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...

Cheers, friends!

Published: March 21, 2015 | Filed under: You

Comments (14)
Sarah said:
March 22, 2015 @ 3:52 PM

Thank you so much for this post! I have been an admirer of your books since our family became Orthodox a few years ago. I have also been considering writing an Orthodox children's book this year, so this post came at the perfect time. Thank you again for your insight.

jane g meyer replied:
March 23, 2015 @ 4:55 PM

Wonderful, Sarah! Every writer has a unique story to tell. I'd love to hear yours...

James Anthny said:
March 22, 2015 @ 7:18 PM

I recently finished typing a manuscript of poems I'd like to see published some day. Although, I must say they're not exactly "children's book" material. Decades ago I found a card by a man named Peter R. Stone. The front was a line drawing of a couple of sheets of paper, bottle of ink,and a quill pen. Inside was "I write for in me is much to say, to much for me to think alone." I taped it inside my Bible.

jane g meyer replied:
March 23, 2015 @ 5:01 PM

James Anthony... Though I'm honored that a few of my stories have been published, I really write to figure out who I am, what I'm thinking, and where to go next. Somehow that pen and paper helps me dive so much deeper into Jane. That quote you have taped in your Bible is revealing... I don't know if it's what the author intended, but I like the idea that by writing we are not only co-creating with God, but we are also communicating deeply with Him. And even if our writing is never heard by some sort of worldly audience, it is heard by the Heavens, and that's really the best audience around..

Rebeca said:
March 23, 2015 @ 5:17 PM

I'm so glad you included reading the story aloud! I read so many books to my children and am constantly editing on the fly because the words don't flow when they're spoken. I've said several times that reading a book aloud should be part of the editing process!

jane g meyer replied:
March 24, 2015 @ 9:51 AM


heather said:
March 23, 2015 @ 7:34 PM

Hi Jane--- loved reading this post! These are great points as well. Love hearing a little inside on the behinds the scenes aspect of writing and editing. We had talked a while back I think about my illustrating. I'm still rolling around ideas for stories. My problem seems to be I get too wordy, haha. Still trying to refine that! But yes, a good children's book is such a treasure, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. There are some on my daughter's bookshelf that I am usually as eager to read as she is!

jane g meyer replied:
March 24, 2015 @ 9:53 AM

Heather. It's much easier to trim words down than to add them in! Just takes practice... I'll write a post soon about illustrators since I handle that too as a part of my job. Keep writing--keep stretching your artistic skills!

Monica said:
March 25, 2015 @ 3:41 PM

When my son Maximus was little I wished I could find a children's book about his saint. Since I could find no book about St Maximus the Confessor, I wrote one. I ran it past my fellow English teacher and went through a few drafts, only to have the little ones bored when I read it aloud :( too long! A few more drafts and I showed it to my priest. Now my son is 12 and I waited too long to finish it for him, but I still want to finish it :)

jane g meyer replied:
March 26, 2015 @ 10:52 PM

Yes, Monica, always look toward the finish line! Sounds like a great story...

Adriane replied:
October 18, 2016 @ 6:42 PM

I was just poking around the internet, hoping to find a book on St. Maximus for a 13-14 yr old boy and came across this post. I haven't found anything so far. Perhaps you should give it another go. :)

Monica replied:
October 19, 2016 @ 8:15 AM

Adriane, I am working on it and have been reading a link from Jane's site about finding an agent. I think it would be geared a bit young for a 13-14 yo unless I also wrote a young adult novel!

Monica said:
October 19, 2016 @ 8:21 AM

Jane, I've been reading through the website and one page says that if one wants to publish children's literature, one should attend children's lit conventions and be involved in children's lit associations. Do you think this is true for Orthodox Children's Lit? In other words, what is my next step: agent, associations, something else? Thank you!

jane g meyer replied:
October 19, 2016 @ 4:59 PM

If you're only interested in publishing materials for Orthodox kids, then you could get good craft knowledge from conventions, etc, which would be beneficial... But obviously the whole mingling/meeting editors, agents, piece of it wouldn't be of any help. You definitely don't need an agent to publish within the Orthodox market. That would be time wasted. Just concentrate on really good writing, and submit!

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