BOTKINS — Students at Botkins Local Schools got a first-hand look into the process of getting a story from an idea to a bound book on a shelf Wednesday morning, courtesy of local author Michelle Houts.
“Our writer has an idea, so there’s this lightbulb, and she cannot wait to start writing,” Houts said while students were cast in the roles of everyone involved in the book creation process. “Our writer gets started writing, and she’s probably writing for many, many months. After she’s shown it to maybe some critique partners, or a teacher, or somebody who is also a writer, then, finally, she has her most fantastic manuscript ever.”
The journey from an idea to a fully bound book only begins with the writer; the manuscript has to go on to a literary agent, who will use their connections to sell the manuscript to a publisher. Sometimes the publisher won’t like or need the manuscript, so the manuscript will go onto a new publisher. The publisher then passes it onto an editor, who will read the manuscript and make sure that the story makes sense and captivates the reader.
“When I got my first editorial letter for my first book from Random House in New York, the editor I had never met sent me a letter that was 15 pages long. Page one was everything she loved about my book; that means there were 14 pages of things that she didn’t like,” Houts said. “When I first read the letter, I’ll admit, I got tears in my eyes. But you know what? When I settled down and read her suggestions, I realized everything she said was going to make it a better book, and I got to work.”
After the writer makes edits to their manuscript, an art director will use their artistic eye to choose how the book will look, depending on what kind of book they are making. Sometimes the art director will work closely with an illustrator, depending on what the book needs. When the book is finished being designed, it goes to marketing, where the marketing person helps the publisher decide the logistics of how many copies to sell, where to sell them, if it will be printed in hardcover and paperback, what part of the world the book will sell best in, and the price of a copy. The manuscript will then be passed onto a proofreader, who will look it over carefully for spelling and grammatical errors. The manuscript will be passed back to the editor, who will make sure the edits won’t change the story and if they do, they will consult with the writer. After edits are made, the manuscript is passed onto a factory, where it is printed and bound and officially becomes a book. The final step for the book is being purchased by sellers and libraries, where it will sit on the shelf, waiting to be read.
“That whole line process from that writer’s idea to the bookseller or librarian at the end, that can take two to three years,” Houts said. “The writer is writing it for months before she even shows it to her agent, and then the agent had to send it to those publishers, and then they said no, and that takes time, so it can take two to three years.”
Following the programs for kindergarten through third grade students and fourth through sixth grade students where they got to listen to Houts talk about being a writer and what inspired her stories, a select number of students who were chosen based on a paper they had to write got to eat lunch with Houts and ask her questions. The students had spent the past month reading Houts’ work, which their teachers have applied to their curriculum.
“The kids are really familiar with her, and we even started looking more at the Appalachian Trail and anything we could find with Grandma Gatewood,” Botkins Local Schools Reading Specialist Michelle Meyer said, referencing Houts’ book “When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike”. “They’ve been doing a lot.”
Some students asked about where she liked to write, which is a renovated one-room schoolhouse originally built in 1894, not far from her home in Rockford. Before that, Houts would write anywhere she found herself comfortable; according to Houts, a specific place isn’t necessary to sit down and write.
“I like to write where it’s quiet; some of my writer friends like to write where there’s noise. You can write anywhere you want to write. That’s the neat thing about writing; you don’t have to have special tools or anything, you just need paper and a pencil and your imagination,” Houts said.
For Houts, it’s important for young writers to know that nothing is ever perfect, and writing is subjective, but they should still keep writing.
“Writing takes hard work, and you have to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and that’s what their teachers are helping them learn how to do. I still have to do that with my editors. Even at the end, it’s still not perfect. Not everybody is going to love every book I write, because it may not be their taste. I could keep working and working and working, and I’m never going to make a book that every reader loves,” Houts said.
The day, and the Right to Read Week, wouldn’t have been possible without Academic Booster Club and a committee of teachers at Botkins Local Schools, something Houts was thankful for.
“I feel like I’m not here to teach anything, but to reinforce what the teachers are teaching. Sometimes just hearing it from another voice is all it takes for kids to say ‘oh, I see’,” Houts said. “That’s why I bring the editorial piece in, because their teachers are like my editors. They only want their work to be the best it can be.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.