SOYOUWANNA WRITE A CHILDREN'S BOOK?
You managed to scare the bejeezus out of your 6-year-old niece last week with your tale about the one-toed mutant pigeon that hides in the cereal bowls of little girls who don't obey their uncles and aunts. Suddenly, a light bulb appears over your creative head and you think, "Hey, I should write this stuff down and make a little ka-ching." Easy money, right? Um, no.
Sorry to break it to you, but your potential success as a book writer has nothing to do with how much the short people in your family love you. They think that everything you do is awe-inspiring. Furthermore, writing a children's book is a lot of work that doesn't often provide a whole lot of return on the investment. Especially not the green kind. Many authors work on a single manuscript for years, only to have it rejected by every publishing house they send it to.
But here's the upside. If you do create a great story and it is picked up by a publishing house, you get to go to a bookstore and watch little Billy tug his mom down the aisle and squeal, "C'mon mom, we gotta get that book about the pigeon and the cereal."
We can't tell you how to be a good writer. We're sorry. For that you need a writing course or a genie in a bottle. But what we can do is tell you what the procedure is for getting a children's book published, as well as help you avoid a few common mistakes that fell many a writer.
For firsthand experience, skip the tutorial and check out this how-to video.WATCH THIS HOW-TO VIDEO
Chances are, you have millions of ideas milling around in that little brain of yours, but only a few of them are going to attract a publisher's eye. Publishing is a business, and any business needs to pay close attention to what sells and what doesn't. So you need to make a few decisions before you sit down with your double nonfat latte and turn on your laptop:
- Decide what type of book you want to write and what age group you're going to be writing it for. Currently, publishing companies are looking for easy readers for kids age 6 to 8 who are just learning to read on their own, chapter books (short novels broken into chapters) for ages 7 to 10, spooky stories for ages 8 and up, and nonfiction for all ages. Extra points if you can put a multicultural spin on it. Anything with ethnic characters and/or a glimpse into a different culture is at least going to get a second glance from an editor.
- Toy with the idea of writing a short story for a magazine first, like Highlights for Children or Cricket. It's good practice and you'll probably get some useful feedback. It's also much easier to get published in a magazine, and once you start submitting book manuscripts, editors will pay a lot more attention if you can list magazine credits in your cover letter.
- Go to libraries and bookstores and read. Read the classics you loved when you were a kid, but also pay close attention to books that are being published now - like any of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, which have been on the bestseller lists for months. Also check out Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Try to find stories that are targeted to the same age group and fit the same genre as the one you're working on. Figure out what they have in common, and how you can use that to tailor your work to today's market. The times, they are a changin', and Dick, Jane and Spot just don't cut it for this generation of Pokemon connoisseurs. Caution: this may necessitate leaving your ego chained to the bike rack outside. Even the best writer has something to learn from the work of others (we read that in a fortune cookie once).
- Time to figure out the specifics. Editors look for originality, so steer clear of clichés and stereotypes. This applies to both characters and plot. "Claude the Conscientious Cumulus Cloud" is neither cute nor funny, and the alliteration won't amuse the editorial assistant who gets the first read of your manuscript. The general rule is: if it doesn't talk in real life, don't make it talk in your book. Match dynamic characters with an imaginative plot, and be careful not to moralize. We all know it's okay to be different and that cheaters always get caught. If you want to get a message across, do it through a rich and interesting story that evokes an understanding. Your primary goal is to entertain.
- As painful as it can be, open a window to the corporate mindset for just a moment. Come up with a story that will sell well at any time of the year, isn't redundant, will appeal to a broad audience, and won't become quickly "dated." Although an individual editor may find a soft spot in his heart for Maude the Millennium Monster, the big boys at the publishing house who make the final decisions aren't going to touch your manuscript unless they think they can keep making money well past the millennium mark. Okay, you're done. Close the window.