Writing for children is a surprisingly competitive business. Whilst it is tempting to just jump in with both feet (and a great idea) I would suggest taking a step back - just to start with - and listening to what the experts have to say. This document is a summary of tips from three top children's editors.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike before you pick up a pen or turn on the computer. If you want to write for children write a little bit every day, even if it is only a few sentences.
The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a good starting point and is an absolute ‘must’ for new children’s writers. Remember it is updated annually in August, so do make sure that you get the latest edition. Spend time in your local bookshop as well, looking at the most recently published children’s books, and also look online at publishers’ websites to see who is doing what, when and how.
Don’t write for children unless you genuinely like them. And although I wouldn’t suggest relying too heavily on children’s opinions of your work (children would enjoy a washing machine manual if it was read to them in a lively and interesting way) I would suggest making sure that you have contact with children… particularly the age group for which you are writing.
Don’t make the mistake of writing something and then sending it out to all and sundry. Very often an idea will suit several different publishers but – and this is important – it isn’t going to be suitable for every publisher so be selective. And, remember, if you work your way through every publisher and agent out there you leave yourself nowhere to go with a revised manuscript.
The days of the 40,000 word cut-off for children’s books are long since gone. Indeed anything much under 30,000 words for older children could be deemed to be rather lightweight. However, as a new writer, still be wary of writing books much over 60,000 words. Big books dictate big cover prices and it can be hard to persuade your average ten year-old to spend a lot of money on a book by an author they’ve never heard of.
Children’s publishing remains largely white and middle class. Publishers are failing to reach out to other groups so bear this in mind when coming up with ideas. What you enjoyed as a child – or what your children enjoyed – isn’t necessarily going to cut it in the current market.
If someone offers you advice on your work take it on the chin and don’t complain! Chances are they will know more than you do even if you don’t agree with them. If you truly think your work is beyond criticism then get out there and find a publisher. If you fail it may just be that there is room for some improvement after all. Even if you succeed chances are that a good editor will make considerable changes to your work before they agree to publish it.
Do make sure that any manuscript you send out looks professional. It should be typed, it should be unbound and it should be accompanied by a brief covering letter (dated and signed). Do not send out enquiry letters with no sample of your work, and do not send an outline/synopsis without anything else. Editors can’t make any sort of judgement without reading a sample of your actual writing.
Children’s publishing is an incredibly competitive field and, except for the lucky few, not well paid. Rejection of your work is to be expected and is not a personal slight. Remember, as well, that editors will often be polite, respectful and kind so it is important to recognise that ‘no’ means just that. Unless an editor has specifically asked to see further work, or suggested that they might be interested in a revised manuscript, they are saying ‘no’, no matter how kindly they may say it. Editors are trained to be constructive and writers shouldn’t misinterpret that.
Once you’ve had three or four rejections it’s probably time to think about where you are going wrong. You can do this on your own or, better still, seek help from a professional who knows the children’s book market. This is where organisations such as The Writers’ Advice Centre can come into play as publishers and agents rarely have the time to give individual advice. We will be able to analyse your work and give you a fair and objective opinion as to why it has been turned down and what you can do to put things right.
You can arrange a telephone appointment to talk with Louise here.