By Debbie Gillum
If your life has been like a story, then why not spend your life writing stories? Children’s author Michael J. Rosen took time away from his cattle dogs and 100-acre ranch in Glenford, Ohio to visit campus on Tues. Nov. 12.
He spoke with students about the realities of working in the publishing industry by telling his own experiences and answering questions.
Rosen went to medical school, thinking he would become a doctor, but had a change of heart after living in the Caribbean and later earned a MFA in poetry from Columbia. At Columbia, he began to draw cartoons and was lucky enough to have two magazines buy his drawings. He supported himself by doing book reviews and graphic design.
Rosen has been publishing for over 30 years and has written children’s books, cookbooks, young adult novels, humor anthologies, picture books and, most recently, plays.
The office of Career Exploration and Development organized his visit, and Rosen came prepared by carrying a hefty stack of his own books, which he allowed students to look at.
He admitted to the seven English major students in attendance that “the publishing industry is not a healthy industry.” But don’t lose hope. Rosen said that there are jobs in publishing, especially for educational presses that make workbooks or books to be used in classrooms.
He was honest about admitting that he lives a meager lifestyle, even joking that his sweater was from eBay.
“Writing is not that profitable,” he admitted. Rosen spoke about the business side of publishing, talking about how he earns roughly 5-10% of his own book sales.
“It’s definitely challenging, but it’s no different from theatre or the music industry,” he said.
With the publishing industry cutting jobs, “authors are tasked with selling their own books now,” he said. He encouraged future authors to know social media and have good public speaking skills.
Rosen ended his talk by sharing advice that he had learned over the years: “Meet deadlines, know your audience, and what isn’t your strength either strengthen or hire out.”
Rosen, who will be 60 next year, has hosted over 30 Denison interns over the years, and he is currently looking for new ones. Growing up, he had mentors who were helpful to him, and he is happy to return the favor.
“I’m happy helping people with their identity,” he said.
One previous Denison intern organized a dog breed photoshoot for the informational children’s book he was writing. Other interns helped him research weird buildings when he was writing his book Crazy Buildings.
Senior English major Daniel Carlson from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, interned with Rosen during the 2013 summer. He said that he “learned first-hand how to pursue a book-scale project from beginning to end, from research, to outlining, to editing, to revising the manuscript according to the publisher’s requests.”
Carlson said he “deeply enjoyed working with Michael” and that he is still working with him to finish the project he started over the summer.
“I would suggest that anyone interested in getting first-hand experience on publishing look into working with him,” Carlson said.
Sophomore Hannah Bersee from Shaker Heights, Ohio attended the talk in order to learn more about the internship opportunity with Rosen.
“I thought that he was super funny and nice, and that working with him would be a really good opportunity for someone who’s interested in the publishing world,” she said.
Bersee was expecting it to be more lecture style and was surprised it was a discussion. As an active creative writer, she said, “it was really neat to talk to someone who’d explored so many different avenues of writing and publishing.”