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 Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (published annually by A&C Black). 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. Some publishers won’t accept anything that hasn’t come through an agent. Others will look at the first three chapters and a synopsis (if it’s a teen novel, for example). Sometimes there are competitions that provide a way in to a publisher. Keep your ear to the ground.
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 I have four unpublished novels in my metaphorical bottom drawer.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. CHECK OUT these two brilliant blogs, which cover everything you need to know about writing and publishing: Help! I Need a Publisher! and Stroppy Author’s Guide to Publishing. Both of those blogs are written by children’s writers (and I’ve met both of them and they’re lovely) and they are FULL of wisdom.
5. JOIN a writing group. A good place to start is SCBWI
6. 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.
7. GROW a thick skin. Publishing is HARD. I’ve published 21 books (at the time of writing this) and I STILL have stuff turned down. Yes, honestly. I’ve just had a new series for 5-7s turned down, and I’d written the whole of the first book, created plot synopses for the others etc etc – and I’m gutted. Experience counts for a lot but 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)
8. REJOICE! Children’s publishing is BOOMING. More people than ever before are buying children’s books. There are massive opportunities out there for a chosen few. And 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.
9. READ. Oh, I already said that 😉