As a writer, I often get people asking me how they can get published too. Here are my top tips for writing and publishing children’s fiction.
1. READ. And that means reading CHILDREN’S books. When I started writing, my first stories were very Enid Blyton-esque. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Well, problem is, no one writes that way any more. If you seriously want to be published, you need to know what you’re up against. Go to your local library (support libraries!) and take out a whole load of recently-published children’s books and read them. You might be surprised at how times have changed.
2. RESEARCH. Get yourself a copy of The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (published annually by Bloomsbury). It is the writer’s BIBLE, listing all the UK and Irish publishers and agents and what they’re interested in. There is NO point sending a picture book text to a publisher who doesn’t publish picture books. Equally, you must find out the proper way to approach people. Most of the bigger publishers won’t accept anything that hasn’t come through an agent. A good literary agent is very, very well worth having, and should really be your first goal. The agent is then the person to approach publishers on your behalf.
3. WRITE. And by that, I don’t mean spending ten years working on your one amazing novel. People often think that because they can construct a sentence, they can write a book. Not so. It’s quite a different skill, and it requires practice. I have four unpublished novels in my metaphorical bottom drawer. You know why they’ll never be published? Because they’re no good. Well, bits of them are good. But they’re not good ENOUGH. Write a book, revise it until you’re happy with it, send it out, start writing ANOTHER BOOK. Because chances are, if you put the hours in, you’ll get better at it. You wouldn’t look at a Mozart piano concerto and expect to be able to play it if you only ever reached Grade 2 on the piano, would you? Practise, practise, practise.
4. JOIN a writing group. A good place to start is SCBWI
5. EDUCATE yourself about children’s books. It’s not a genre on its own. It’s broken up into age categories: baby books, picture books, early readers, chapter books, ages 5-7, 7-9, 8-12 (also called Middle Grade), Teen and Young Adult. Each category has an average word count (ish – as ever, there are exceptions) and obviously the tone and style and content will vary depending on the age. In Young Adult (YA) pretty much anything goes.
6. GROW a thick skin. Publishing is HARD. If your book is accepted, your editor will almost certainly want you to make changes to it – possibly even rewrite it completely. This is NORMAL! If you don’t want a single word of your book changed, you’ll need to self-publish it, I promise you. All traditionally published authors take editorial notes and rewrite their books. The thick skin is needed in the long-term too. Even if you get ONE book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll get another. That takes me back to point 3. Keep going! (and start collecting your rejection slips. Malorie Blackman had 82 before she was published. And if you don’t know who Malorie Blackman is, I refer you back to point 1)
7. REJOICE! Children’s books are AMAZING! The stuff that’s published these days is simply awesome. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I refer you back to point 1. And nothing – nothing – beats that moment when a child tells you that your book is their absolutely favourite 🙂