For every children’s writer, there are hundreds of wannabees. So how can you take the next step to actually become a children’s writer? Hopefully some of these tips will offer you the inspiration you need to do just that.
1. Discover Your True Passion – You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support. – Sabrina Bryan
In my case, I always wanted to write for children. I had taken a few writing classes and written a few children’s stories, but I never did anything more until I saw an ad for The Institute of Children’s Literature located in West Redding, Connecticut. I had seen the ad many times before, but this time I ripped it out of the magazine, filled out the application and mailed it in. Perhaps I had acted impulsively because my biological clock was ticking or maybe I felt a touch more motivated that day… or it could have been the six college credits I would earn from this class that were needed to renew my teaching license. Who knows?
But matching me with a professional 1:1 children’s author as my instructor and completing the two-year course “Writing for Children and Teenagers” gave me the jumpstart I needed to write for children.
What is it about writing for children that excites you?
Maybe you have a genuine interest…
A unique expertise in a specific genre…
Fond memories of reading as a child…
Or you can visualize children’s reactions to this type of literature?
Whatever it is, find it and use this for motivation to get going. NO more wannabees; its’ time to be a writer!
2. Read Children’s Books – I read a whole lot as a child, and, of course, I still read children’s books. – Rebecca Stead
Visit a library or bookstore and discover what is so special about children’s books. Then read, read, read! You will learn a ton from reading all sorts of books from board books written for infants and toddlers to picture books, easy-to-read early readers, books in verse, chapter books, middle grade books, and young novels.
Study what makes these books so intriguing. Find the best authors and learn from them. Look over the Newbery and Caldecott Award winner books and decipher what makes these books stand out among the rest. Look at other award winning books and authors.
Think about your childhood. What made you laugh and cry as a child? What made your heart beat faster with surprise or anticipation? Writing that makes the reader feel things is great so replicate this in your own writing.
3. Learn About Writing for Children – Every child’s taste is different. Don’t worry if they’re not reading ‘War and Peace’ at age 12. First, build a good foundation and a positive attitude about reading by letting them pick the stories they enjoy. Make friends with a bookseller or librarian. They are a wealth of information on finding books that kids enjoy. – Rick Riordan
Join a writing organization, peruse websites and articles*, and make a few purchases so you can re-read information that teaches you writing skills. Belonging to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWI), the international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children’s literature. This membership may just boost your odds when it’s time to query a publisher or find an agent. Attend a writing workshop or conference to sharpen your skills and make connections to other writers. This is a guaranteed way to help build your future writing success.
Find out what children are reading today; what type of books do they enjoy? What are some classics that children love to read for a reference point. Then map out your own specialty.
- Bookweb: www.bookweb.org
- Bookwire: www.bookwire.com
- Children’s Literature Web Guide: www.ucalgary.ca/~dkbrown/index.html
- Children’s Writing website: www.write4kids.com
- Librarian Today: www.todayslibrarian.com
- Literary Marketplace: www.literarymarketplace.com
- Publishers Weekly: www.publishersweekly.com
- School Library Journal: www.slj.com
4. Research Publishers and Their Needs – Once I engage in something, I really engage in it, and I love the process of reading and researching… – Michael Hirst
There are many resources that list detailed information about how to submit the types of manuscripts the publishers want/need. You can find these at a library or in bookstores and at Amazon.com. Books in Print (available in database through various libraries or in book form) is a good source. The Children’s Book Council publishes an updated annotated list of children’s book publishers; Writer’s Market, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and Literary Marketplace are all excellent avenues to explore.
5. Follow Submission Guidelines – I really like writing for specific projects. It’s a whole different way of writing when you have certain guidelines and a theme you’re writing to. It’s very inspiring. – Robert Coppola Schwartzman
When submitting manuscripts, follow the individual publishing guidelines religiously. Your text should be error-free and double-spaced; add page numbers. Collate the manuscript with paper clips and/or rubber bands (not staples) and make sure the manuscript is formatted properly. Include a powerful query letter about the book and you as author, and add the page length, target audience, and if appropriate – your writing experience.
6. Be Patient… It Takes Time! – Sometimes things aren’t clear right away. That’s where you need to be patient and persevere and see where things lead. – Mary Pierce
Just as writing a manuscript takes undoubtedly more time than you expected, the process of a publisher getting back to you takes [more] time, too. In fact, it may take several months up to a year to receive any feedback, whether a rejection letter or other correspondence to express a possible interest in getting your text from its draft form to print. So persevere and keep working towards your goal. Use positive self talk and in the mean time, continue to send in additional submissions and expand your written work. DON’T GIVE UP!
7. Start a Writers’ Group or Join One – I believe strongly in writing groups such as Romance Writers Of America that offer support, information and networking. – Nora Roberts
Many writers welcome the support, encouragement and feedback of fellow writers. I promise you that you will gain more confidence, and in turn, help other writers strengthen theirs as well. The group members will provide additional fuel to your motivation and your skills. Look at it this way, there is everything to gain and little to lose. Think about joining a writer’s group, like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children’s literature mentioned earlier. (Check it out here: SCBWI – United States or SCBWI – United Kingdom.)
8. Quality Writing – I want to see children curled up with books, finding an awareness of themselves as they discover other people’s thoughts. I want them to make the connection that books are people’s stories, that writing is talking on paper, and I want them to write their own stories. I’d like my books to provide that connection for them. – Patricia Reilly Giff
There are at least two very important assets to any great book: the quality of the writing and the quality of the story. What can you do to pull the reader in? Start your story strong so the reader remains enthralled until the end of the story. Unleash your characters to show what they think and feel; don’t just tell the reader about them. Make them come alive! Be creative and unique. As you write, don’t just think about the words telling the story, but imagine the illustrations that will share in telling the story. Always ask yourself, what can you better to make the writing and story better? THEN DO IT!
9. Polish that Story – The Value of Repeated Edits – I like to edit my sentences as I write them. I rearrange a sentence many times before moving on to the next one. For me, that editing process feels like a form of play, like a puzzle that needs solving, and it’s one of the most satisfying parts of writing. – Karen Thompson Walker
Get your first draft down. You can do some edits along the way. Then let some time pass and go back to the draft. Re-read the manuscript several times, and each time continue to edit. Polish your writing over and over again. When you think you have it, re-read the manuscript again a few times and finalize your edits before it is ready to submit.
10. Write, Write and Write Some More! – There is the myth that writing books for children is easier than writing books for grownups, whereas we know that truly great books for children are works of genius, whether it’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or the ‘Gruffalo’ or ‘Northern Lights.’ When it’s a great book, it’s a great book, whether it’s for children or not. – Michael Morpurgo
It has been known that every writer has a special, unique voice, and it can take some trial and error to discover that and develop it. By incorporating some of these tips into your journey as a “wannabee” to an actual children’s writer, you will undoubtedly discover your own special uniqueness. You will then have arrived in the world of children’s authors.
Concluding Remarks – When a dream is fulfilled, it is always a glorious feeling. – Lailah G. Akita
I’m excited over the possibilities of children’s writing for you. Here’s hoping that these practical tips will provide a push in the right direction and you can be excited over the possibilities of children’s writing for yourself, too! I wish you a wonderful, fulfilling journey.