Author Spotlight: Beth Anderson
|©Tina Wood Photography
Sept. 21, 2018
We are excited to feature picture book author, Beth Anderson and her book AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon and Schuster, 2018).
Enter to win a copy below!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
While I’ve always enjoyed writing in many forms, it’s largely my career as an ESL teacher for over twenty years that set me on this particular course. The most valuable tools were always children’s books that facilitated content area learning as well as language development. I especially loved narrative nonfiction picture books. Not only did they fill the bill, but students were constantly amazed and engaged.
When I retired and prepared to move, my students asked what I was going to do. I came clean and admitted I’d always wanted to write children’s books. They were excited, which was just the encouragement I needed. And how could I urge them to go after their “someday” unless I was willing to? So…here I am.
Congrats on your picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION. What a fascinating slice of history. How did you learn about this story and what was it like to research it?
I saw an article from Smithsonian about Ben Franklin’s alphabet. As a linguistics geek, I was immediately interested. I’d never heard of it. I dug into it, but there wasn’t much story there until I found Ben and Noah’s friendship and collaboration. The interaction of two historical figures added a fascinating dimension, and the research hit two areas I love – history and language.
Researching obscure bits of history is always a challenge. Most difficult is dealing with the unknowns, the pieces lost to history (such as Noah’s first attempt after meeting Ben). But the little discoveries along the way and the learning about the times, places, and people inspire me to keep digging. The search pushes me into detective mode, and I learn more about the process with each manuscript I attempt.
With this idea, as with most events I research, I came out with something different than what I initially went after. The quirky concept that gets my attention almost always has something with deeper significance behind it that becomes apparent as I dig deeper and expand to a broader view.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
I guess it all depends upon your expectations. ☺ After quickly learning that my initial goals were naïve and way off target, I prepared myself mentally for a longer and more realistic journey. I joined SCBWI in November 2013. My breakthrough came in February 2016 when I signed with agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, and my first offer came in October 2016. I had also just doubled-down my efforts in 2016 with a writing retreat. From the perspective I have now, that two and a half year period doesn’t seem so bad, and I know that length of time was necessary to develop craft and learn about the industry.
What other projects are you working on now?
I just finished another Revolutionary War era story about an unsung heroine. She had been living in a drawer for the last year. Happy to say, she’s stepped out.
I’m working on edits for another manuscript that’s under contract, a story that grabbed hold of my heart bigtime. Since it hasn’t been announced yet, I can’t share much more than that.
And I’m continuing revisions on yet another Revolutionary War era story! Sometimes when researching, one thing leads to another. ☺
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Take every opportunity to learn, and do some self-reflection as you progress. What stage are you at? What do you need? What can you do to advance your skillset? I think it’s important to recognize what you really need as a writer, especially when you have a limited professional development budget. For example: After I had taken classes on the basics of picture book writing, I found that I benefitted more from workshop formats where I could get valuable input from agents and editors.
Also, in the beginning when I needed to push myself to write a lot, 12x12 was a great motivator for me that also provided information and opportunities to interact with the online community of writers and illustrators, making me more comfortable with the endeavor as a whole. After I found my narrative nonfiction niche and was spending more time on research and deeper revisions, Rate Your Story membership became more beneficial.
Be careful not to burn bridges by submitting too soon. And…It’s ok to admit to your efforts before you have any results. Yes, everyone thinks they can write a children’s book, but people who are deeply involved in actually doing it know that it’s a lot of work. much learning, a long process. Learn from peers. They’re your best resource. But they can’t offer you anything if you don’t put yourself out there and open up to them. I’m extremely grateful for the online kid lit community, especially the phenomenal collection of resources and information on your website! KIDLIT 411 – you are awesome!!
What is one thing most people don't know about you (bonus points if using Franklin & Webster's spelling)?
O, I luv this chalenj! Wen I wuz in hii skool, I spent three munths in Iran az a forin ekschaanj stoodent. At that tiim, US/Iran reelaashuns wer gud. It wuz an ekspeeriyens that afekted thu rest uv mii liif.
Where can people find you online?
Twitter and Pinterest: @BAndersonwriter
An Educator’s Guide will be available on 9/25 with a link HERE.
Additional activities may be found on my author website.
Thank you so much for inviting me!
Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.
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