“When Laura and I first met, I owned a PR agency in New York, and she was working for the publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I wasn’t really enjoying the PR world, and the corporate side of publishing wasn’t for Laura [Backes], so we were both ready for a change.
“Everywhere we went, whenever Laura told someone she worked in children’s publishing, we heard the same response: ‘I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book; how do I do it?’
“That led to a lightbulb moment: why not start a business teaching people exactly how to do it? In May 1990, we published the first issue of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers, and we’ve been going strong ever since.”
What first inspired you to take an interest in children’s book writers?
Children’s books are Laura’s passion, and they’ve become mine. Helping people get started as children’s book writers translates directly into more excellent books for kids to read. That’s certainly the best by-product of our business.
Beyond that, we simply love children’s writers. Taken as a whole, they’re a happy, optimistic, creative and friendly lot and it makes life a good deal more pleasant if that’s your customer base.
Could you share some of the history behind Children’s Book Insider?
As I mentioned before, the newsletter began in 1990. Our next big advance happened in 1995, when we went online with Write4Kids.com. We started the children’s writing mailing list (which has since morphed into the huge Children’s Writing Yahoo Group) in 1997, and we kicked off our free e-zine (The Children’s Writing Update) in 1998. We now have more than 43,000 subscribers to the Update.
Our most recent addition is our blog, The Children’s Writing Web Journal, and we’ve started a regular podcast (you can find it at the blog) Also, Laura is the co-founder of the Children’s Author’s Bootcamp workshops.
I remember receiving my first copy of CBI in the late 1990s! For those new to it, could you offer an overview of the newsletter and how to subscribe?
There are really two main elements to the newsletter–market news and instruction.
The market news in our “At Presstime” section is never cribbed from other sources. It’s stuff that we uncover. It’s getting harder for writers to find publishers that accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts, so people really rely on us for leads.
The rest of the newsletter is straightforward “how-to.” We generally don’t do broad overviews or touchy-feely stuff. Our reputation is for providing writers with information that they can use immediately to improve their writing and increase their chances of getting published.
You’re also at Write4Kids.com! What does the site have to offer?
What other resources do you offer?
Over the years, we’ve published a large number of how-to books, lots of eBooks, a DVD and other goodies for children’s writers, covering almost every imaginable aspect of building a writing career. They’re all at Exclusive Tools for Success.
Who else on your team should we know about?
None of this would have happened without the knowledge and perseverance of my wife, Laura Backes. She has amazing insight into the writing process and a fantastic ability to teach what she
knows. She’s the real star of CBI. I just stuff the envelopes.
As a reader, what are some of your favorite children’s books you’ve read recently why?
I’ll let Laura answer this one, as she has impeccable taste!
The Long Night of Leo and Bree by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon Pulse, 2003)(author interview). An intense story of two 18-year-olds brought together by a violent event. The author alternates viewpoints beautifully.
Specials by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2006)(author interview) The third book in the Uglies sci-fi trilogy. Westerfeld’s Peeps (Razorbill) is another excellent read–a cool vampire book.
Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going (Putnam, 2003)(author interview) takes place in NYC East Village punk scene; terrific characters.
What do you do outside the world of children’s writing support?
My two main loves are music and martial arts. I host a radio show here in Colorado called the Rock & Roll Clubhouse. It streams worldwide every Wednesday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Mountain time at krfcfm.org. For the past four and a half years, I’ve studied Kempo Karate, and I earned by black belt about a month ago.
The new CBI Clubhouse is where writers for children and teens–beginner and pro alike–from around the world can come to hang out, make new writing buddies and sharpen their skills. The site is packed with audio, video, ebooks, a great message board, and much, much more.