Hello writers. I know it’s actually autumn because I’m wearing fuzzy slippers, I’ve been craving soup, and I’ve made my first batch of pumpkin chocolate chip bread yesterday. Oh, and I looked at a calendar. Holy heck how did it get to be mid October?
Which brings me to two complete non sequiturs for today’s post. First, how absti-tutely simple it is to write picture books. (Ironic eye-roll.) And second, how other websites like PBSpotlight help writers connect with super nicety-nice critiquer-folk.
This week I have been asked multiple times how to get published.
Friends, or friends of friends, or barely friendly acquaintances have been coming out of the woodwork saying that they’ve “written a story” and their mother ( or “kid,” or “sister,” or “husband’s boss,” insert as appropriate) LOVES it and thinks it should be published. Like, now. In time for Christmas. So they can give a copy to all their grandkids. And want to know how to make that happen.
I wish I had an answer that they would like to hear.
But like all creative professions, writing and publishing takes three things: time, effort, and skill. And the third one only comes long (long) after the first two.
But who am I to crush dreams, right?
So I tend to give the same advice that I have mentioned on this blog, and will mention again here in case anyone else is thinking that they can whip up a kids book in the time it takes to make pumpkin pie (ohh, pie.)
(Have I mentioned that not enough people in the UK understand the incredible-edibleness that is a good pumpkin pie? But I digress.)
Here’s what I suggest to all those who have written something and want it to magically become a booky:
- Read, read, read other books in the genre you are hoping to write in to see what styles are marketable and what storylines have been done before. (Agents and publishers may be inundated with “pet” books, for instance, and are often searching for a more intriguing subject matter, or a very new stance on a tried and true subject.)
- There are some amazing online sites (many free) that cater to new children’s writers. Here are a few that will help get your juices flowing and will teach you a thing or two about the field, before you jump in with both feet: Mr. Schu’s Watch. Read. Connect; Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids while raising them; Writer’s Rumpus; Kidlit 411; MG Book Village; Teachers Who Read; and PBSpotlight (more on this one below).
- Finding a group of writers to help critique your work is invaluable to any new writer. There will often be other writers in your location that are looking to create a group and finding them may take time but joining a society or writing program would help. Constructive criticism, like you learned in third grade, is constructive if it’s given well and RECEIVED with gratitude. Sometimes you need a thick skin in this business, and sometimes you need to buckle down and throw away everything you thought you loved about your manuscript. Them’s the breaks.
- Perhaps look into SCBWI (the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for a wealth of information and inspiration. If expense is an issue, there are many other online groups that help guide new writers. Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 for instance.
- There are plenty of conferences and writing seminars that can be done online (or in person after covid) that will teach you the ins and outs of writing for children. Try the Writing Barn, Highlights, or even your local university, which may have non-MFA track courses. CityLit in London has incredible writing classes on kidlit.
- Self-publishing is a thought too. Most writers don’t pair up with illustrators until after their story has been sold to a publisher, but if your book doesn’t need illustrations, check out the many self-publishing options. I’ve never done it so I’m not the best person to ask about this because picture books are always highly illustrated and the publishers have always chosen illustrators for me (writers often don’t get a say in who will illustrate their work).
- I’m still struggling to find an agent (after 10 years of writing!) so keep at it and don’t give up, but know that it is a HARD and SLOW process. (My latest book will. be published 4+ years after I wrote it, and that’s typical.)
Now, on to the second point that I was going to make. This post is more than a plug for a competition called #PBCritiqueFest, sponsored by Brian Gehrlein at PBSpotlight . It’s actually a plug for getting other people to look at your work and tear it to shreds. Ok, harsh! What I mean is, the BEST thing you can do for your writing is to involve as many people as possible in the process. I know your first instinct is to crawl into the Cave of Introversion and hide your work from the world (while also craving publication), but critiques and critique partners are experiences (and people) to be cherished.
Getting a foot in the publishing door is the hardest thing that many writers will go through. It’s a path lined with rejection and failure, to be honest, but also filled with great new kidlit friends and mentors. The children’s book community is a supportive, friendly place and is mostly comprised of people who want to see books in the hands of mini readers.
Which is where sites like PBSpotlight come in. Competitions/twitter pitch parties/etc are great for social media recognition but in the end they are all about getting manuscripts in front of readers.
So if you’ve written that manuscript, and your mother thinks it’s great, GREAT. You’ve taken the first step. The first of many many steps. Now help yourself out by seeking out someone you trust who will alert you to its flaws. Because that way you can make it BETTER.
Here’s to better books!