Whether you’re familiar with the field of writing for children or you’re just venturing into it — congratulations! Perhaps you might find some useful information here to help you on your way. For you newbies, you’ve taken the first step in what I call a roller—coaster journey — one minute you’re up, and one minute you’re down. So, like any good roller—coaster ride, hang on tight and enjoy the ride!
Joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great way to get totally immersed in the field of children’s writing. You can attend meetings – held almost every month — even before you become a member and learn firsthand what the group is all about. Every September there is an annual conference covering breakout sessions geared from beginners to published authors and illustrators. You can gain a wealth of information from the editors, art directors, agents and authors from all over the country who come to Cleveland. You can also sign up for critiques and intensives, which offer a lot of information in a short afternoon session. Additionally, as a member you can get on the Ohio North listserv and share information with members about anything and everything. Go to their website at http://www.scbwiohionorth.org for more information.
If I can recommend one thing for people to do to move their writing forward it’s to join a critique group. Okay, maybe after you join the SCBWI! I don’t know how anyone can make it in what is an extremely difficult field without having people that you rely on for advice, support, and critique comments. Plus, it can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the field, including new opportunities, editors/agents open to submissions, etc., so having others to share that kind of news with you is great. Several of my publishing credits are a result of hearing about them from others. It may take a while to get a group that you are really connected with, but if/when you do, you will realize the benefits are ongoing. I would not have the publishing credits that are on my resume, without my groups.
Many libraries have writers’ groups that are open to the public, if you contact them. I also encourage people to attend writing events and connect with people. It’s a good way to get to know someone a bit and see whether or not there’s a chemistry or connection there. And, Northern Ohio SCBWI offers critique sessions regularly. While it can be daunting to put your work out there, in my opinion, it is absolutely crucial to getting the kind of feedback you will need and want to fine tune your writing BEFORE submitting. (I made that mistake early on myself, before I knew much about it. I’m sure I wasted what might have been some good opportunities simply because I sent some things out that weren’t ready and I am still learning from the comments others make.)
There are many great books about writing out there and many of them are specifically geared toward children’s writers. But don’t discount the others that are geared toward writing in general. You can also find books on just about any subject under the sun from rhyming to query letters to plot and character development, etc. Many are available at local libraries. One in particular is considered invaluable — The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. You can find helpful articles as well as listings of publishers of books and magazines, writers’ contests, etc. The publishers’ listings include information on how to contact them, what genres they publish, whether or not they are open to submissions, and a wealth of information. There is also one — The Writers’ Market — that is geared mainly toward adult writers, but also includes some children’s markets. And, another (The Guide to Literary Agents) that would be helpful if you get to that position where you are looking for an agent.
With the Internet at our fingertips, there is a wealth of information out there for anyone looking for it. You can easily find hundreds, if not thousands, of websites and blogs about writing and about any subject there is. Some are definitely better than others, but again, this is where attending events, reading books and magazines on writing, and talking to others can help you focus on what is helpful for you. There are also a number of online blogs, newsletters, and other informational products that you can sign up for that are sent directly to your e—mail. It’s just a matter of doing your homework (a sometimes challenging, but important step) to find what you are interested in. Two of my favorites are Harold Underdown’s The Purple Crayon and Mary Kole’s KidLit411. And, there is a huge number of individuals who offer online critique and editing services, as well as people you might meet at events, that provide those opportunities as well. I would recommend that you investigate some of them first, though, as there are a number of people who are not exactly legitimate. But websites like Predators & Editors can also help with that research.
The first rule for anyone who wants to write for children is to read. And, not just a handful of books by a favorite author. To know what works and what doesn’t, you simply must read, read, and then read some more. Newbery winner Linda Sue Park said that she read well over 700 books before she started writing. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Well, maybe you can write, but it’s not likely you’ll get published. It’s that simple.
I could probably go on and on about the subject of children’s writing…clearly my passion as well…but suffice it to say that you have decided to follow a dream that can be frustrating and crazy, but immensely rewarding.
Feel free to drop a note if you have any questions or if I can help in any way.
Good luck on your journey!