jonathan: As I said above, the business side is a huge chunk of my author time now. Besides all the mundane details that whittle good hours away – taxes, tech issues, etc. – part of my brain is always tuned to the fact that just because someone publishes your book doesn’t mean the world knows about it or cares. Though I earnestly believe most kids will love Beep and Bob if they read it, the main challenge is figuring out ways to get in in their hands (which usually involves getting it in parents’ or teachers’ or librarians’ hands first) and accepting that no matter how hard I try, I ultimately have very little control. The bright side is that I belong to a strong network of other like-minded creators, through such groups as SCBWI, the Electric Eighteens debut group, and the Kidlit Night where I met Ariel. It’s a great community to be part of, no matter what stage you are in your journey.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their writing or publication journey?
Jonathan: Read widely, especially current work in genres that move you. Find your community, especially critique partners who can be supportive but honest and challenging. And follow your heart by writing what’s in yours. It’s not an easy journey, and you’ll wear out many good boots, but I hope to see you on the way!
Thank you so much for your time, Jonathan! And for always sharing your journey! Jonathan Roth’s chapter book series, Beep and Bob, debuted in March 2018. “Great for “kids who love funny stories but may be too young for books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (School Library Journal). It is available at your local bookstore, or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Here are three key takeaways about being a published author from my interview with Jonathan:
- Being an author is like being a small business. Jonathan says he never expected the business aspect of being an author, such as marketing, technology, taxes, promotion, in addition to writing, illustrating, and creating books.
- Find your community. Find your community of like-minded creators. This is where you can share your writing journey, challenges, successes, and get inspiration from each other along the way. “Supportive but honest and challenging”.
- “Follow your heart by writing what’s in yours”. As Jonathan says, it is not an easy journey. Follow your heart, read what sets your heart on fire, and write what is in your heart.
If you enjoyed reading this interview with author Jonathan Roth, and would like to learn more about writing, publishing, and the creative journey, check out the following interviews:
Insights on the Book Publishing Process: An Interview with Author Deborah Schuamberg
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