Wanted: Children’s Book Writers (Part Two)

According to the US Census figures, almost 54 million citizens were between the ages of 5 to 17 years old in 2010. That number represents a huge audience for children’s books.

6. Respect the adult vanguard: Before books reach their intended audiences, they pass muster with a vanguard of literary agents, publishers’ readers, publishers’ editors, teachers, librarians, parents and other big people who buy books for and read stories to small people. Placating the vanguard doesn’t necessarily mean authors must self-censor output, preach morals or eliminate s-e-x.

Writers who produce prose adults can stomach reading aloud for hundreds of bedtimes sell more than writers who ignore the vanguard. Disney stories, geared primarily toward kids, contain laughs for grown-ups, too. Kids tune out blatant indoctrination, anyhow. Lessons should be subtle. If the protagonist learns a lesson over the course of an entertaining story, readers also learn. While editing your second or third draft, ask, “What message is my story communicating, intentionally or unintentionally? What moral will kids pick up?” John Marsden, award-winning novelist for adolescents, has demonstrated that masturbation, “penis,” and teenaged sex pass muster if written about thoughtfully.

7. Pull in a million. Don’t pull a “Millie.” Mildred Benson, alias Carolyn Keene, wrote 23 Nancy Drew mysteries. She died in 2002 at age 96. You’d think her survived-bys would’ve inherited a treasure chest of money, what with Millie’s royalties from 200 million copies sold…and still selling. The disappointing truth is that Millie was paid $125 for each manuscript. No royalties. A crooked publisher didn’t rip her off. She received a flat fee, as promised.

Nowadays, publishers expect authors or their agents to negotiate contractual terms. Business terms that might appear in your book contract are:

• Advance – money publisher pays author when contract is signed. Authors receive royalties after sales earnings surpass the amount of the advance.

• Agent’s commission – payment literary agent deducts from author’s royalties.

• Flat fee – one-time sum publisher pays author for completed work.

• Royalties – publisher pays author percent (typically 4 to 15%) of proceeds from book sales.

• Subsidiary rights – a second company pays author for rights (i.e. movie, electronic, foreign, magazine, anthology) to the work. If the original publisher sells subsidiary rights, author splits proceeds. Negotiate to retain as many rights as possible.

8. Care about categories: Categorically speaking, one standard for categorizing children’s books doesn’t exist. Book categories can differ among publishers, libraries and literary awards criteria. Moreover, within a single publishing house, categories overlap and books seesaw between categories. Fourteen-year-old bookworm Stewart doesn’t care about book categories. He reads slim comic book-style publications as well as the leviathan Moby Dick. Unlike the Stewarts of the world, publishers care about categories. Writers should, too.

Categories are determined by theme, topic, word count, manuscript length, number of illustrations, vocabulary level, sentence length, paragraph length and other factors. Sending a “transition book” to a company that publishes “easy readers” guarantees instant rejection. Learn about categories in magazines and websites dedicated to writing for children and in Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market, updated annually.

9. Go beyond books: Publishers woo readers with books tied to movies, and long comic books that echo TV programs and video games.

Why limit yourself to penning book manuscripts to the exclusion of other formats, when kids are devouring media that also rely on writers’ creative outputs? Children’s authors are paid to write teleplays, puppet plays, screenplays, stage plays, radio scripts, video scripts, software, CD-roms, magazine articles, stories and games; newspaper lift-outs, brochures, booklets, textbooks, comic books, internet site text, and tie-ins.

10. Avoid the crowd: Kid lit publishers receive heaps of stories featuring anthropomorphized animals, talking objects, Easter Bunnies and Santa Clauses. Stories in rhyming verse seem to annoy acquisitions editors, as do twists on The Ugly Duckling tale. “If that’s true,” you might ask, “why are new books published whose authors ignored this advice?”

Outstanding, imaginative, well-written stories find an audience, even if the subject or style is old hat, because children have always and will always cherish stories starring human-like animals and talking trains. However, successful books of this ilk are exceptions that prove the rule. The rule: authors who submit what publishers want have higher rates of success than those who don’t.

Publishers want stories reflecting experiences of children living in cities as well as rural neighborhoods, coping with broken families, squabbling with step-siblings, and encountering kids from other cultures. Additionally, publishers want entertaining non-fiction books for classroom use.

It might seem as though today’s kids are glued to computers and electronic games 24 hours a day. In fact, the youthful set carves out reading time. Carve out time to learn about writing for children, and maybe your name will appear in the younger readers’ stacks.

If anything was helpful, “like” and share this article with other writers who like getting published. If you’d like to add your experience or ideas to this list of tips, then please comment.

Books by this author are available at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewwork.asp?AuthorID=1344


Wanted: Children’s Book Writers (Part One)

According to the US Census figures, almost 54 million citizens were between 5 to 17 years old in 2010. That number represents a huge audience for children’s books. Gobbling up Where the Wild Things Are and devouring Harry Potter’s adventures sharpened their appetites for more books, books of all genres.

“All publishers are seeing more manuscripts than they can ever imagine, and it has slowed down the whole process of really looking at books. If there really is talent there, it will be found, it will be recognized,” one editor told author Judy Mandell.

These tips will lead you closer to getting editors to recognize and reward your writing talents.

1. Consult the stars: Tiger Woods analyzed Jack Nicklaus’ swing, Denzel Washington scrutinized Sidney Poitier’s acting method and Oprah Winfrey gleaned wisdom from Maya Angelou. Each new generation of greats learns lessons bequeathed from stars illuminating the road to success.

Up-and-coming writers benefit from dissecting best-selling and prize-winning children’s authors’ literary works. As candidates for mentors, search lists of the most popular books for particular age groups. Study books that won the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal, for example. Analyze your secret mentors’ techniques for pacing, suspense, creating scenes, developing characters, using humor and crafting other elements of first-rate literature.

2. Write about wizards, (or not): “We want to publish the kind of books that will come anywhere near the Harry Potter numbers,” Simon & Schuster’s editorial director said during the height of the series popularity. But merely having boys straddle broomsticks won’t work magic on a stale manuscript. Ann Brashare (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Cornelia Funk (The Thief Lord) wrote fresh, original stories focusing on young readers’ interests…without mentioning muggles.

To discover how children’s interests change as they mature, dip into psychology books or enroll in childhood development classes, eavesdrop on kids at the mall, notice which movies and TV shows different age groups and genders watch, and recall your tender years when wearing white socks entailed instant banishment to Nerd Land. When you meet kids with their noses in books, ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you like about that story?”

3. Plot to cross over: Credited with creating the mold for young adult or adolescent novels, J.D. Salinger demonstrated that readers as young as 12 can handle complex plots with several major characters when themes relate to readers’ present life concerns and challenges. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is said to continue to be a favorite of teens and adults. Other crossover books, the Dark Materials trilogy, Lemony Snicket books and just about anything by Stephen King and John Steinbeck, confirm that an intriguing story, not the protagonist’s age lures audiences.

Consider writing and marketing your manuscript to publishers of adult and teen lit. Take your cue from Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize winner for To Kill a Mockingbird. The classic recounts pivotal events during Scout’s childhood that are told in retrospective when Scout is an adult. Mockingbird explores weighty issues—mental disabilities, racism, rape, incest. Serious topics are appropriate for adolescents if the issues are integral to protagonists’ coming of age, give readers ideas how to cope with problems in their lives, and provide insight into human nature.

After years of rejection letters, I finally took my own advice. I stopped pitching Ken’s War as an adult novel, and sent the query to publishers looking for young adult novels. Ken’s War is slated to be published in the spring of 2014.

4. Wake up your inner child: Barbara Park, best-selling author of Junie B. Jones books, received this letter from an elementary school student: “I know Junie B’s not real, but could she come to my school?” Park says she creates imaginary characters with realistic traits by “being fairly immature.” Others say Park has a natural knack for writing in a child’s authentic voice.

“Immature” authors who can tap into their inner-kids still do adult-like planning to flesh out believable characters. They jot down key characters’ ages, full names, family members, pets, biggest fears, burning desires, bad habits, quirks, secrets, speech patterns, favorite foods, views of the world, hobbies, clothing, bedroom layouts and so forth. Pre-work leads to realistic characters with character-driven behaviors. Writers who know their characters inside and out know how each character reacts. They don’t ask, “How would I react if faced with this conflict?” They ask themselves, “How will my character react?”

5. Consume kid stuff: What’s your favorite children’s story? Pippi Longstocking? The Cat in the Hat? Charlotte’s Web? National Velvet? Even though today’s youngsters enjoy yesterday’s classics, it’s vital for 21st century authors to appreciate that those stories stand the test of time, thanks to enduring themes and characters’ distinctive personalities.

After you’ve got a handle on what makes the old classics classic, scour modern books. Note differences and similarities between books published decades ago and books published weeks ago. Today’s stories emphasize the child’s point of view, don’t allow adults to swoop to the rescue or spout sage advice, and sometimes take detours around the “happily-ever-after” route. Pore over Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, Louis Sachar’s Holes, and books by Nancy Springer, whose catchphrase at writing workshops is “Power to the kid!”

If anything was helpful, please share this article with writer friends who like getting published.

Name Dropping Thrills Regional Editors

If you’re targeting a regional magazine or local newspaper for your article, the more narrow, that is, the more local and specific your examples and references are, the better your chances of acceptance for publication.

Editors of regional media know that their audiences are relying on them to cover and mention businesses, entertainment venues, professionals, personalities and other resources within a defined target area. . . that don’t get mentioned in media with a wider geographic reach.

So, for you the writer, the more you name drop, the better.

Many years ago, I wrote an article about training and education for a nationally distributed newsletter. The piece was general. It was published. I got paid.

Recently, I rewrote that article and submitted it to the editor of a women’s magazine that’s distributed throughout central Pennsylvania. Because the article was substantially different from the original, I was able to offer first rights again – which is another way to stoke an editor’s interest in your work.

You’ll see it’s heavily spiced with the names of local institutions and useful websites. In the publishing world, editors and publishers sometimes call their requirement for this kind of name-dropping article as “heavily referenced” articles.

When it Comes to Education, Size Doesn’t Matter

Tight Writing is Good Writing

Competition judges and magazine editors eliminate manuscripts exceeding the required length. Successful authors have learned that tight writing shortens their manuscripts without diminishing impact.

1. Cut the‘s. “She locked all the windows,” becomes “She locked all windows.”

2. Delete bland adverbs. “She really was just totally confused by the very complex problem,” becomes “She was confused by the complex problem.” or “The complex problem confused her.”

3. Use metaphors over similes. “Maria longed to touch his muscles which were like blocks of solid oak,” becomes “Maria longed to touch his muscles, blocks of solid oak.”

4. Employ words for double-duty. “‘Things ain’t like the old days,’ the crone said in a raspy voice,” becomes “‘Things ain’t like the old days,’ the crone rasped.” (Double-duty eliminates ubiquitous said’s.)

5. Edit details that do not develop plot, character or theme. “She donned her trousers, sweater, wool socks and boots before leaving the house,” becomes “She tugged at the oversized sweater to conceal her pregnancy.”

6. Replace stings of itty-bitty words with powerful words. “Don’t set him off and make him mad,” becomes “Don’t provoke him.”

7. Use plural forms. “She rarely attends a party,” becomes “She rarely attends parties.”

8. Write it once. “Fifteen years ago in 1980 . . . ,” becomes “In 1980 . . . ,” or “Fifteen years ago . . . .”

9. Rephrase prepositional phrases. “Andrew kicked the leg of the table,” becomes “Andrew kicked the table leg.”

10. Delete give-away sentences. “He was never the same after the accident,” is deleted. The idea should be implied through the character’s action and dialogue.

11. Use adjectives sparingly. “The kitchen had a sour, musty, rancid odor,” becomes “The kitchen smelled rancid.”

12. Chop would. “Each evening he would salute the flag,” becomes “Each evening he saluted the flag.”

13. Reverse subjects and objects. “Andrew spiked his words with accusation,” becomes “Accusation spiked Andrew’s words.”