How do you become a children’s book author? You love it. You work at it. You write every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. In short, you build your skills.
To help get your creative juices flowing…
Unfold Your Brain is a book for grown-ups. It is a workbook/think book about how to deepen creativity. Early chapters are suitable for those just beginning to explore their artistic side; later chapters delve into the arts/publishing business and give hints about marketing, public speaking, and revitalizing creativity mid-career. The full name of the book is Unfold Your Brain: Deepen your creativity, expand into new arts, and prosper as a writer, musician, or visual artist. It is currently being reprinted. If you would like to order one, email me to let me know your interest and I will inform you when it is ready. asayre at me.com
STEPS TO BECOMING A CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR
Read children’s books
Ask your librarian about award lists and read those. Browse shelves. Buy books at the bookstore. Gulp in large doses of the poetry, humor, and stories in the children’s book field. You’ll enjoy the reading and it may open your eyes to new possibilities.
Know the market
Read the latest copy of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrator’s Market. Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market is a book found in the reference section of most bookstores and public libraries. This book, published each year, lists publishers, editors, and what they are seeking. It gives advice on how to submit manuscripts.
Also read Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown, Lynne Rominger, et al. I’ve heard this is a great book that lets out lots of the “secrets” that have taken most of us published writers years to learn.
You can also join SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They have a website: www.scbwi.org. You can join as an associate member even before you are published. They have lots of good publications plus a newsletter with market updates.
Attend Writing Conferences
Make friends. Get your manuscript critiqued. SCBWI has state conferences and workshops where you can learn lots about how to write and illustrate children’s books. Editors from major publishers also come to these workshops and conferences. Sometimes you can sign up or pay an extra fee to have an editor or published author take a look at your manuscript. If you join the national organization, you will automatically be a member in the state organization and get their information. Conferences
Join or form a writer’s group
Contact your state SCBWI advisor about groups in your area. If there isn’t one, form a group!
Now that you know the market, ignore it
Knowing how and where to submit your manuscripts is important. Keeping up with trends is helpful. But when it comes right down to it, you need to write what is important to you. Ignore the impulse to chase an idea just because someone says it’s “in fashion” or “editors want it.” Usually, by the time you hear that, it’s too late to produce the book anyway. Go home, hide out, and do your writing.
Attend the Highlights Conference at Chautauqua
This conference is pricey, but well worth it, especially if you’ve been working on your writing for a while. It’s great to get together with people who love doing what you love doing. You can learn a lot in the workshops. You’ll feel pampered and overjoyed that you are doing what you are doing. You’ll make connections with established writers and editors. This conference changed my life. I came home from it so excited that the next day I began writing my first published picture book, If You Should Hear a Honey Guide. Their website: Highlights Conference
Earn your Masters Degree in Writing for Children at Vermont College
This two-year, low residency program is THE place to learn the craft of writing for children and young adults. I entered and graduated from this program after I was already a well-established children’s book author. But I found this program to be a blessing, giving me new avenues, inspirations, and connections to the field of children’s literature in general. It will teach you to dig deep in your own writing. It will help you critique others’ work more effectively. You only have to be on campus for 11 days per semester. The rest of the work is done through the mail. Believe me, there’s plenty of serious work here and the advisors are fantastic. I worked with Phyllis Root, Louise Hawes, Norma Fox Mazer, and Carolyn Coman. Many editors are now looking for graduates of this program to publish because the work done by graduates of this program tends to be much higher quality than general submissions. Website: Vermont College
Hone Your Craft
Take courses, hire a writing coach, or pay a critiquer to give you feedback. Learn how to put this feedback to use! For a list of online courses and critiquers, see Online Courses and Critiquers
Make your own personal rejection letter collection
Every author should have this collection. It keeps us humble. Mine has several hundred letters, to date. Every time you get a rejection, it’s proof that you’re taking risks and submitting your work. That’s much better than keeping your work in the drawer.
Keep any rejection letter written personally by an editor
They took the time to care about your work and respond. Learn from what they say and keep these letters on file so you can use them to build a picture of the flaws in your work, and the kinds of things that editor likes/dislikes. Form rejection letters are good for wallpapering bathrooms, putting on the bottom of bird cages, making into paper airplanes, cutting up into paper dolls…
Get an agent, if you like
An agent is not necessary, but can be helpful. (I do not have an agent although I keep on thinking I will get one.) For information on agents, talk with other folks in SCBWI and write to SCBWI for their list of agents.
If you choose not to have an agent, consider getting a literary lawyer to look over your contracts. You don’t have to have one, but it’s helpful. If you don’t get a lawyer, purchase the book Negotiating a Book Contract: a Guide for Authors, Agents, and Lawyers by Mark L. Levine. Also, if you join the Writer’s Union you can get your contracts reviewed by them.
Be tenacious, Be persistent
Outlast and outlive your critics. Dig deep and do the best writing you can. Many people talk about how they’d like to write a children’s book. But very few of them actually sit down and try. Go for it. Make your dream a reality. If you are doing the writing, you are a bold and courageous being, well deserving of respect and extra scoops of ice cream. Be proud of yourself.
Special Advice for Younger Authors (Under 18 years old)
If you are a young person, check your bookstore or public library for Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. In the back of that book is a special section listing places where kids can submit their manuscripts to get published. Some publishers have contests where the winner gets their book published! For contests and publishers for your writing, check the Children’s Literature Sites in my links section.
Never give up!