Congratulations on wanting to write for kids. It’s an exciting but challenging thing to do.
The most important advice I can give to a writer is to read a lot. Then write something. Then revise. Then repeat. Over and over again.
But, of course, you also need to learn how the industry works, how to pace a picture book, whether or not you find your own illustrator (no!), and all that practical stuff. You need to learn how to write a query letter and how to end your novel for maximum impact. I had to learn all that stuff, too. And, of course, I’m still learning!
I’ll give you a few resources that I think are absolute requirements for beginning writers. I hope you’ll find lots of useful information in them.
Your best resource is the bookstore. It stocks the newest children’s books, and reading about a million of those will help you see what kinds of books are being published today. Libraries are great, too, of course! But with budget cuts everywhere, so many libraries can afford few new books. If you’re new to writing for kids, you want to focus your reading on books published within the past couple of years. So wherever you can find those books — read them!
Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market This annual book is put out by Writer’s Digest. In addition to a comprehensive market listing of what kinds of publishers buy what kinds of books, it has lots of helpful articles for the beginner. It’s about $25. You might also be able to get it at your library. I love to mark mine up, though, highlighting various publishers and tips, etc. It’s a constant reference book for me.
If you’re interested in writing poetry, check out my How to Write Poetry page. I have a bunch of essays under Poetic Pursuits that I wrote on various aspects of writing poetry for kids and teens. If you’re interested in writing nonfiction for the educational market, check out my book, Writing for the Educational Market. It’s a comprehensive workbook based on the online class that I taught for several years.
Editor Harold Underdown’s site is a treasure trove! Check out the Basic Information, Self-Publishing, and Writing Children’s Books sections, for starters. This should keep you busy for a long time!
Writer’s Digest has some fantastic articles about writing, and you can search the site easily. When I need immediate info on, say, increasing tension or coming up with a good ending, I just type in my search terms and look through the articles and blog posts that come up. Lots of great, practical information here.
Join SCBWI if you’re not already a member. Attend conferences if you can. Listen hard. Ask questions, both of speakers and of fellow attendees.
Build a community for yourself. Join an online email list. This is a group of writers who communicate by email. There are huge lists and small lists and specialized lists. I’m on a nonfiction list, for example. You can go to https://groups.yahoo.com/neo and type “children’s writers” in the search box, and it will show you various email lists devoted to people who write for kids.
Connect through social media. The KidLitosphere is the world of people who blog about writing for kids. Look through the lists there and check out a few blogs. Or just Google the name of a kids’ writer you admire and see if that person blogs. Start out small and you’ll soon find yourself with more information about and insight into the lives of children’s writers than you thought existed! On Facebook, request to Friend some writers you admire. And join Groups devoted to kids’ writing. They are everywhere! And writers are constantly sharing their processes, struggles, and successes, and you can learn from them.
Also build community through a critique group. Establish a writing group with other writers who write for kids. This might be in-person or online. You can join a crit group through SCBWI or through an email list. Just keep telling folks, “I’m looking for a critique group.”
Spend time around kids. I think this is crucial in order to stay in tune with what today’s kids talk like and think like. That really changes over the years. You could volunteer at a school if you’re not already around kids the age of your intended readers.
Write. Write as much as you can, then rewrite. My manuscripts go through many, many revisions before I ever submit them. Once you have the words exactly how you want them, proofread them or hire someone else to proofread your manuscript — or ask someone in your critique group who has excellent punctuation and grammar.
Consult experts! Many, many talented writers and editors also offer freelance critiquing services. Lisa Bullard, with whom I used to run Mentors for Rent, is one of them. You can check out the site to learn more about her. I’m on hiatus, but I may return at some point.
In looking at all these resources, you will likely find some fascinating and some discouraging information. Writing for kids, and especially selling your writing for kids, is not easy. But it’s so worthwhile. Welcome to this crazy world!
Good luck on your writing journey!
Laura Purdie Salas