So you want to be a children’s author?

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Khushi who recently wrote me:

Hey Mike. How are you going? I have a question if you could please help me with it. I aspire to write a children’s book but have no idea at all how to go about getting a publisher? Would you be able to tell me what is the right strategy or what you have to do for it. I know it’s a big ask and if you don’t have time it’s all good. I just thought ill try my luck by asking you. Thanks heaps!

Well dear Khushi, thank you for giving me the inspiration to write this blog by way of response.

I dont mean to rain on your parade but getting a publisher when you have not even written your book is really putting the cart in front of the horse. There are many people who aspire to write but few who actually end up doing so. The local writer’s association of which I used to be a member is chock full of people who are about to write but people who have actually written and been published (as distinct from self-published) are rather thin on the ground.

But don’t let that stop you from writing! No, not at all.Rather it should provide you with a challenge to which you must rise. You tell me you want to write children’s stories; well, as a school teacher you are surrounded by young minds every day of the week and should have a pretty good idea of what things turn kids on these days. Better still, you live and work in the Northern Territory. What a wonderful inspirational place that must be; a place where you can weave aborginal legends from the Dreamtime into your stories about everyday life.

So get to work on developing your manuscript and put all thoughts of a publisher well aside for a long time yet. First, you must write your story! And depending on the age group you are writing for, you need to keep it short – probably around 2,000 words or so.

Remember with any story, your first manuscript is just your first draft. You will revisit it several times before you are happy with it. If you think it worth the effort you may need to engage an editor to review it (or smile sweetly at one of your friends when you ask a favour LOL).

The next step is to find an illustrator. Any children’s story has to be visually appealing as well as compelling. How will you go about that task? The extent of your illustrations will depend on your publishing medium (we will get to that in a moment) and it may be that, if your story is taken from real life, you may be able to get away with some nice photographs. Its amazing how PhotoShop has the ability to turn humble photos into brilliant artwork; but that is another subject.

Now comes the bad news. As the new writer on the block, unless you are Enid Blyton’s great grand daughter, it is unlikely that any publisher will pick you up first time around – or second time around for that matter. First, you have to build your reputation. You can do this a number of ways and here are some suggestions.

  1. Self publish. This is the tried and tested route for new and often not-so-new writers. You can do it all yourself, engage a publishing company who will do it for a fee or publish online through Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu and such-like.
  2. Become a blogger. If you intend to write regularly, set yourself up with a blog of your children’s stories. This will give you visibility and get your name known. You can set up with your own domain and site (usually done in WordPress as this site and its companion [workingwithwords.com.au] is) or use a blogging platform such as Google’s Blogger. That will cost you nothing aside from some effort.
  3. Go the eBook route. Set yourself up to publish as an eBook and allow people to download your books. Usually these days eBooks usually imply a format called ePub but for richly illustrated books this can sometimes cause more problems than solutions because it is a dynamic format and the look of a page can change depending on whether you are reading it onscreen in Adobe Digital Editions or on an iPad using Apple’s iBook reader. In fact the placement of illustrations can be a major headache, made even more complex by the fact that the page changes depend whether you are reading in portrait or landscape mode. The way around this is to use the tried and tested PDF format or take a leap to Apple’s proprietary iBooks format (not recommended for first-timers).
  4. Join a local writer’s group if there is one, start one or connect remotely to a group such as the one we run on the Gold Coast, called unsurprisingly – Gold Coast eWriters. Many writers see other writers as a threat; those in our group see opportunities to share our knowledge, our experience and help one another promote. Our website workingwithwords.com.au is open to bona fide writers who want to showcase extracts from what they write. Take a look at a recent post (and the one that helped me with background to writing this), Pat Ferguson’s Lost and Found in the Rainforest.
  5. Promote yourself. Forget the pitch of Amazon and the like who offer to help promote your work for a fee. It is much the same as buying a new refrigerator and being talked into a three-year extended warranty – usually a total waste of money. You have to get out there and promote yourself. And how easy is that? Well, once you have a collection of children’s stories written by you, contact the local libraries, local schools and run reading sessions at which you tell the stories. Become a storyteller in the truest sense of the word.
  6. Give your stories an educational dimension. The best children’s books are those that not only entertain but also educate. Find ways to bring a learning dimension into your stories. There are many ways of doing this and each author will find a format that works for them.
  7. Use good plain English. There are many of us who are concerned that our language – yes the English language – may be dying or at least evolving beyond recognition into a newspeak. English is possibly the richest language on the planet yet we often seem predisposed to reduce it to the lowest common denominator of gibberish. We have to content with the language of texting – gr8, <3 (yes, I know I used LOL earlier – forgive me!) and so it goes on and we are bombarded by ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and other over-used words that end up making them devoid of meaning. The advertising industry is especially culpable. Remember the old maxim that I love to quote and use regularly If you can’t say what you mean, you will never mean what you say. Use plain, informal language suited to your target age group but never write down to them and always write up – encouraging them to understand and write themselves good, well constructed English.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking. But dear Khushi, don’t think too long or you will join the crowd of ‘almost writers’. Set your alarm clock for an hour earlier in the morning. Leap out of bed, put on the coffee and start writing. Seriously though, we all have to find the best time and space in which to write. For me it is early morning or late in the evening (as it is now). But keep that space sacred and use it well.

Good luck with your endeavours and I look forward to seeing your work on our writer’s blog.

For others interested here is the link http://www.workingwithwords.com.au

Hopefully, others may chip in with their ideas.

 

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