Q: I’d like to quit my job and support myself by writing children’s books. What do you think?
A: There is one word you need to always keep in mind if you want to be published. That word is patience. The publishing world moves very, very slowly. You will starve to death if you try to depend on it to support you financially. I always tell aspiring authors- write because you love it and you have to, not to supplement your income, or to make a living! Unless you have a runaway best seller, it often takes years to get to the point of supporting yourself as an author! My suggestion to you is to join the SCBWI. If you want to be an author nothing will stop you! Believe in your dream and who knows where it will take you!
Q: What exactly is the SCBWI?
A: SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is the only professional organization dedicated to serving the people who write, illustrate, or share a vital interest in children’s literature. Whether you are a professional writer, a famous illustrator, a beginner with a good idea, or somewhere in-between, SCBWI will help you The SCBWI Web site exists as a service to their members as well as offering information about the children’s publishing industry and their organization to non-members. You can find their site web site at www.scbwi.org
Q: How can I get an editor to look at my story?
A: The SCBWI has a conference each year that you should attend. Also, there are numerous regional conferences where you can show your manuscripts to real live editors who are looking for unpublished authors with good stories.
Q: I have written a children’s book story. Can you recommend an agent I can contact?
A: It is very difficult to find an agent for children’s books unless you have been published! Your best bet is to focus your attention on getting your first book published. Once you are published, especially if your book is popular, you will have a much easier time finding someone with clout to handle your wheeling and dealings for you. To start off with, you could have your “boiler plate” contract, which your publisher sends you, examined by a lawyer with literary contract experience. Many authors act as agent for their own books very successfully. There are several books in print designed to guide an aspiring author through the business side of their craft. One I would suggest is How to be Your Own Literary Agent.
Q: How can I be sure a publisher will not take my story, alter it and use it to create another book?
A: In other words, will a publisher steal your idea? I have never known that to happen in the twenty five years I’ve been working in the publishing world. Editors are always looking for stories to publish. If an editor reads your manuscript and knows it is great, she also knows that you have many more stories inside of you waiting to be born. Why should she kill the golden goose for one egg? Ideas are a dime a dozen, nothing is original. It’s how you treat your idea that counts.
Q: I have an idea for a book. My friend is a great artist. Should I ask her to do the illustrations then send in my story with her pictures?
A: Unless you are also a professional illustrator, art accompanying a manuscript may discourage an editor from publishing your story. Editors prefer to pair unknown writers with known illustrators. If they think you are “stuck” on an unknown illustrator, they may pass you by.
Q: Do you keep adults in mind when you are writing books for children?
A: When I am writing a story my job, as an author, is to write a story in the best way I can. I strive to entertain, enlighten, and entice readers to return to my books and read them many times. To do this I must approach the story on many levels, both in terms of concept and design. I think that if a picture book appeals to both the child and the adult, the reader’s appreciation of the book is prolonged. If a story has “adult” and “child” appeal, the book will grow in meaning for the child as the child grows older.
Q: What about the craft of writing, how do I learn that?
A: Here’s a tip. Study your favorite author. If you want to understand how an author you admire works with words, choose a section from her or his book and write it out. The very process of writing down another author’s words will teach you a lot about style and word crafting. When I was a child I loved to copy Dr. Seuss’ stories. When I grew up and wanted to write a children’s book, the first thing I did was to write down, word for word, Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. I wasn’t trying to copy Mr. Sendak’s work or write another story like it; my intention was to study what made his story so successful. Writing out a great author’s words can be extremely inspiring!
Q: Do you work on several stories at once?
A: One of the most important ingredients in my process of writing stories is to have the patience to let my work “rest.” After finishing a rough draft of a story, I find I must distance myself from it by putting it away for at least two to three days. When I come back to it, I have fresh eyes and a more objective viewpoint, and am able to see strengths and flaws in my story that were invisible to me earlier. I often write up to fifty drafts of one manuscript, and for each draft, I allow a period of “rest.” As my story approaches its final draft, I extend the rest periods, allowing my story to rest a week, or even several weeks. “Resting” a manuscript inevitably stimulates new insights. Because each manuscript has many rest periods, and many revisions, a seemingly simple story often takes me up to a year to perfect.
So what do I do while my story is resting? Work on another one and go back to the first one when it’s “ready!” I usually have at least three stories underway at the same time, each at a different stage of development
Q: I’ve got a perfect story for Don Wood to illustrate. Would he be interested?
A: This may sound selfish but its true! Don doesn’t illustrate for anyone other than me because one, we are a team and two, it takes him up to two years to illustrate a book. By the time he’s finished one book I have a new one waiting in the wings!I can however give you some advice that may help – A children’s book author has no control over the illustrations for her story. Editors choose the illustrator and you don’t see the book until it’s published. Unless you want to self-publish your book, you must live with this fact or you will never get your story published. Don’t be afraid to send your manuscript in without pictures. Editors know how to read picture book manuscripts of 300 words and know how they can be used with images.
Q: Can you read my story and tell me what you think?
A: I don’t consult on manuscripts because, frankly, I don’t think I’m good at reading other people’s writing and telling them how to change or improve their story. I’m a terrible editor and would turn every thing I read into my own style of writing! Besides that, what if you sent me a story that had some similarities to one I am working on. If I told you “My Goodness! I’m working on a similar idea!” Would you believe me, or think I might be trying to steal your idea? This happened to me once. Even though my story was completely different than a story a person sent me, we both were addressing the same subject. Later that person accused me of stealing her idea! Then there is the question of where ideas come from. Ideas often bubble up from my subconscious. Everything I read and experience is stored somewhere in my subconscious. Something you may write may inadvertently influence something I am writing! So, my policy is not to read manuscripts.
I can however give you some advice that may help:
If its a storybook length with pictures try to keep the word count down to 1500 words at max. If its a picture book try for 300 to 500 words. Less is always better. Edit, cut, slash and burn excess words!! Take out as many physical descriptions of the characters as you possibly can. The illustrator will take care of that for you.
Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers at www.scbwi.com. You will learn a wealth of information. How to submit to editors, which editors are looking for stories, how to be a better writer and how to start your own writers group.
If you decide to self-publish look into Amazon.com or an online publishing company.
Also, take a look at Audrey’s Idea Box to learn how I come up with ideas and inspiration for stories.