Posted in Before You Begin, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Why Are YOU Doing This?

Why are you writing? (Or illustrating or both?) Do you have an answer?

I have so many students who sign up to take one of the writing courses I teach, then don’t turn in assignments. Two things happen. They either get tired of being nagged and send something in, or drop out. Some do several lessons, then drop the class. Some are almost done with the course, then quit. (And this is a course they’re paying for!)

I get it. I do. Some find this writing gig is much harder than they thought. Many think that writing for children is so simple. Especially picture books. They look simple. Others have life interfere—something has to give and the class is easy to cut.

Mem Fox said, “We need to be honest, right from the start, about why we want to write for children. If we intend to moralise, teach a lesson, patronise, categorise, marginalise, or show off our own brilliance, we are doing it for the wrong reasons and we’ll need to reassess our motives. We are not writing academically de-constructible literature. Nor are we writing as therapy to eradicate our guilt about the world and what we have done to it.”

Writing as therapy is fine, but it’s different than writing for publication.

Hobby or Business?

For me, putting the words on a page is something I do. Yet, I don’t do it only for my own pleasure. I want to affect others, whether it is via entertainment, words of wisdom, or helpful tips. The latter is one of the reasons I blog.

I treat writing like a business. Just like a “regular” job, I show up. I get to work. I write. I read for research purposes. I do other parts of the job, such as record keeping, social media, critiques, etc. Look what Nathan Bransford has said, “The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?” I will admit that writing for me is a part time job.

Patricia Wrede said, “Talent is way down on the list of things you need to write; it comes in a distant fourth, after persistence, motivation, and discipline. And the reason is that “talent” is as common as mud; what’s rare is the motivation to sit down and actually do something with it, the discipline to do it regularly, and the persistence to stick with it until it’s finished.”

“Being a writer and eventually a published author is no different than the pursuit of any profession. You have to pay your dues,” Pam Torres said. Treating your writing like a business is part of paying your dues.

I also agree with Vita Sackville-West: “It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.“ I am most happy and satisfied with myself when I write.

SO, what about you?

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Posted in Before You Begin, Business Side of Writing, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Answers to Questions about Writing for Children’s Magazines

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How do I get started writing for magazines?
1. First, read a variety of children’s magazines and determine which magazine(s) appeal to you and which age groups attracts you most.
2. Decide what you are drawn to most: fiction, articles, poetry, activities.
3. Read and analyze lots of those pieces–look at more than one issue of your chosen magazine(s).
4. Check out market books and get guidelines and, if available, theme lists/editorial calendars for the chosen magazine(s). Some guidelines are available on-line. Others you may need to write for, enclosing an SASE.
5. Write your piece in a similar tone as the pieces in the magazine. Make sure it fits the word length, etc. in the guidelines. When it’s the best you can make it, submit it. (Don’t start with the hard to get into magazines such as Highlights for Children and Cricket–get some publishing experience first.)
6. Move on to writing another manuscript.
Some people call articles stories, while others only refer to fiction as stories. How do I know what’s what?
I personally differentiate these two by nonfiction (article or essay) or fiction (story), and of course, each of those categories can be broken down more. That said, I will at times call a piece a “true story” versus an article. That usually happens in response to a magazine looking for “true stories about…” Sometimes these are also called true experiences.
When submitting a manuscript, I usually indicate “article” or “nonfiction” for those true stories and “fiction based on a true story” or “fiction” on those I’ve made up.
Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?
I don’t. The reasons I do are:
1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.
2. I have more information I want them to know (e.g. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme, etc.).
3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don’t think a full résumé is needed.
What do I say in a cover letter?
1. Grab the reader with something exciting – this may be a direct quote from the manuscript, or a catchy line or something about the theme of your piece.
2. Give a brief summary of your story, essay, article.
3. Tell title, genre, word count and rights you are offering. If reprint rights*, tell where and when it has appeared.
4. Mention anything special you are including: color slides, digital photos, sidebars, related websites, etc.
5. Include your writing credits: either “I’m enclosing my résumé” or a list of some magazines you’ve been published in. Don’t apologize for not having credits. Don’t say you’re a first time writer.
6. Bring up other issues that might be important. For example, if a story or article is set in a particular town and you lived there, tell the editor so. If you have experience in a particular job, craft, or hobby, and it relates to your piece, say so.
7. If sending a manuscript by snail mail, mention you’ve included a self-addressed stamped envelope. You may want to include an SASE for their reply instead of for the return of the manuscript. I found I was reprinting manuscripts all the time anyway, and can save postage by sending a smaller SASE. Some publishers are now only replying with acceptances, which in that case you can state something like, “I understand you only reply if interested. You may discard this copy of the manuscript.” This information is usually available through their guidelines.
Note: If sending a manuscript electronically, make sure you follow the directions of “pasted the manuscript into body of the email” or “attachment” as the guidelines say.
8. Close.
Overall, remember to be brief, professional and to the point.
Is writing for children’s magazines for everyone?
Of course not. But it might be for you!
*Want to know more about magazine rights? Read this post.
(image courtesy of pixabay.com and canva.com

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Posted in Before You Begin, Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Book Month

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I once heard an editor say she wanted the following in pictures books:

  • humor
  • unique settings
  • memorable characters
  • emotionally engaging

I doubt every picture book needs humor or a unique setting, although those are great of course, but I bet the ones that last are the ones where we remember the characters and our emotions are stirred.

In honor of the first annual Picture Book Month, here is a sampling of picture books where characters have pulled my emotional strings in one way or another:

These I first read to my daughters:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban; illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion; illustrated by Margaret Graham
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
One my youngest daughter loved, that I actually found a bit odd:
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw

These I first read to my grandsons:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judith Dufour Love
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Others I love:
Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Brad Sneed
Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Marla Frazee
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
See You Later, Alligator! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert
After making this list, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not reading enough recent picture books. Time to visit the bookstore!

Here are some Best Picture Book lists:
49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators
Best Picture Books 2010: David Wiesner, Jon J. Muth, Louise Yates and Other Spectacular Illustrators Honored – 10 from the Huffington Post
The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010! – books4yourkids.com
From ‘Brothers Grimm’ to ‘Stuck,’ the 11 Best Picture Books of 2011 – The Atlantic
Best picture books of 2011 – Lindsay Weiss on babycenter.com

Are you sharing your favorite picture books? Or giving them as presents next month?

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Posted in Before You Begin, Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Book Resources

boy reading

Picture courtesy of Gracey Stinson.

Here’s a collection of picture book resources I’ve found. Enjoy!
Books about Writing Picture Books
Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul*
You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dils
Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz (See sample here: How to Make a Storyboard)
Illustrating Children’s Picture Books: Tutorials, Case Studies, Know-How, Inspiration by Steve Withrow and Lesley Breen Withrow
Picture Book Resources on the Web
You’ll find on some of these sites you should keep looking around for more info.

Getting Started Writing Picture Books

So you want to write a picture book… by Mem Fox
Writing Picture Books:The Basics by Margot Finke
If You Wanna Be a Picture Book Writer by Pam Calvert
How To: Write a Picture Book by Sue Bradford Edwards
Jane Yolen*: Creating and Recreating the Picture Book
Picture Book or Short Story? by agent Mary Kole

Layouts and Standards for Picture Books

Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout by Tara Lazar
Picture Book Standards: 32 pages by Darcy Pattison
Dummies for Smarties by Sarah S. Brannen
How to Mock-up a Picture Book by Darcy Pattison
Picture Book Dummies by Julie Hedlund
Storyboarding by Katherine Battersby

Tips and Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Picture Books

20 Do’s and 20 Don’ts by Mem Fox
Twenty Tips for Writing Picture Books by Pat Mora*

Got Rhythm? Rhyme and Meter in Picture Books

Rhymes and Misdemeanors by Hope Vestergaard*
How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous “R & M” by Margot Finke
Rhyming Picture Books: A Rhyme With Reason by agent Mary Kole
Writing in Rhyme by Laura Backes
Rhyme in Picture Books by Tiffany Strelitz
Icing the Cake: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme by Dori Chaconas

Plot and Character in Picture Books

Plotting Your Picture Book by Writing Your Pitch First by Mandy Yates.
The Plot Clock in Picture Books by Rob Sanders
Irresistible Picture Book Characters by Tammi Sauer*

Revising Your Picture Book

Revise the Picture Book Text by Darcy Pattison
Six Tips for Revising Picture Books by Marcie Wessels
Make Your Picture Book Sparkle! by Peggy Tibbetts
How Many Times Can I Revise 500 Words by Brianna Caplan Sayres

Illustrating Picture Books

An Illustrator’s Guide to Creating a Picture Book by Meghan McCarthy
Does the Guild have any advice for aspiring illustrators of children’s books? (The Children’s BookGuild of Washington, D.C.)
Loren Long* – Creating Picture Books: My Process

Other PB Resources

PiBoldMo – Picture Book Idea Month [November Writing Challenge]
What Makes a Great Picture Book?
100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know (New York Public Library)
Picture Book People Pointers FREE Ezine & FREE E-Book, Write a Dynamic Picture Book
Monster List of Picture Book Agents by Heather Ayris Burnell
*I’ve heard these people speak, run, don’t walk, if you ever get a chance to hear them! A number of the others I’d LIKE to hear…

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