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Writing Children's Stories
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  Taking the First Steps

"I think art work would help the story but I'm not an artist. What should I do about art work? How do I know if my writing is good enough to try to sell it?"

These are questions many people have. In the classes which I teach about writing and selling stories for children, here are some answers which I share with students.

If you aren't an artist, you don't need to be concerned about art work. Teaming up with a friend can create problems. The publisher might accept the art work and not the writing or accept the writing and not the art work. Publishers prefer to team an experienced illustrator with a new author, and they like to team an experienced author with a new illustrator. Name recognition of the illustrator or author can increase sales. If you feel there is something in the story which is best told by illustration, you can note that in parentheses in the text. However, be careful that you are merely conveying part of the story and not telling the illustrator how to illustrate.

If you are an artist and writer, submit the text in manuscript form. Send a dummy and a couple of color samples. Use color copies rather than original art work. If you are willing to have editors consider the art and writing separately, let the editors know this in your cover letter. If you'd be interested in illustrating other people's stories let the editors know.

 
Promotion

Publishers expect you to promote your book. One way is to write articles such as these which I've written for a feature at Amazon.com titled, "So you'd like to...."
Please vote if you would like to encourage others to read the articles. You might like to copy the URL and send it to friends.

I wrote A Basic Guide to Writing, Selling, and Promoting Children's Books: Plus Information about Self-publishing as a text for writing classes I taught. It was based on the needs and questions of students. This short book gives an overview and a variety of resources while allowing time to critique manuscripts in class.

Timeless tips about writing are in this book although it was published in 2000. Now it is available as an ebook for $1.95 from PayPal. It is available at Amazon only as a used paperback book.
See Excerpts and Reviews

  There are several ways of finding out if your writing is good enough to try to sell it. You've already read many children's books. You're fond of these little pearls of wisdom, brief bits or entertainment, or concise presentations of information. You've probably already followed one frequently quoted piece of advice: "Read. Read. Read." Now, you need to become engrossed in reading about writing for children. There are many excellent books. Read about the techniques of writing and about the importance using of children's books to inspire, counsel, entertain, or inform. Read about resources for making sales and for promoting your book when it is sold. Several excellent books are listed on this site. I also list sites of Christian publishers of stories written for children.

     As with any job, be sure you have the best tools with which to get the job done. A recent dictionary is necessary. New words come into use and definitions change. Other valuable resources are a thesaurus, a book of grammar, and a dictionary of usage. A rhyming dictionary will save lots of time when you want to rhyme. You need a good quality typewriter, a word processor, or computer with a printer which is not dot matrix. Hand written stories are not read.

     Another frequently given bit of advice is: "Write. Write. Write." However, we need to be sure to progress. This advice is often changed to: "Write. Polish. Write." After studying some of the techniques of writing, begin writing by getting your story down on paper using minimal correcting as you go. You might want to record it and write it from the recording. Then go back and check spelling, grammar, clarity, plot, pace, timing, strength of characters, etc. Many writers suggest putting the story aside for a few days or weeks. After your initial enthusiasm has waned, read it again for a more objective look at the story.

Share your story. When you write for children, you have three audiences: today's children, adults, and the child you used to be. Make the connection with all three audiences. Valuable feedback can come from parents, teachers, librarians, other writers, your own children, and other people's children.

Some of my most valuable experiences have been reading my stories in school. I suggest that you ask the teacher to remain in the room. You want the reactions of the teacher and the children. I suggest that you know your story well enough that you can have almost constant eye contact with your audience including the teacher. I follow lines of text with my finger so I can find my place quickly when I have to glance at the words. Notice reactions as the story unfolds. Read the whole story without stopping or read a complete chapter non-stop for a longer work.

When asking for feedback, avoid words such as good and bad. Avoid asking if they liked the story. Especially when you speak with children, talk about the need to work on stories to make them better. Here are some possible questions.

  1. What did you like best about the story?
  2. Are there some things that it would be OK to leave out?
  3. What are some things you would like to see added to the story?

Feedback is important but remember to keep your own style or voice. Develop a feeling for when to stop revising and when to send it out into the world.

     Other helpful steps include taking a writing course, subscribing to a writer's magazine, joining a writer's organization such as the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, or joining a critique group of others who write for children. Some of my favorite links about writing, selling, and promoting children's stories are on my Links page.

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  To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish

     Web sites and books listed on my site offer enthusiastic and reliable information about self-publishing. I selected sites and books by people who have been successful in this area. However, I'd like to present some cautions for anyone considering self-publishing. Consider the following questions:

  1. Do I have time?
         You will need to spend a lot of time finding a good book manufacturer, researching promotion and publicity possibilities, learning about running a small business, being a sales person, doing your own editing, presenting your book at trade shows or speciality conventions pertaining to your subject matter, taking part in other publicity activities, etc. Developing and promoting your own web site can also be very helpful. All of this is time consuming unless you hire someone to do it for you.

  2. Do I know how to run a small business?
         If you don't know how, are you willing to learn or hire someone to do it for you? Bookkeeping classes, books, and computer programs might be needed.

  3. Am I a sales person?
         There are many books and classes you can take to develop these skills. Since you will be enthusiastic about your product, learning to sell it might not present many problems. However, some sales techniques are more successful than others. Are you willing to learn these or hire someone to sell your product?

  4. How are my management skills?
        You will be doing many different jobs for your business.

  5. Do I believe in my product enough to do a lot of promotion?
         Some people call self-publishing, self-promotion. It is helpful to forget the idea of self-promotion. Some people are uncomfortable about the idea of promoting themselves. You are promoting a product. You are not promoting yourself. You are seeking the right audience who knows how to appreciate the opportunity to invest in your product. You also have confidence that the right audience is out there. You just have to find it. Even if your book is published by an established company, the author's part in promotion is vital for the life of the book.

  6. Do I have a plan for national distribution?
         You will sell a number of books locally but will you sell enough to cover printing costs and give you a profit? Consider how other books like yours are marketed. Self-help, inspirational, and how-to books tend to be some of the more successful self-published books. Many educators write educational books which are carried by educational catalogs. Other specialists find a welcome audience through national groups dealing with their speciality area. Some people have found that selling online is helpful. Take a close look at the marketing methods for your type of book.

  7. Do I have the money to invest in a project that might not work?
         This is often the first question people consider about self-publishing. I suggest that it should be considered only after you have satisfactory answers to the other questions.

    If you decide to self-publish, Published.com is one of many resources for promoting your work. They link to your website. Selling is done on your site rather than through their site.

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  My New Spell Checker

Used with permission from The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

Eye halve a spelling chequer.
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it.
I am shore your pleased two no.
Its letter perfect awl the weigh.
My chequer tolled me sew.

-Sauce unknown

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Betsy B. Lee added this to the ditty from the SCBWI.

However, with my grammar checker,
I found this poem met its wrecker!
A thesaurus now could give me aid.
I know, for fun the poem was made.
It was and should remain a wreck.
Tell grammar checker, "What the heck!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Neither grammar checker nor spell checker questioned, "Sauce unknown." For the best recipes, we still need to use our noodles.

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Christian Book Publishers

Write to each publisher about current guidelines. Ask if they accept unsolicited manuscripts or query letters. If you like some of the books they publish, mention the books by name.

    Barbour Books
      Imprints: Barbour Books, Barbour Christian Comics, The Christian Library, Heartsong Presents Heros of the Faith, Inspirational Library, and Young Reader's Christian Library

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Christian Children's Magazine Publishers

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