Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books have been international best sellers, with millions sold. And thousands flock every year to historical sites where her family lived. For many, Laura’s books, more than those of any other author, offer the best insider’s look at life on the frontier. So it was surprising to learn about the ups and downs of what it took to get her stories into print.

I read about the process in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill.

When Laura first drafted the Pioneer Girl (PG) book, she was hoping more for prestige than money. The manuscript is considered the basis of the Little House books. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, submitted the PG manuscript  on her mother’s behalf to her own agent. But he decided not to represent Laura.

In 1930, Rose revised the text, cutting away sections she deemed too childish for an adult book. One such section that got sliced was Pa’s story about failing to get the cows home before dark. Rose also spiced it up with sensational bits, like something about a family (not the Ingalls) accused of mass murder, to make the book “more marketable.”

Although Rose started out as a journalist, as a biographer, she was known for mixing fiction with nonfiction. Henry Ford repudiated her biography of him. And Charlie Chaplin threatened a lawsuit against her publisher, which ultimately did not distribute a book she wrote.

Early on, Rose switched the point of view in Pioneer Girl to a fictionalized third person perspective and decided the book would be more marketable as a “juvenile,” or children’s book.  She sent it again to her agent. And in some ways, she acted as her mother’s agent, pitching the manuscript to Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping as a serial, while still intending to sell rights to a book publisher.

Marion Fiery, who worked in the children’s book department at Alfred A. Knopf, expressed interest in the book. She thought it could be for kids, ages 8 to 10. But she wanted more details about the everyday life of pioneers, maybe another 15,000 words. Laura got to work, adding more meat to the manuscript.

Rose fired her agent in 1931. Her new agent wasn’t interested in PG either, though, complaining that it didn’t contain enough high points or a crescendo. Meanwhile, Saturday Evening Post and Country Home were not interested in serializing the book.

In 1931, Laura was on the verge of signing a 3-book deal with Knopf when the publisher decided to close its children’s book division.

Finally, Harper & Brothers decided to buy the manuscript. In April 1932, the first book of the series was published as Little House in the Big Woods. It was an improvement on some of the names considered earlier: Trundle-bed Tales, Long Ago Yesterday, and Little House in the Woods.

Persistence, it seems, paid off.