Everyone thinks he or she can write a children’s book—and everyone can! But getting your children’s book published is a different story. There’s a lot of misinformation in the publishing industry about writing children’s books.
Myth #1: Children’s books are easier to write than adult books.
The truth is that it’s difficult to write a good book for any audience, and children are no exception. This is especially true for picture books, which a greater number of people try to write than any other genre, and while it may seem like the easiest thing in the world—30 words! How hard can that be?—each of those words must count. Successful picture books must be simple yet concise, and they should appeal to a young reader’s visual sense. That is not an easy task.
Myth #2: My kids love my story. So will an editor!
Yep, your kids probably do love your story. But they probably love the fact that you’re reading it to them more than they love the plot or the characters. The fact that your kids (or students or neighbors’ kids) love your story does not have any sway with an editor.
Myth #3: You should write down to your young audience.
Wrong. Today’s kids are sophisticated, and they’ll resent being treated like babies. Children respond to rich, colorful language and creative plot lines. Children also love to hear and read new words, yet many new writers shy away from using words they feel are too difficult for their audience. The meaning of new words, if well-written, should be clear from clues from the pictures or the related text. And if the book is interesting, the child will want to read on.
Myth #4: A good story should rhyme for maximum appeal.
This is a strategy that requires talent and should not be attempted by a newcomer. Editors often look awry at rhyming stories simply because they are so difficult to sell.
Myth #5: A good story should have a moral.
Children’s stories should not be Sunday school lessons. If you’ve got a message, let the child explore it through plot and/or character, not by tacking it to the end like a fable.
Myth #6: Children’s books are pretty much the same as what I read as a child.
Modern children’s books are more creative and sophisticated than ever. Every aspiring children’s writer should begin with extensive research and camp out in the children’s section of the library. Read everything, and get an idea of what appeals to youngsters. Editors are not impressed by clichés. Be wary of using talking animals or tales of “It’s okay to be different!” In order to catch an editor’s eye, you must strive for originality.
Myth #7: I need to find an illustrator.
Your picture book should stand alone. If the editor likes the work, he will match it to an illustrator of his choice. It can work against you to send someone else’s illustrations with your work.
Myth #8: Show and tell is good!
Show, don’t tell. Just as in adult fiction, resist the urge to lay out your theme in black and white. Remember that good fiction reveals rather than explains. Let your theme emerge naturally through events, and let your characters emerge through their actions, not by telling the reader about them. Children like to make their own discoveries.
Myth #9: I could get rich, like J.K. Rowling!
Most children’s writers write because writing is what they do, not because they hope to strike it rich. Only a very elite group of authors can claim a substantial income from their writing.
Myth #10: Children’s books are easier to sell than adult fiction.
Success rarely comes easily, whether you’re trying to sell a picture book or a full-length novel. It’s a matter of knowing your market and doing your research. That query letter should be crisp and exciting, and those submission guidelines should be followed to the letter. Children’s publishing is just as competitive as other genres. Be persistent, be prepared, and above all, be patient!
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