I frequently get emails from writers who want me to give them advice or answer their questions or critique their writing (in fact, that’s a huge part of why I am part of Mentors for Rent). But in trying to survive as a freelancer, time is incredibly tight. I receive more than 200 emails most days, and I’m overwhelmed keeping up with my normal business correspondence. So lots of times, I just am not able to answer people’s requests.
So, I wanted to at least have this online resource list that I could point people to. And here it is.
Congratulations on wanting to write for kids. It’s an exciting but challenging thing to do.
I’ll give you a few resources that I think are absolute requirements for beginning writers. I hope you’ll find lots of useful information in them.
Your best resource is the bookstore. It stocks the newest children’s books, and reading about a million of those will help you see what kinds of books are being published today. Libraries are great, too, of course! But with budget cuts everywhere, so many libraries can afford few new books. If you’re new to writing for kids, you want to focus your reading on books published within the past couple of years. So wherever you can find those books—read them!
Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market — This annual book is put out by Writer’s Digest and is carried by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major bookstores. In addition to a comprehensive market listing of what kinds of publishers buy what kinds of books, it has lots of helpful articles for the beginner. It’s about $25. You might also be able to get it at your library. I love to mark mine up, though, highlighting various publishers and tips, etc. It’s a constant reference book for me.
If you’re interested in writing poetry, check out my site’s Poetry section and go to Writing Poetry. I have a bunch of essays under Poetic Pursuits that I wrote on various aspects of writing poetry for kids and teens. If you’re interested in writing nonfiction for the educational market, check out Writing for the Educational Market, a workbook based on my online class that I taught for several years.
Editor Harold Underdown’s site is a treasure trove! Check out the Basic Information, Self-Publishing, and Writing Children’s Books sections, for starters. This should keep you busy for a long time!
The Institute of Children’s Literature (I taught with them for a while) has lots of terrific articles and transcripts of guest speakers, all related to writing for kids. You don’t have to be a former or current student to access all this great info.
Writer’s Digest has some fantastic articles about writing, and you can search the site easily. When I need immediate info on, say, increasing tension or coming up with a good ending, I just type in my search terms and look through the articles and blog posts that come up. Lots of great, practical information here.
Join SCBWI if you’re not already a member. Attend conferences if you can. Listen hard. Ask questions, both of speakers and of fellow attendees.
Build a community for yourself. Join an online email list. This is a group of writers who communicate by email. There are huge lists and small lists and specialized lists. I’m on a nonfiction list, for example. You can go to www.yahoo.groups.com and type “children’s writers” in the search box, and it will show you various email lists devoted to people who write for kids.
Connect through blogs or on Facebook. The KidLitosphere is the world of people who blog about writing for kids. Look through the lists there and check out a few blogs. Or just Google the name of a kids’ writer you admire and see if that person blogs. Start out small and you’ll soon find yourself with more information about and insight into the lives of children’s writers than you thought existed! On Facebook, request to Friend some writers you admire. And join Groups devoted to kids’ writing. They are everywhere! And writers are constantly sharing their processes, struggles, and successes, and you can learn from them.
Also build community through a critique group. Establish a writing group with other writers who write for kids. This might be in-person or online. You can join a crit group through SCBWI or through an email list. Just keep telling folks, “I’m looking for a critique group.” (If you can’t find one, or if your critique group is made up of other beginners, then a professional critique from Mentors for Rent could be really helpful for you when you have a manuscript in the best possible shape you can get it into.)
Spend time around kids. I think this is crucial in order to stay in tune with what today’s kids talk like and think like. That really changes over the years. You could volunteer at a school if you’re not already around kids the age of your intended readers.
Write. Write as much as you can, then rewrite. My manuscripts go through many, many revisions before I ever submit them. Once you have the words exactly how you want them, proofread them or hire someone else to proofread your manuscript–or ask someone in your critique group who has excellent punctuation and grammar.
Consult experts! With the publishing industry in tough times, there are many, many talented writers and editors who are hanging out shingles as freelance consultants. You can find them online. Writer Lisa Bullard and I run a service called Mentors for Rent (this blog is part of our Mentors for Rent site). We consult with writers by the hour to provide critiques, career advice, answers to questions about the craft and business of writing for kids, and more.
In looking at all these resources, you will likely find some fascinating and some discouraging information. Writing for kids, and especially selling your writing for kids, is not easy. But it’s so worthwhile. Welcome to this crazy world!
Good luck on your writing journey!
Laura Purdie Salas