November 27, 2010

What I've learn't about Writing for Children

Why write for children?

Well to start with, you must like reading children's books. You have to be prepared to read the books that you want to write so that you have a better understanding of why, what, when, and how you intend to write. If you go to any library you will see the children's section stocked with an array of fabulous books from little, big, short, tall, fat, slim, hard, soft, cute, strange, funny, interesting, and educational. With books galore, bright colours, comfy chairs, and cozy bean bags, it's no wonder that children don't want to leave without their heavy library bag full of books.

The Writing Process

All books begin with an idea. An idea that grows with characters and a plot. For some writers it may be the plot and then the characters, and some idea's like my own, have come from a title, dialogue, place, or a sentence. It really is a matter of getting the words out of your creative mind and onto the page. You may like to start by brain storming idea's, writing character traits, or jump straight in and write. Each writer is different and it won't take long to work out what works for you and what doesn't.

I always have in the back of my mind what the concept and theme is because this affects my writing objective. I prefer to work in silence so I read the words aloud, and listen to the story as children will hear it. This is where I pick up any clunky bits and any words that can be cut. It also helps me spot any problems with the plot, characters, or dialogue. Keep in mind the age group of the children that your picture book is targeted at. Picture books can range in age from babies to ten year olds, which is why the content and word count is important to get right. Once you have written the first draft, it is best to leave it for a few days or weeks and read it again with fresh eyes.

Sharing your Writing

There's nothing like showing your writing to a friend or family member and hearing, 'It's good.'
That's not what you want to hear, but really, what do you expect them to say? They don't want to hurt your feelings or rave about your work and give you false hope. I learnt the hard way. I shared with teachers, friends, family and even though some gave me rave reviews, I would feel flat because they couldn't really help me.

It wasn't until I read at the bottom of one of my rejection letters, a manuscript assessment service run by Australia's most prolific author named Sally Odgers, that things really changed for me. I sent Sally an email of my manuscripts and for me, it was the single best thing that I did. You have to step away from your work because you're too close to it. Sally points out the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and offers her valuable advice. It was then that I decided that, 'Yes, I'm really going to do this,' and the quality of my writing improved dramatically.

Getting Published

This is almost like the T.V ad, 'It won't happen over night but it will happen.' That's if your prepared to redraft again and again, and your determined enough to accept the rejections as part of your journey and try again. All publishers are different and cater to a different reading audience. Imagine if you bought a red dress for two hundred people that you know, male and female. How many people would the red dress suit? If your books doesn't suit a publisher, then send it to another publisher that publishes your type of book. Just like clothes, books seem to go in and out of fashion. What one may hate another may love.

I'm not published yet but every little thing that I do towards my writing will also increase my chances of one day getting published. I have started my blog, got my web site up and running, and I'm networking with my writing community, and the writing friends that I've made. To increase your online presence is one of the best things that you can do. Join web sites such as Jacket flap, Networking on Face book, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Set up a blog and show the writing community that you're serious about becoming a writer.

Submitting your Manuscript

First of all visit your book shop and look at the types of books similar to yours and who is publishing them. Look them up online and follow their submission requests. Usually for picture books it's a word count of 100 to 800 words depending on the publisher, 12 font, double spaced, single printed pages. Structure the story over double page spreads starting from pages 4/5 (the first for Title page, Dedications, Copyright) all the way up to page 32 being a single page.

There are websites to help you with writing a picture book format. Don't send your manuscript in this format, just use it as a guideline when writing. Your cover letter is the editors first glimpse of your writing skills. It's a careful balance of selling yourself and your idea without being over the top. You have to include the target age, word count, title, and theme or concept. Include any writing that you have had published or any writing groups you've joined. A title page with your title, name, phone numbers, word count, and target audience is also advised. Make sure you include a header with your name, phone number and title on every page. Many publishers request no multiple submissions, which means only send it to one publisher at a time. This is up to the individual writer. Some writers add in their cover letter that they are sending multiple submissions and some are happy to send solely to one publisher at a time.

Reach for the sky

Now that you've written your manuscript and sent it to a publisher. It's time to acknowledge how far you have come and start writing something new. Keep up your writing and be open to new story ideas. I keep a book beside my bed, in the car, and in my handbag. You never know when inspiration might strike. Don't let people pull you down and doubt you as an author. Who said you can't reach for the sky?
Up in the sky you'll find many stars, and we all deserve to shine.


Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Renee,
Congratulations on this informational and inspirational Blog for Children's writers. I wish you every success. Cheers, Karen :))

Unknown said...

Thanks Karen for your ongoing support. :-)

Sally Rippin said...

Lovely blog, Renee. Good luck with your work!

Unknown said...

Thanks Sally. What an honor to have you visit my blog. We know your Billie B Brown series very well.