What’s Here: Scroll for Big-Picture Insights
Thinking about writing for children and/or teenagers? Here are the easy answers:
- Yes, it’s as hard as writing for adults.
- No, you probably won’t make a lot of money, even if you do sell a book.
- No, selling a first book is no guarantee of a second just like selling a second is no guarantee of selling a third and so on.
- No, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Still with me?
Good. Now, we can talk.
First off, if you’re a teacher or parent or the coach of the local girls’ soccer team, that’s great. But if you’re the only kid you’ve ever really understood, that’s okay too. You need to be an expert on only one child to write for children and on only one teenager to write for teenagers. That child, that teenager, is the person sitting right where you are reading this message right now.
There are all kinds of sources on the nuts-and-bolts of children’s writing and publishing (and you can learn about them on this site), but this is my big-picture take:
Writing for Children and Teenagers
- You must read. You must read like you breathe, only more proactively. You must read so much that when anyone mentions a children’s or YA book, you are familiar with it or at least its author and/or editor, or you are jotting the title down to check it out. You must be better read than your independent bookseller and your public librarian (if you live in an amazing book city like Austin where this last goal is impossible, you must nevertheless still try). When someone announces the, say, Newbery winners, you should have read so much that there are no real surprises to you. Or you should correct that as soon as possible. You must study the books you read, the good ones and the bad, and be able to articulate what does and doesn’t work and why. And if you think that you have no time or money to do this, get a different goal because you don’t deserve to make it. Libraries are a godsend.
- You must support the children’s and YA literature community, become an advocate for library financing, and give quality books to the children and teens in your life. Publishing companies have real competition within children’s-teen media, and you need to do everything in your power to make sure that today’s kids are exposed to the best literature. Preserve, protect, and promote the venues that link kids to books. In doing so, you will learn the industry and its surrounding culture. This also counts as writing time.
- You have to tell the stories that ignite passion within you, those that only you can tell in a way that only you can tell them. You have to tell the stories that you can somehow continue to work on when you are so sick of them that your eyes water and bile rises in your throat. You have to write until blood drips from your fingertips and the words appear as if by magic. You have to tell the stories you’re afraid to tell, the ones that might upset your mother, and yes, if it makes you feel better, you are allowed close your eyes when you type.
- You have to believe. You have to believe if your spouse or your parents or that annoying woman at church sneers at your abilities or the importance of children’s and YA literature. Anyone who thinks that books for young readers and their creators are not two of the most significant forces in the universe is worthless scum on the excrement of worms and not worth any further consideration. Anyone who doesn’t believe in you is worse. But there will be those people, and you have to sum up enough strength in yourself to continue anyway.
Does this sound stern or triumphant? Go with triumphant. Be triumphant. This isn’t an easy thing to do, writing for young people. But it’s so important. No, I don’t really think anybody could completely live up to the goals I’ve outlined above. I sure don’t. But you have to set your standards high. You have to strive. “Make no little plans. They have no magic…” as they say in Chicago.
Community, faith, and writing are all precious. So are young readers. Remember, we work for them.
7 Things Editors at Children’s Book Publishers Wish Writers Knew from Children’s Book Insider. PEEK: “Did you know it costs a major children’s book publisher over $100,000 to get a picture book from manuscript to the book store? Is your idea worth that much of a risk? Novels cost less to produce (no color illustrations) but the market is smaller.”
Getting Started: The Basics of Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. PEEK: “This is introductory information for people wanting to get published as a children’s book writer or illustrator in the United States. I have worked for more than 20 years in hardcover children’s books: for Macmillan, Orchard, and Charlesbridge, whose books are sold to libraries, schools, and bookstores; and more recently as an independent editor.”