I was at a routine doctor appointment today and it happened again. I told my new doctor I write books for children and she said “WOW! I’ve written a children’s book, too! What do I do next?”
Lots of children’s authors get annoyed by these very frequent questions. (Right, Doctor Clueless. I removed my neighbor’s appendix this afternoon. So what do I do next?) But well meaning potential authors always excite me. Life may have directed them down a different path, but somewhere in the back of their minds (and in the center of their hearts) they dream of writing for children. Often they’ve already produced a manuscript with their own children.
And I’m living this person’s dream! Lucky me! I’m all too ready to share the joy!!!!
So what is next?
That’s up to you. The first question I ask a sincere author-to-be is what’s your goal? Is it to save your children’s stories as a family legacy? Is it to become the next J. K. Rowling? Do you envision yourself as a serious professional writer in the future or is this a one time fun project?
Writing is an art and like other arts it can take many forms. A concert pianist who plays (or dreams of playing) at Carnegie Hall has a different level of training and commitment than an at home piano player who’s the hit of every family gathering and neighborhood party. There’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with both paths.
First stop in my completely unbiased (!) opinion is visit the resources on our From The Mixed-Up Files website. We have a whole page devoted to aspiring authors and you won’t find a more accessible place to find out what to expect when trying to move forward with writing and publishing a children’s book.
Another blog I recommend (okay I’m one of the founding members there, too) is www.ThroughTheTollbooth.com It’s a children’s writer’s craft blog written by a rather stunning group of super successful children’s authors (plus me) trained at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults masters program. Search the archives for just about any how to topic and you’ll find the answer (well lots of different approaches and answers) in The Tollbooth.
And perhaps the best advice is head to your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – aka SCBWI. Annual SCBWI conferences can seem pricey, but they’re well worth the investment whether you consider writing for children a casual hobby or a serious vocation, and most chapters have smaller less expensive or free events sprinkled through the year. You’ll meet kindred spirits, and you’ll learn not just what you think you need to know, but things you never knew you didn’t know, or never knew you’d need to know or… well you get the picture. There’s loads of great information on the SCBWI website, too, so be sure to pay a visit!
Finally (and by now the person who’s asked me “what next’s” eyes have usually glazed over because all they wanted to know is my editor’s personal phone number) I strongly recommend a bit (okay a whole lot) of reading.
Most adults haven’t read many children’s books since they left elementary school. Go to the children’s department of your library. Go to the children’s book section of a bookstore. Even poke around in the children’s book category of an online bookseller if you have no other alternative. Don’t focus on the books you remember from your childhood. Get a feel for what’s in style now. You don’t want your literary pride and joy to be the book equivalent of a bustle skirt or a moth eaten zoot suit– even if it is historic fiction. While you’re there pick up a copy of a good guide to children’s books and publishing like Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. And pick up Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books For Children It’s not her only children’s book guide. It may not even be her best children’s book guide. I love her Book A Day Almanac. But if you love children’s books and you want to write them, even as a casual hobby or fling, make it your responsibility to be familiar with everything on this list.
So what’s my advice when someone says “I’ve written a children’s book. What’s next?” I say raise a glass of champagne. You deserve it!! (and invite me to toast you!) Then get back to work.
Tami Lewis Brown bids a very very fond farewell to From The Mixed-Up Files with this post about just starting out. I’ve enjoyed every golden moment of this wonderful community and welcome all who join behind me!
Thanks for this post and for the links. Terrific stuff.
So timely! My hairdresser just asked this week if I would have coffee with her 89-year-old father to give him advice on what to do to get his picture book manuscript published “before he kicks” (her words, not mine!) Since she had scissors pretty close to my neck at the time, I cheerfully agreed, but I’m going to pass this article along in the meantime- it sums up exactly the steps I was planning to give him in person!
I loved this post! I’ve learned so much about writing, processes, and interacting in the Children’s lit community in the last couples weeks. My brain feels like marbles. I do have one question, though. Do you find that its important for new writers to have a platform such as a blog or website? Common sense tells me it definitely doesn’t hurt, but is it necessary in order to get published or make important connections with agents? Would attending online workshops, having writing groups, and going to conferences be enough? I think I already know the answer, but I’d love your perspective.
Great post, Tami! I hope we continue to cross paths outside The Mixed-Up Files.