I walked into the children’s writing class on the first day of the semester feeling very smug. I had made the brilliant decision to take this class because the rest of my classes were going to be the most intense I’d yet taken in my college career and I needed something easy peasy to round out my schedule. I had never wanted to be a children’s writer. I wanted to be a real writer–you know, someone who had important new ideas and could pen them in such an inspiring way as to effect world change, not someone who spent her days trying to create rhyming pairs.
Children’s writer, and my professor for the class, Lisa Jahn-Clough set me straight. She taught me that children’s writing can be the most challenging and most rewarding type of writing. She helped me discover a passion I never knew I had. I owe her much, but I’ve not yet found a way to repay her. In the meantime, I am going to bestow upon you some of her wisdom. Following are five basics of children’s writing and publishing you absolutely must have down if you want to contribute to this art.
- Know the market. When was the last time you visited the children’s section of a library or bookstore? What are the trends in the market today? Have you actually had a conversation with a child in the last six months? Who are the top publishers in your genre of interest, and who are their audiences? Inform yourself. Find out as much as you can about the market and use that knowledge to gain an edge in both writing and publishing.
- Determine your purpose and goals for writing. There are several different types of children’s books–fiction, nonfiction, picture books, chapter books, YA novels, etc.–and several different purposes. What kind of writing do you want to do? What do you want your audience to gain from your writing? Visualize the end product and set your goals.
- Follow the publisher’s or agent’s submission instructions to a tee. There are few things that irk me more as an editor than seeing a proposal that doesn’t follow our very clear submission guidelines. If you can’t take the time to carefully craft your proposal to suit my requirements, then I can’t take the time to read it.
- Prepare to accept and use rejection. Many people have the same misconceptions of children’s writing as I did and therefore think children’s writing is a quick and easy path to fame and fortune–meaning publishers and agents are bombarded with proposals. It isn’t possible to publish all proposed books. You’re likely to get a rejection letter or two. How you deal with the rejection will determine your future success. Some rejection letters provide feedback. Cherish these and carefully consider their words of advice. Often, rejection comes as a form letter. Use this too. Use any form of rejection as a motivation to take your work through another round of editing.
- Edit. Rather, hire an editor. No writer can edit his or her own work. The writer is simply too close and too emotionally involved with the material. Preferably, you will hire someone with experience in editing children’s writing. The children’s market is so tight that you cannot risk sending in a sample of your writing without its being at its very best.