March 21, 2015
So You Wanna Write a Children's Book
I like to bake bread (sourdough in the oven right now!) And I like to garden, and make things with my hands... And I love to travel.
But more than any sort of work, or hobby, I love to write!
Somehow along the way, I became both a writer and an editor of children's books. Maybe because I'm organized, and love being a cheerleader of others' work? Maybe because I can play with words all day long and never ever get bored? Whatever the reason, when it comes to producing a children's picture book for the Orthodox Christian market, I've helped generate enough books, and watched them take their place in the market, to know what typically works, and what doesn't.
I've set the stage this way so I can talk about you. Here are some things to know if this is an artistic path that you're considering:
- Write a story that has a compelling theme for young CHILDREN. Orthodoxy brings to us so many wonderful saints who have had exciting, crazy lives that are worth talking about. But talking about a saint who was martyred--and actually showing that story in pictures--is two different things. If you want to write a picture book for young kids and the main theme of the story is the saint's bravery when they were being tortured, then write a young adult novel instead. (I would love to get more YA submissions, so get writing!)
- Use compelling language that evokes strong imagery when crafting a tale. Kids have a wonderful capacity for language, and every word in a picture book matters. Use the right words, the most beautiful or potent words when you are composing your phrases. And choose to treat your language like music--like poetry--so read your stuff aloud, since that is how most kids will eventually hear your story.
- Almost all of the picture books I produce are no longer than 1,000 words in length. Most every picture book is 32 pages long, and only 24 of those pages actually house the story.
- Learn how to write! There are great resources available on writing! Practice writing a lot. Read kids books, a lot. Practice writing some more... Writing a picture book is harder than you think and even the littlest of little ones deserve intelligent, artistic, beautiful books made just for them...
- Share your work with other writers, and get good at taking criticism. I'm at the point in my career where I desperately want to hear bad news about my writing. I want that bad news now, so I can fix it and move on. I thank those folks who find fault with my stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Better an adult reader finding fault on this side of the publishing table, than a wee little one being bored by your words and never wanting to read your book again. :(
- Don't bother finding an illustrator for your book unless you're an illustrator! The publisher pairs the story with the pictures, so that is one less thing for you to worry about. However, you should always put on an illustrator's shoes for an afternoon and try to think how your story would be drawn. If you can't divide up the text into visual scenes then your story is probably lagging and too full of narration that doesn't move the plot along.
- Be smart about the market. At Ancient Faith Publishing, we create children's books that cater to an Orthodox readership. We want to produce stories that fill the needs of our community. Currently, we aren't publishing books that have to do with Noah and his ark. There are many, many books about Noah. But imagine a philokalia for kids? (I've tried to write this for years but am still stumped, so maybe you can do it!) A sense of the unique Orthodox ethos should be in every query I recieve...
- Don't give up if you enjoy the work. There are only a few Orthodox children's books that are published every year. Thankfully, we've been busy these last ten years and there are so many more books for little ones than there once were! I'm working with an author now who deserves three medals. One for persistence, one for humility, and one for longsuffering. He has written many really good stories. He has overcome disappointment after disappointment with grace. I just love this writer. He's not a quitter; and this year he will have a book on the market and we will all shout with joy for him!
- Which brings me to my last point. Be nice. Be professional. Come to the table as a team player. We are not in this business to make money, but to build the Kingdom of God. We all sacrifice and work hard. As an editor, I never choose to work with people who are difficult. When I am handling only three projects each year, I pick and choose those people who are talented, who are professional, and who are willing to work as a team. There are always bumps and difficulties: The printer in Canada had to delay the shipment because of weather; the artist got the flu and we're behind schedule; my computer crashes each time I type an exclamation point! We want our projects to embody Christ from the get go--we want our books to shine with virtue from the moment we sign the contract. Because, in the end, the spirit of the people shines right through the page and into the words and pictures that those little ones are looking at and hearing. And that's why I do what I do--it's all about the little ones and their desire and capacity to be inspired by the magic of words
and the power of Story...
Published: March 21, 2015 | Filed under: You