Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mentor Monday (on Tuesday!) Welcome to the World of Children’s Books (Part 2)

If you want to write for kids, the first rule is rid yourself of every preconception you have about what it takes to write children’s books. Here are a few things that you might have thought were true:

1) If [J.K. Rowling, R.L. Stine, Stephanie Meyers, etc] can become rich writing children’s books, so can I.
The truth: These people are the minority. The minority of the minority.

2) I’m a good writer. People tell me so all the time. I’ll just use easier words and write a kid’s book.
The truth: Writing for children has rules, just like writing poetry has rules. It’s not just about easy words.

3) I just picked up a picture book at the Barnes & Noble display. It was awful! I can do better than that!
The truth: Maybe—but have you tried?

Rule 2: Understand that most writers of any kind do not make a living at writing. They make a living by doing other stuff as well as writing. They might teach, edit, lecture, do school visits, or hold some other kind of job. While they would love to devote all their days to sitting in their writing nook, the truth is it takes a long time for a person to make a living by freelancing.

British novelist Martin Amis said recently in an interview that he would need to "have a serious brain injury" before he would even consider writing for kids. He might be on to something. A lot of children’s writers took offense at his comments but I get it. When I was teaching, I felt somewhat the same way about people who taught kindergarten. I couldn’t imagine expending the kind of energy required to keep 15 to 25 five-year-olds engaged and zipped into snow suits. Of course, I’d never tried teaching kindergarten so what did I know? Which leads me to…

Rule 3: don’t assume you can or can’t write for kids until you’ve actually tried.

Rule 4: cultivate patience.
Once you have committed to writing for kids, have the patience and humility to recognize that you need to rewrite. Understand that the brand new book you just bought left the writer’s desk some 12 to 24 months before. (Shorter for novels, longer for picture books that need to give the illustrator equal production time).

Rule 5: don’t give up. A rejection is not always a no. Sometimes it’s a “not right now.” Publishing goes in cycles. Notice how fantasy seems to sell when the economy’s off? Keep tinkering and revising. Send your work out again. Repeat.


Barbara said...

Great advice, Mur. But I would like to add a bit to rule number 3.

Rule 3: don’t assume you can or can’t write for kids until you’ve actually tried . . . and tried and tried and tried some more. Virtually no one is successful on the first try. It takes most of us several years.

I'm Jet . . . said...

I agree, Diane!

Excellent post, Mur.

Barbara said...

Haven't had our morning coffee yet, have we Janet? (smile)

I'm Jet . . . said...

Oh. Hi, Barb. I agree!

Andrea Murphy said...

And I agree with Janet, Diane and Barb. Fantastic 2-day Mentor Monday Postapalooza, Mur!