Apologies if you are a newsletter subscriber and have already read this. It felt too important just to share once.
I got word on Monday that hardback sales for May B. are dwindling. My publisher has decided not to order another print run.
I absolutely cannot complain. This verse novel editors and agents weren’t sure what to do with* has found its place. It will continue on as a paperback and ebook. The story is read and is loved. What more could I ask for?
Well, there is one thing. I’d love to give the hardback edition a hearty send off filled with all the love it deserves. There are just under a hundred books left in the Random House warehouse. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if every copy found a home? The book is currently on sale at Amazon. It’s $9.33. That’s 42% off the cover price. As of yesterday, books at Amazon were temporarily out of stock, but orders can still be placed. Hooray and thank you! Let’s keep those babies moving.
If you’ve never read May B., this is your chance. If you know a school or classroom library that might enjoy a copy or has need of a set, please consider passing this on. If you’re looking for an early holiday gift, May B. is the perfect winter read. And if you know a child who loves reading (or even one who doesn’t), May B. might be of interest. The white space verse novels employ makes the reading active and swift. Over the years boys and girls have contacted me, saying May Betterly feels like a friend.
Most recently I heard from a teacher whose mother-in-law loved the book. Like May, she grew up in an era where dyslexia wasn’t understood. May’s story brought her comfort and courage.
It continues to amaze me that this imaginary girl has resonated with so many readers.
If you’re interested in receiving a signed bookplate and bookmark to go with your purchase, please send a self-addressed envelope to Caroline Starr Rose, PO Box 93941, Albuquerque, NM, 87199. I’ll be happy to personalize the bookplate in any way.
Thank you, friends, for loving this book as I have. If May were a real girl, she’d be amazed at the influence of her quiet bravery. I know she’s given me courage. I hope you can say the same.
*Is this the beginning of a picture book? an editor asked after reading my first ten pages during a conference critique. It’s good, but I don’t know how to sell something like this, a handful of agents informed me. When May went on submission, one editor felt kids in this “plugged-in age” wouldn’t be able to relate.
I ran an earlier version of this post right after selling my first book. Because it’s one of my favorites, and because I so often need to hear these words myself, and because May B. marked its fifth year as a real, live book in January, I’m sharing them again today.
It was 2004. While driving to meet my writing group, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with Adrienne Young, a folksinger just starting out. She talked about her first album, inspired by some advice she’d gotten while struggling to make it as a musician:
If you want to do this with your life, stay focused and see this through. You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl.
That simple phrase – plow to the end of the row – was enough to push Adrienne to continue. It became the title of both her album and lead song. I can’t quite explain what that interview meant to me, hearing an artist choose to create despite the struggle, to push against fear and sensibility and make it “to the end of the row.”
I’ve carried this image with me for years, the plant metaphor standing in for artistic endeavor, the plow the unglamorous slog needed to dig deep and make it to the end. Sometimes I find it funny I’d choose a profession so bent on forcing me to wait, so full of uncertainty and disappointment. An almost foolish optimism has kept me working, trusting that the next editor or the next agent or the next story would be the one to launch my career. I’ve haunted mailboxes and inboxes, waiting for something positive to come through. I’ve ceremoniously sent off manuscripts, chanting, “Don’t come back!” (entertaining postal workers, for sure). I’ve journaled again and again “this next editor is a perfect match!”, managing somehow to keep on plowing in midst of little validation.
After twelve years of writing and hundreds of rejections, I sold my first book, May B., a historical verse novel about a girl with her own challenging row to hoe. May’s determination carried me through a rocky publication experience: losing my first editor; the closing of my Random House imprint, Tricycle Press; the weeks when my book was orphaned, with no publishing house to claim it and its future uncertain; the swooping in of Radom House imprint, Schwartz and Wade; edit rounds seven, eight, and nine with editor number two; and finally, May B.’s birth into the world only three months behind its original release date.
I made it to the end of a very long, mostly lonely row, one that wasn’t very straight and was loaded with stones. But the soil got better as I worked it, and each little sprout was stronger than the last. The beauty of the writing life is I got to transplant the hardiest seedling and start again, this time working alongside others who nurtured it into something better than I could have ever created alone.
What is the dream of the artist-gardener? That our art will sprout and grow one day stand apart from us to thrive on its own.
But first we must reach the end of the row. Keep plowing, friends.
Five years ago this week May B. was released into the world. In the days leading up to May’s launch, I fluctuated between moments of elation and fear. Finally, finally, after fourteen years of striving, something I’d written would exist as a book. And it was too late to take it all back.
I’d been told indirectly and directly not to expect much from May B. After all, it was literary fiction for kids. Who reads that? Add in the fact it was a historical novel, a genre readers weren’t exactly clamoring for, and it was written in this weird style called verse. Chain bookstores probably wouldn’t carry it. Most likely, May would have a very narrow audience.
May started with the narrowest of audiences — my fifth-grade self. I write first for the girl I was back then, and somehow, in the mysterious way that writing works, the book has gone on to capture an audience wider than I ever could have imagined. Girls and boys not yet too old to have bought the lie that poetry is bad. Kids in the US and Japan. Schools in Nebraska and Kansas, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
— spartanlynne (@spartanlynne) April 15, 2016
Last year I met a middle-school girl who’d recently immigrated from Korea. She’d given her mom her copy of May B. to help her learn English. Last month I met a PTA mother who’d shared her book with her mother, too — an 85-year-old woman who is dyslexic but never identified as such.
No book, once it’s published, belongs to the author anymore. Neither does its protagonist. Something about May has struck a chord with more readers than I could have ever imagined. People from every age group and all walks of life have claimed her as their own.
— Joyce Johnson (@Johnsoj93) December 15, 2016
I’m so grateful I got to be the one who brought May Betterly into the world. Thank you, May, for the joy you’ve given me and for sharing your brave spirit with readers everywhere.