Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest Ashley Rhodes-Courter author of theinternational best-seller Three Little Words and Three More Words which debuted at #1 on Amazon Bestseller’s List.
Ashley was born in 1985 to a single teen mother, by the age of 3 she was in Florida’s foster care system where she spent almost ten years being shuttled between 14 homes—some quite abusive—before being adopted from a Children’s Home at the age of twelve.
Despite her ordeal, Ashley excelled in school because she believed that, “my education was the one thing nobody could take from me.” Early in her life she felt compelled to advocate for herself and the other children she lived with, particularly in the abusive foster homes.
Her efforts and academic achievements landed her Eckerd College’s Trustee Scholarship where she graduated with honors and ahead of schedule earning a double major in Communications and Theater and a double minor in Political Science and Psychology.
Ashley then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California.
During her undergraduate studies, she was one of 20 college students selected for the USA Today All-USA Academic Team and was named one of GLAMOUR Magazine’s Top Ten College Women.
She was also selected as one of the four Golden BR!CK Award winners for outstanding advocacy for community change by DoSomething!. As part of their campaign, she was featured on 25 million bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.
By the age of 22, Ashley had become a New York Times Bestselling Author.
Norm: Good day Ashley and thanks for participating in our interview.
What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Ashley: Though sometimes
people look at my story and think I am some kind of overnight
success, this is FAR from the case. I started writing and
advocating when I was a young teenager. I have had to put myself out
there in a variety of ways and faced plenty of rejection.
My first book, Three Little Words began as an essay I wrote in high school for a scholarship contest for the New York Times Magazine. After winning first prize, publishers contacted me interested in hearing my full story. There were plenty of unsuccessful contests and entries prior to that win. Additionally, I was dropped from my first publisher before finding a dream partnership with Simon & Schuster. Before my second book, Three More Words was published, I had several book concepts rejected once again.
A key to my success in publishing has been writing for passion and purpose. My books are memoirs about my experiences growing up in foster care, then becoming a foster/adoptive parents. I hoped they would be informative, instructive, and inspiring. When others approach me about writing their own stories, I will ask them about their motivations. Hearing, “I want to be rich and famous” is a big red flag that will set the author up for heartbreak and frustration. Writers who enter into their works with unselfish or cathartic intentions will feel tremendous success and accomplishment, no matter how many copies are sold. I have been shocked, touched, and thankful for the response to my books, story, and work.
Norm: Can you tell us how you found representation for your books? Did you pitch it to an agent or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
Ashley: As I mentioned in the previous response, my first book began as an essay for a scholarship contest. I do have a literary agent I found through my adoptive mother, who is also an author. Most agents have submission guidelines on their websites, and they describe carefully the types of authors and books they represent. Having an agent does help get your work in front of the major publishing houses, and it’s always helpful to have professionals to help you navigate contracts and potential deals.
This being said, the
publishing landscape is vastly different than when my first book came
out in 2008, just after I graduated from college. I spend a
tremendous amount of time on the road as a keynote and motivational
speaker, and get to meet a variety of authors and professionals.
of them have made high six and seven-figure incomes by independently
publishing and hand-selling their products. If I’m being
honest, my books and sales are not AT ALL a primary or reliable
source of income for my family. One fellow speaker disclosed that he
has made more than $1 Million dollars from his various independently
published works—but he could never achieve New York Times
Bestseller status for whatever reason.
When potential authors are considering which publishing route to take, they need to evaluate their circumstances and clearly identify WHY they are writing. If they are hoping to make money, publishing independently will yield much higher returns. However, if your goal is notoriety or other motivations, you can try your luck with a traditional publishing route.
Another aspect to consider
is your MARKETING. Unless you’re a major name, even big
publishers these days do not have the time or resources to send
authors on grand book and media tours. The marketing process
between my first and second books was staggering.
For my first book, the publisher at least had me doing a few signings and appearances. For the second, all I did were some back-to-back radio shows. The rest and since I’ve had to coordinate myself. These days, authors, regardless of how they publish, will largely be responsible for their own marketing, outreach, and social media presence. While having a traditional publisher may still be prestigious and generate a very polished final product, the author will likely be doing the same amount of hustle on the back end—and for less compensation.
Norm: What has been the best part about being published?
Ashley: Being published
and a New York Times Bestselling Author by the age of 23 is a
tremendous honor. Having books and offerings at my lectures and
speaking engagements brings an additional level of gravitas and
professionalism. More importantly, I have been granted a
platform and ability to touch the lives of parents, professionals,
and students all over the world.
My first book is published in several languages and countries. It is also used as part of First Year Experience curriculum in many major Universities. Because my books are non-fiction, readers can relate to, or are empowered by them, on a variety of personal levels. It is beyond humbling and amazing to receive letters and feedback from readers who have been so personally impacted by my work.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Ashley: One of my biggest
challenges of being a writer is TIME. I am now a mother of
three young children and I also work full-time as a keynote speaker
and social worker. The best writers are those who are constantly
consuming other media, books and engaging the world around them. I
find that my time is so limited these days with the demands of my
family and work life.
Few writers have the luxury of making enough money from their books to not have to have any other source of income. Even very successful authors are constantly engaged in necessary activities beyond the page; whether that’s maintaining a blog, social media following, vlogs, or any other way to stay relevant in our rapidly changing society of remarkably short attention spans. I am terrible at maintaining social media, and ironically am a private person in my day-to-day life.
Writing for me was also a
challenge because I was writing about very painful parts of my life
that included severe abuse and neglect. Having to constantly relive
these instances is not always easy. I also struggled with the content
of my second book because it is more about my recent adult life,
rather than my more removed childhood experiences.
It can feel embarrassing at times to know that people have possibly read about very intimate details of my marriage, personal struggles, and family. But I always try to remember that I am not alone in my experiences, and hopefully I can help someone feel better able to handle their personal circumstances.
Norm: What would you like to accomplish as an author that you have not?
Ashley: I would love to continue writing and publishing in some capacity. It is never a guarantee that you’ll be picked up for another work. Just because you were published once, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be published again. Authors, especially these days, must constantly work to prove, and improve their craft. They also have to be savvy about marketing, sales and be willing to do appearances and make themselves available to readers in some capacity.
Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
Ashley: I think writers of any genre owe readers their best work. There are a lot of people publishing independently, and that’s great. However, sometimes these people don’t bother to even edit their work. Writers should be putting forth their best content and utilize editors, copyrighters, or other professionals to ensure the highest quality story. I can’t even count the number of readers, editors, professors, friends, lawyers, and other experts I utilized. I recognized and owned my shortcomings as a writer and sought advice when necessary. Before jumping into a project, I recommend a perspective author dedicate a lot of time and research into their craft.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your two books Three Little Words and Three More Words serve and what matters to you about them?
Ashley: My books are memoirs that first chronicle my nearly ten years in foster care where I had 14 different placements—many of which were horribly abusive—then my experiences as a foster/adoptive parent. Since I was a teen, I have used my story to advocate on behalf of more than 500,000 children who are in the foster care system nationally. Countless more have been victims of abuse, neglect, poverty, or extreme adversity of some kind. For me, writing and journaling was always a wonderful escape. It is my hope that my books inspired others to step forward for a cause or population they care about or help someone overcome their personal struggles.
Norm: Could you briefly tell our readers about the two books.
Ashley: My first book, Three Little Words was published in 2008, just after I graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. It quickly became a New York Times, then international Bestseller. This book takes readers through my childhood, various foster homes, my adoption, and details various abuses and struggles. The story ends on a happy note as I graduate High School and go on to college.
The second book, Three More Words was published in 2015 and details my college experiences, meeting my husband, receiving a Master’s Degree in Social Work, running for Florida State Senate in my 20s, and becoming a foster parent to more than 25 children—one of which was murdered after being sent back to the relatives she had been removed from.
Norm: What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your books? How did you overcome these challenges?
Ashley: One of my most
uncomfortable challenges in writing a memoir is that I am writing
about REAL people and REAL events. These same people may very well
read the book and not all will be happy about the truth. I did
change all names of minors, and other adults to protect their
identities. I used the real names of my adoptive family and the “good
guys” in the stories—from all of which I had permission. Another
personal obstacle of writing non-fiction is the risk of being called
My first book was published while the James Frey scandal (A Million Little Pieces) was still fresh in everyone’s mind. All my life, I had been called a liar for reporting abusive foster parents. It was critically important to me that everything I wrote about was backed up by some kind of first-hand interview, foster care case file notes, police records, legal reports, or some other irrefutable source. I have “legal” manuscripts that are almost as thick as the actual books that provide documentation for every scene and incident I write about so that no one could accuse me of being dishonest. I had to also be mindful to keep my own mental health in check as I was recounting these very dark times of my life.
Norm: What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your books?
Ashley: It is my hope that my books inspire readers of all ages to take ownership of their lives, and also encourage them to take a stand in their own communities.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Ashley: For more information about me, or my books—Three Little Words & Three More Words, please FOLLOW ASHLEY RHODES-COURTER WEBSITE or search for my books in bookstores, or your favorite online retailer.
I now live in the Tampa Bay area with my husband and three children. I started a non-profit organization that helps provide mental health, education, and wellness services to children and families in need, The Foundation for Sustainable Families
Norm: What is next for Ashley Rhodes-Courter?
Ashley: Being the mother of young children, I am swimming in a sea of children’s books daily. I especially love stories that teach children to be inclusive, understanding, and those that show kids how to embrace diversity. I have been floating around a few book ideas, but in the meantime, I stay busy working with my non-profit, and serving at my mental health agency, Sustainable Family Services, www.SustainableFamilyServices.com. I also travel nationally and internationally speaking at conferences, seminars, workshops, or fundraising events for non-profits.
Norm; As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?
Ashley: The most common question I get is, “What are the three little words?” I jokingly reply: “Read. The. Book.” I have been told the books are quick reads, and I hope they help raise questions and awareness. I am now 32 years old, and it can be challenging for people to remember that the things I’m writing about, aren’t ancient history. These are issues impacting our neighborhoods and our families, NOW. I was also excited to hear that my first book is being made into a major motion picture! I am not privy to a lot of info about the project, so I’m staying eagerly tuned in, like everyone else!
Thanks for this
opportunity! Please reach out if there is any additional
information you need.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors