Career Builder: Carolyn Crimi

Carolyn Crimi, pirate queen

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Carolyn Crimi received her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College in 2000.

She has published thirteen books, including Don’t Need Friends, Boris and Bella, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, Principal Fred Won’t Go To Bed, Dear Tabby, Rock and Roll Mole, and Pugs in a Bug.

This year Carolyn was quite pleased to be awarded The Prairie State Award for her body of work.

Carolyn enjoys giving Author Talks to elementary schools all over the country. Her website gives more details about her books and her background. Students, moms, teachers and librarians are also welcome to post letters about their pets on Carolyn’s blog, Dear Tabby.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

I consider giving up my writing career just about every year. I have long, drawn out fantasies about what my life would be like if I did something else. I strategize about how I’ll gradually slip out of the children’s book world so that no one will notice. I tell myself it will be just like leaving a party without saying goodbye. No big deal. Happens all the time.

One of my fantasies involves a perfume store. I love perfume and have often dreamed of opening a small perfume boutique. I was in one of those “I’m-quitting-writing” moods, and I started to run the numbers on this boutique. I scouted locations and brainstormed a few names.

Now I happen to know that on any given weekday in my town the tiny shops are empty. When the bored store owner greets me with a little too much enthusiasm, I know she probably hasn’t had a customer all day. I wondered what I would do on boring days like that.

I remember looking out my window and saying out loud, “Well, I guess I could always write.”

So yes, I am stuck with this writing thing. And hey, it could be a lot worse. What keeps me going is the writing itself. I don’t care for the marketing part of it or the publishing part.

In fact, when the reviews start pouring in for a new book I feel like crawling inside a small, dark hole with a box of Pop Tarts. What I really enjoy is the writing. No matter what happens with my career, I will always write. And maybe open a perfume store, too….

How do you stay inspired? Describe your dance with the muse.

I mix it up! While most of my published books are picture books, lately I’ve been having a lot of fun working on a novel for adults. I must admit, it’s fun to write about characters who swear. This novel may never get published, and that’s fine. I’m having a blast.

I’ve also been working on illustrating a few books for the very young. I have found that illustrating is even more fun than writing is! Who knew?

Again, I don’t know if I’ll ever publish these books. I think, actually, that that’s what makes them so much more fun to work on. I have no idea what I’m doing. None! I don’t know why that makes these projects more fun than my usual picture books, but it does. Try it!

How have your marketing strategies changed over the years? Could you tell us about one strategy that worked and why you think it was a boon to you?

I don’t really do much marketing at all. I’m not particularly proud of this fact, but I have found over the years that telling other writers this often makes them feel better about themselves.

I have, on occasion, hired publicists to market books that I felt might benefit from an extra push. I hire them because I hate to do it myself, and I wind up not doing anything at all.

Many of my books have gone out into the world without even one small book signing. Many! The weird thing is, I think those books have done just as well as my books that I have promoted.

So. Whatever.

I enjoy doing school visits and see them as my way of “marketing.” I can sell over 400 books at just one school visit. That’s about 395 more books than I usually sell at a book signing. I also get paid to do school visits, so it’s a win-win. And come on, what’s more fun than making kids laugh?

But no, I’ve never promoted my school visits either. Never even had a brochure. I’ve just made it into this incredibly exciting event and have depended entirely on word of mouth. I do between 30 and 50 a year, so I guess that strategy is working.

I always give my school visit presentation 100 percent. I remind myself that while I’ve heard it hundreds of times, these kids are hearing it for the first time and they deserve the best I can give them. I’ve seen too many authors sleep walk through their presentations.

I get it. School visits are hard. Focus on that one kid who can’t even breathe she’s so excited and you’ll get your energy back.

What advice do you have for the debut authors of 2012?

My favorite career quote of all time came from Tom Cruise.

Yes, Tom Cruise!

I read an interview with him once and when the interviewer asked him how he dealt with all the craziness of being famous he said, “I remind myself to keep my head down and do the work.”

Keep your head down and do the work. I am not famous, but I repeat this to myself all the time. Step away from Publishers Lunch, my friends. It will only make you crazy.

Conferences with big name authors are just like high school and can, at times, make you feel as though you are still the nerdy kid with braces with no one to sit with at lunch.

Do them if you must, but seriously, if you keep your head down and do the work you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Cynsational Notes

The Career Builders series
offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published
books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both
the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape
of trade publishing.


6 thoughts on “Career Builder: Carolyn Crimi

  1. Hi Carolyn – it's so fun to see you here at Cynsations! I LOVED this interview! And boy, would I love to see one of your school presentations, too. They sound awesome. 30-50 a year is a lot! But if you're selling upwards of 400 books per school then who needs to do promotion?! 😉

    Congrats on the Prairie award, too!

  2. I met Carolyn years ago when we both worked for a book packager called Ligature in Chicago. I've been excited to see her writing career take off. I didn't know we'd wind up at the same school in Vermont(but not at the same time).

  3. A lovely post. Thanks. I'm glad I came here via Twitter, even though going there takes me away from getting my head down and doing the work!

  4. I love the perfume store story. I've had similar moments!

    I heard Carolyn speak at a WI SCBWI conference years ago, and she was fantastic!

    Thanks for the interview!

  5. So glad you enjoyed it, Kimberley! Carolyn is a school visit rock star.

    LinWash, well, it's some school….!

    Brenda, I hope you'll stop by again–when your writing allows.

    Laura, she *is* fantastic!

  6. Well hello everyone! So glad you enjoyed this. LinWash, Ligature was one crazy time, wasn't it? Wow. And Kimberely, we'll have to get together again at some point. I've loved following your publishing journey! Laura, I'll be going to the WI retreat again this year–hope to see you there! And Brenda, if you are who I think you are, I'll see you on Monday!

    Thanks again, Cyn, for posting this!


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