As a writer and author, I meet other writers, parents and teachers who have interest in writing for children. Often they would get in touch with me to ask about how to get into writing. As a mentor for other writers, I find that I repeat much of my advice about the general industry, basics of writing or good reference books etc. This guide is an attempt to answer some of the frequently asked questions and hopefully help the aspiring writer to find answers.
This guide is not the final authority on any of the topics discussed. It’s simply my perspective based on my experience in writing children’s books, published worldwide. Often these are suggestions or things that have worked for me or mistakes I’ve learnt from.
I want to write for children. Where do I start?
All writing starts with writing. Get a notebook (digital or otherwise) and start writing.
From new-born babies to teenagers who are young adults exploring this world, writing for children is an umbrella term covering a range of ages. So the first thing to figure out is – which age-range do you want to write for? You could decide this based on your immediate audience.
- Do you have a teenager at home who might be interested in the story you want to tell?
- Is your child reading picture books and hence you’ve been reading them over and over again and want to have a go?
Once you know which age-range you want to target, read widely and critically within that range. Libraries are great places to start. If you have young children of that age you’ve chosen, read their bookshelf. Ask them what they are reading and get your hands on those books.
How should I submit to an agent?
- First, research the agents.
- If you want to write only picture books, find out if they represent picture book authors. Some agents only represent picture books for their existing authors and do not take on authors who only write picture books.
- Find out the interests of the agent – Google them. Find out if an agent is likely to enjoy a ghost story or not.
- Find out if the agent is accepting unsolicited submissions at the time. Some agents have submission windows. Some agents are not looking for new clients.
- Visit their website and find out what their requirements/guidelines are. Follow the guidelines.
- Do they need a covering letter?
- Do they want one picture book or ten? (Tip: They never ask for ten).
- Do they want you to email or post the submission?
- Do they want you to format your picture book story in a particular way?
Can I submit directly to a publisher?
- First, research the publishers. Are they suitable for the story you’ve written?
- Find out if they publish picture books in the first place.
- Are they open for submission?
- Some publishers accept submissions from writers directly. Some do not. Check the publishers website. Often large publishing houses require a literary agent to submit on your behalf.
- Sometimes publishers and editors who attend writing conferences open their submissions for attendees of such events.
- Sometimes you will meet an editor at an event and they might invite you to submit to them directly even though their publishing house does not accept submissions from writers.
When should I submit?
This is an important gateway to consider. Writing is a craft and a business. The craft side requires that
- The story is well-told, interesting, appropriate for the age-group you’re writing for.
- The story has been edited by the writer many times over to make it as good as it can get.
- The story has been reviewed by peers so the writer can understand its faults from someone else other than themselves.
A key step is to find someone who is able to give objective advice after reading the story. Some people have partners who are honest and often brutal. Others like me are part of critique groups with writing peers who review each others’ work ad offer advice and suggestions.
The business side requires that you showcase your product (your writing) at its best. You can’t sell a half-finished car. Or something that doesn’t work. Put your best writing forward. Every vocation requires a level of mastery before you sell. Aim for that before you show your work in progress with a publisher.
Don’t forget to check out Writing Picture Books – FAQ.
Check out my seminar on Demystifying Children’s Publishing video that ran during 2020.