If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why.
Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following?
- Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.
- It would be fun to see your name in print.
- You want to sign autographs.
- You want to make money, quickly.
- You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it.
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. Because it’s not an easy business. NOT. EASY. AT. ALL.
New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication.
Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Likewise, writing one story does not mean Random House will offer you a contract. Although, keep hitting that ball, make it go higher and farther…learn about fielding and sliding, too…and play seriously for years, and you just might make it.
Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. We are all HOPEFUL. But, everyone is wrong. (Including me!) Trust me, this will NOT happen. It has NOT happened to ANYONE. (Except for Kevin Henkes.)
The motivation to write a children’s book should be:
- You love to write. You were born to write. You can’t NOT write.
- The child inside you is begging to get out and explore.
- You love children’s literature and want to contribute worthy stories to the genre.
- You want to inspire children to read, write, create, imagine and dream.
- You enjoy learning from children. (Yes, your primary goal should not be to teach them. Teachers, parents and guardians teach. Books are meant to be fun.)
- You want to work hard to establish a career as a kidlit author. You’re in it for the long haul.
Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it. That’s something a small percentage of authors achieve. (Yes, authors can have dozens of books in print yet they cannot support themselves through writing alone. Moreover, advance checks can take a long time to arrive, and royalties trail about about 6-9 months behind book sales.)
And even if you become a famous author, most people won’t recognize you by sight or name. It will never get you the window table at The Four Seasons on a busy Saturday night. You’re better off making a reservation as “Doctor Lazar”.
It takes most children’s writers years to land their first book deal. And selling one book does not guarantee future book sales. Selling each subsequent book can get MORE difficult, especially if one (or more) of your titles do not sell as well as the publisher expected.
I don’t mean to be discouraging. I want to be REALISTIC. Children’s literature is a BUSINESS. And this business is like any other—it takes hard work, commitment, talent and a little luck, too. If you’re writing a children’s book on a whim, you might end up being very disappointed when you realize how tough it really is.
In short, I’ve made more money and worked fewer hours in EVERY OTHER JOB I’VE EVER HAD.
There’s no job I’VE LOVED MORE. (Besides being a mom, of course.)
Just because you’re writing for children doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it is more difficult to become a published kidlit author than it is to become any other kind of author. (That’s because there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Everyone believes writing for kids is easy because they’re kids. Not so.)
So do it because you LOVE it. You LOVE it like you CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. Because children don’t deserve anything less than YOUR VERY BEST WORK.
Steps you should take:
- Earn a degree in English and/or Creative Writing.
- Read hundreds of books in your chosen kidlit genre (picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels, graphic novels, YA).
- Write. Write. And write some more.
- Join a critique group specific to the genre in which you wish to publish. YA novelists don’t necessarily know a lot about picture books and vice-versa.
- Join SCBWI.
- Attend professional kidlit conferences, book fairs and other literary events.
- Revise. Revise. And revise some more.
- Research agents and editors online.
- Establish a social media presence. Make writing friends. Gain a support system.
- Consider investing in professional writing books, magazines and services like Publisher’s Marketplace (which will show you what books are selling, which agents are selling them, and to whom), The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly and The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide.
- After at least two years of writing, try submitting. Don’t send your work out in huge batches. Research who likes the kind of work you produce and target a few. If only rejections come back, try another small set of subs, revise again or write something else.
- Never give up. Keep writing new stories. Those who make it in this business are those who persevere!
Excellent online resources for aspiring children’s authors:
- The Purple Crayon
- Writing for Children and Teens
- Twitter Chats for Writers
- SCBWI (formerly Verla Kay’s) Blueboards
- Myths and Truths of Writing for Children
- Preditors & Editors
- Literary Rambles: Spotlighting Children’s Book Authors, Agents and Publishing
- Author April Pulley Sayre’s How to Become A Children’s Book Author