“Surround yourself with people who know more than you and soak up wisdom like a sponge.”
So you’re an aspiring children’s author? Doing all the right stuff? Joining a critique group? Member of SCBWI (if not Google it)? Reading blogs? Dissecting books? Taking classes? Going to conventions? Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging? Listening and talking to kids, kids, kids? And, argh… You really want to scream because it feels like the gate remains closed no matter what the heck you do?
No one really gets you? Sigh… Sure they do.
Don’t worry. Everyone’s felt like you. Now, Open The Gate-Come On In
Come on, give it a push. Step inside…
Because I get you. Fellow authors certainly get you. Agents, editors, publishers, all understand (honestly). They’re not out to thwart us/you. They want to help!
I Swear! (as in promise)
The Children’s writing industry is amazingly friendly and accessible. And I’ll prove it (cuz I like to prove stuff).
Just to show how accessible the Gate Keepers and fellow writers really are, I contacted some. Seriously, I put on my lucky black heels and queried folks “In The Know.” Just little old me, asking for quick bites of advice for hopeful writers. And you know what? They were delighted to push back the handle and Open The Gate!
This is what they had to say…
On writing, allow story to flow organically from character. Unless you’re writing a thriller or mystery, plot can overpower character, to the detriment of your story.
On career, remember your first book won’t be your only book. Publicize the heck out of that first one, but jump right into the next one. You’re here because you love to write, not to get famous. Fame follows writing that resonates.
Ginger L Clarke
Be easy to work with. Anything that helps make editors’ harried lives easier is a point in your favor. I always try to be professional, friendly, and responsive, even when what I really feel is defensive, confused, and annoyed. Most editors jump around to different publishers frequently, so it pays to build good relationships that will endure. I have worked with most of my editors at multiple houses and count some of them as friends, not just colleagues, for which I am grateful.
The Greenhouse Literary Agency Cares about both the macro and the micro of your story. The macro being the overall plot and structure. The micro being the line on the page. It all matters-every phrase, every word choice, every comma. When you’re writing a great book, you need big ideas and a big vision-but also precision and finesse and a true feeling for language.
Don’t beat yourself up. Life gets in the way, stuff happens. You’ll get back to your WIP as soon as you can. But don’t give up either!
The arts seem to be the one field in which people expect instant success. When someone gets a job as a teller in a bank, no one expects them to be CEO within the year. No one pesters the hobby gardener about when they’ll be going into large-scale organic farming. But mention you’re writing a kids’ book, and I guarantee the words “J.K. Rowling” will greet you a millisecond later. As a new writer, you’ll inevitably you’ll feel extra pressure from friends and family who ask about your progress. While they might merely be expressing interest in something you care about, instead you’ll hear undertones of impatience and skepticism. Try not to. After a year or two, they’ll ask only occasionally. After five years, they’ll shut up altogether and look away awkwardly at any mention of books, let alone yours. You’ll hear a lot about the weather and, possibly, baseball scores. A year or two more, and they’ll have forgotten you ever wanted to write a book in the first place. In short, be in this for the long haul. Be in it because you like making sense of life by writing stories. The rest is inconsequential!
Helen ‘Billy Elm’ Williams
When you’re on the road to publication, expect your editor to ask you to do a considerable amount of rewriting when you get your first set of proofs. I was taken by surprise. I thought it was a case of reading through to make sure there were no errors and tweaking here and there. Little did I know, the book could be completely rewritten at this stage. I didn’t quite have to do that, but there was more rewriting to be done than I expected, within a tight time frame.
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Give yourself permission not to know what you’re doing. To explore, stumble, and challenge yourself again and again. There is no such thing as wasted writing. It all serves the journey as a whole.
Persistence is more important than talent any day. We’ve all got some talent stuck to us somewhere, like cat fur, but even the most talented writer won’t succeed if she gives up in the face of rejection.
It’s important to treat yourself as a professional when you’re writing, because until you’ve published your first book (which you shouldn’t be in a rush to do…that’s my first piece of advice always) you can feel like you’re a lone satellite orbiting a planet that you’ll never land on, which is wasted emotional energy. In addition to joining a critique group, one way to both feel and become more professional is to search out informative blogs — not just blogs about the process of writing, but also respected blogger reviews of books in your writing genre. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the business: to understand which books are being talked about and why, and to keep abreast of the nebulous buzz that the industry is generating. I keep my Google reader loaded with all of these sites (there are a lot of them, and you’ll get a feel for which ones you like and respect), and I sift through the updates quickly every morning before I start writing. It’s like reading a personalized “newspaper” devoted to your neck of the industry.
Write no matter what. Writers write, even when we don’t feel like it. Those kids that interrupt you every thirty seconds are a blessing. Think of it like running pulling a weighted sled. This is author training. If you can learn to maintain your focus despite all of life’s distractions, think of how amazingly productive you will be when one day you do have that private office and can afford a meth-addicted howler monkey with a sidearm to guard your writing time. Heck, you will probably be twice as productive at least. This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices. Successful people and especially successful writers must learn to have a healthy relationship with failure. If we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting. Failure is a tombstone or a stepping stone. Cool thing is that we get to choose which. It isn’t enough to persevere. We must always be reevaluating what we’re doing. We must be learning, growing and improving. I see writers who keep shopping the same novel year after year, rejection after rejection. Move on! Just doing the same thing over and over forever isn’t heroic, it’s moronic. Persistence looks a lot like stupid.
Children’s book editor, consultant. Author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. Creator of The Purple Crayon website—a brilliant place for writers, illustrators and publishers.
Write the story you want to write, and keep working on it until it’s done. THEN worry about the market.
Tamara Ireland Stone
Agents and Editors often say they’re looking for stories at the intersection of literary and commercial. There are plenty of books that can help you with literary technique, but if you want to pop up the commercial elements of your story, take a quick lesson on screenwriting with Save the Cat Goes to the Movies. It will change the way you think about your manuscript (and forever change the way you watch films). We write for teens. We’re competing with a lot of other fast-paced entertainment options. If we want to write books that kids can’t put down, we’ve got to make our characters come to life and keep the action moving. Screenwriting techniques can help you create the tight plots and well-paced stories publishers are looking for.
Support other writers, and read till your eyes bleed. But don’t just read the genre you write — read everything that even remotely interests you, from non-fiction to graphic novels to YA to historical fiction and everything in between, because if you only read one genre, you may get stuck inside parameters that are somewhat arbitrary, rather than see the unique possibilities only you can bring to the table. Don’t worry about what you “should” be writing. Write the book you’d most want to read. That way, your passion for the project will shine through, regardless of topic or trend. If you write from your heart, then no matter what happens with your book, the weeks and months spent writing it will be time you truly enjoyed.
And there you have it! Thirteen out of the fifteen industry folks I queried replied with wonderful wisdom and heart! Humungous Thanks to everyone for opening the gate and letting us in. The writer’s community is beyond compare! Oh, click the pics for website links.