If you’re like me, you spend hours sharing books with your kids. When the creative juices flow, we invent bedtime stories and sometimes even wonder if our tales might be appreciated by more than just our own families.
If you’ve considered writing for children or teens, it’s important to explore the resources that will help you improve your writing along with your chance of getting published. When I made it my goal to write a picture book, I knew little about the art of writing for children. My plan was to share humor and gentle life lessons that would inspire kids to gush, “The world is amazing!”
Refine your ideas
At home, I observed my daughters and then plotted stories for young children. I rushed detailed manuscripts to the best publishers in New York. But when my stories didn’t sell, my family tactfully suggested I invest in some “professional development.” Since then, I’ve joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, taken a children’s writing class, and received critiques from professional editors, steps that have moved me closer to my goal.
Stephen Mooser, president of Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), advises aspiring writers to do their homework. “Sometimes people just dash off a story their child likes and they think ‘that’s that’,” he says. “You have to work really hard, read many children’s books, and take a professional approach to the field.”
New authors are routinely being discovered, even in today’s tough economy. “Publishers are always looking for new talent and stories that they can be proud to publish,” Mooser says. “The important thing is to write something special, unique, and that jumps off the page.”
But doing that requires study, says Genetta Adair, regional advisor of SCBWI-Midsouth Region, “Read many books in the same genre you write. Analyze how the author weaves the story together.
“Start with an idea and begin to write, but don’t submit your work until you’ve researched the business of writing kids’ books,” she adds. Every writer dreams of selling a book, but print magazines and online e-zines require fiction and non-fiction stories for issues throughout the year. Entering a story contest is another way to draw attention to your work. (Contest listings are included in the 2015 Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market).
Consider these pointers
I’ve learned quite a bit in my pursuit of the next Newbery Medal. Here are some tips that might help you as well.
When you sit down to write, step out of your adult POV (point of view) In my early stories, adult characters solved problems for kids, and grandfathers preached moral lessons. My classic beginner’s mistake would turn off young readers. Kids want to read about kids who take charge in their worlds.
Keep it real. Adults tend to romanticize childhood, but the world can seem intimidating and scary to young children. Connect with the struggles, failures, and conflicts of your own upbringing.
Give your characters something to fight for. A conflict or problem is the tension that powers a story. Author Paula Danziger used this formula: Create a character you love, think of what she wants most in the world, decide what’s keeping her from getting it, and force her to make tough choices. That’s a starting point for launching a great story.
Map it out. A picture book starts in a familiar setting, moves away as a character experiences growth or acquires physical or emotional skills, and returns to a familiar setting. It’s a Home-Away-Home trajectory. Middle-grade novels follow the same trajectory, but Away represents a psychological differentiation or individuation within family groups. Young adult novels have a Home-Away trajectory as characters gain independence or control in their lives
Write true dialogue. Crafting authentic, straight-from-a-kid’s-mouth dialogue can be a challenge. Listen to real kids and show your characters’ personalities through dialogue.
Approach rhyme with caution. Most of us don’t impress editors with our efforts to rhyme. Write in rhyme only if you understand rhythm and meter.
Find a new angle for common topics. If you submit stories on popular topics, be sure that your story has a new twist. Editors are flooded with picture book submissions about monsters in a closet; the fun of cleaning a room; first day of school; tooth fairy adventures; and Christmas and Halloween tales.
Meet the demand for non-fiction. Jennifer Emmett, an editor at National Geographic for Kids, recommends checking school curriculum to find topics covered in classrooms. If you’re looking for a biography subject, check curriculum, anniversaries and newsworthy upcoming events for tie-ins.