Teachers: Ever thought of writing for kids?

BigStock-OnceUponATimeHave you ever thought about having your own book published? I have, ever since reading The Secret Seven series more than 30 years ago. I’ve always assumed I would at some point manage to get a book published, seeing as I’d read so many books in my lifetime. I suppose I hoped that all the great literature I’d read would somehow mix up in my head and miraculously pour out as a fabulous bestseller.Am I optimistic or naïve?

With my husband off on a course for two weeks and 4 children to look after, I decided on the spur of the moment to finally write a book. It wasn’t the best timing! For a month I slaved away at the keyboard for 2 or 3 hours late at night until I’d written it. I gave it to some of the target audience to read (ie. my children and their friends),  graciously accepted their praise and  secretly did a lap of honour in my head to celebrate. I felt the next step, naturally, would be to send off  my double-spaced-size-12-Times-New-Roman  typed manuscript to a couple of publishers, and wait for their admiring replies, and for the royalties to start rolling in. Simple.

Six months later though, I’m still stuck at this stage. And that’s after several redrafts, edits and head scratching.

Although I haven’t had any luck with finding a publisher or agent, I have learnt a lot of useful stuff. If this can be of any use to you, feel free to learn form my mistakes and save yourselves a lot of time and effort!

 So, “Useful Stuff I Have Learnt”:

 1) Read everything you can get your hands on in the area you want to get into.

 Two websites I use to find new titles are: http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/ and http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/

 Broadly speaking the categories are:

  • PICTURE BOOKS: Think about which age range you are aiming at. 3-5s  or 5s to 7s ? 0-2s  are usually produced in house by publishers.  Word count will be less than 800 (typically a few hundred, but wide variation).    Most books contain 12 or 13 “spreads”. Advice to debut authors is to steer clear of rhyming stories due to translation issues (publishers  tend to pick their established writers to do those), although one publisher, Maverick, does welcome rhyming stories. They have produced  a very helpful video clip: http://www.maverickbooks.co.uk/submissions/

          Animal characters/aliens/dinosaurs/monsters are preferred to humans in order to make it easier to sell the books to other countries.

          You don’t need to do the pictures, unless you’re of a similar artistic standard to the likes of Oliver Jeffers or Lauren Child !

  • FIRST READERS-simple  texts for children starting to read independently. Lots of visual help (in addition to illustrations) to consider. e.g. signs, diary extracts,      postcards etc. to break up the text.
  • 7-9s: a strong accent on characters, and often series driven, with  lots of illustrations. Word count 10-25 K (less for some e.g. Horrid Henry)
  • 9-12s: known as “Middle Grade”- strong  storylines, and well developed characters. Word count approx. 30 K. Stand alone novels ok.
  • TEEN+ YA: Word count 50K+ No subject off limits.

 

 

2) SCBWI is great

This is an organisation for writers and illustrators. They have an open Facebook page, and a really fantastic online magazine http://www.wordsandpics.org/

Everything you need to know is here! If you join SCBWI you can join a critique group. There is an annual conference in Winchester every Autumn. Joining SCBWI is a great way to network and meet like minded scribblers. Members also receive a great book called “The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children”.

 

3) It helps to share your writing

Find a team of people willing to be your Alpha and Beta readers. The more you iron out any bumpy bits in your story, the better the chance of getting it published. I joined SCBWI in order to join a critique group and find other writers to share my writing with. One of the most frustrating things is getting rejection letters but not knowing what isn’t quite right with your text. Find out if there are any writing groups in your local area. You can pay to have your writing critiqued, but try to find one with a good reputation e.g. Cornerstones.

 

4) You have to learn to deal with rejection

A lot of agents don’t reply at all. Most send out a very brief letter declining their interest. If you get a personalised letter, you’re getting there. It can be very disheartening. But the authors who succeed are those who persevere. Use the #askagent hashtag on Sunday evenings on Twitter-usually about 8pm- to catch some high profile agents and ask them about submissions. I have learnt a lot from this.

 

5) Signing up to a book packagers is a positive experience

Working Partners and Hothouse are 2 examples. You receive a story outline, and your task is to magically turn that into a really good story (well, that’s the idea!) This is a different kind of contract compared to writing your own book, but I hear the money is good. It’s a great way to focus on your word and sentence level work.

 

6) Applying your own teaching cues works wonders

All those times you’ve told children to”Show don’t tell” and banged on about “Sentence openers” will pay off. I must confess, when I did a sample for a book packagers the first thing I did was print off a copy of Pie Corbett’s “How to hook your reader toolkit” and used it diligently!

 

7) You have to sell your ideas

You know what they say: you don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. Your pitch and synopsis must really sparkle to grab the publisher’s or agent’s eye. They will receive hundreds of submissions each week. The query letter is all about selling your idea and convincing them that you are worth investing in.

http://www.wordsandpics.org/search/label/Ask%20an%20Agent has some really useful examples of how to improve your query letter from UK agents.

 8) Be prepared to do your homework

If you only buy one book to help you get published, it has to be “The Children’s and Artists Yearbook”. This is an essential read: full of practical tips from highly successful authors, publishers and agents. It lists publishers and agents too. Only a handful of publishers these days accept unsolicited submissions, so this book really gives you the lowdown.

 9) Consider self publishing

This is the path I’m now taking. I have no idea whether it’s a good idea or not, but as I have finished my book “The Cracker Hacker”, somebody might as well read it! I’m hoping that readers’ comments and reviews will help me edit my story more effectively. I put my book out on Kindle with a 5 day free promo, and had 429 downloads. As a result I’ve had 5 reviews by day 6, which will hopefully help sales after the promo  has ended. Take care with your 7 keywords on Amazon-there are specific categories you need to list if you want customers to stumble upon your book.

 10) Never give up!

Recently on Desert Island Discs Malorie Blackman revealed how she had received a staggering 82 rejection letters before she was finally accepted by a publisher-and now look at her success! All we need is a little luck, right? The more you write, the better you will get. Fact. Look for competitions, forums and blogs to contribute to. Try http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/adults/short-stories/prizes/

 ALL publishers say it’s a tough market at the moment, and the quality of writing out there is extremely high. What they are seeking from debut authors is a fresh, original “voice”, or a mass market commercial option (I wish I knew what that meant!) or an incredibly original novelty of one kind or another. However, getting more specific information than that is tricky!

 As teachers, we have a unique relationship with children that puts us in a prime position to write a book that kids will love. We know what matters to young people, and what they really want to read.

 So, good luck with your book…go on, give it a go…get writing!

 Pippa Wilson

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