Bethany Roberts' Writing for Children Workshop: Writer FAQs on Writing Childrens Books
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Childrens Writing...

Writing for Children Workshop
FAQs
(FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS)

FROM BEGINNING WRITERS 
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How do I get started?
Read stacks of children's books in the genre you are interested in.  Immerse yourself.  Read current children's books as well as the classics.  Read books aloud to kids if possible to see how they react.  What makes them laugh?  What keeps them on the edge of their seats?  What bores them? Analyze children's books as you read them.  What makes them work?  Or, if they don't work, why not?  What could the author have done better?

Join SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.)   Read their newsletters,  attend their conferences, and join a children's writers critique group.  If there isn't a group in your area, call up SCBWI members who live near you and start a new children's writers group. 
 
Write.  A lot.  Write every day.  The more you write, the more your ideas will flow, and the better your writing will get.
How do I find an illustrator for my picture book manuscript?   
You don't need to find an illustrator.  Unless you are an illustrator yourself, editors prefer to receive manuscripts from writers without illustrations.  If they are interested in your manuscript, they will choose an illustrator for you.
Where should I submit my manuscript?  
One good source of information for children's book publishers is CHILDREN'S WRITER'S AND ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET (Writers Digest Books), which is updated yearly.  Or see some of the writers resources for links to children's publishing information.
 
Children's book editors say that 95% of the submissions they receive are wrong for them.  Writers submit fiction to publishers who only publish non-fiction, or picture books to publishers who don't publish picture books.  So you can save yourself a lot of time, postage, and frustration by doing the research, and checking to see which publishers might be interested in your manuscript.  And read, read, read current  children's books to learn the market.

Remember, your manuscript won't sell if it stays in your drawer!  After submitting a manuscript, start working on the next one.  If you believe in a manuscript, submit it at least 7-10 times.  Then if it hasn't sold, do a major revision on it, and send it out again.

What is correct manuscript form?  
Put your name, address, and phone number in the upper left-hand corner, single-spaced.  Type your manuscript, double-spaced.  Use white paper.  Use a basic font such as 12-point Times New Roman.  Use 1 inch margins.  Begin half-way down the page, with your title in capitals, centered, followed on the next line by your byline.  (You don't need to insert page breaks for picture books- just type it out as you would a story.)
On the second page and all following pages, number the pages and include a header (your name and the title of your manuscript.)   Neatness and correct spelling, punctuation, and  grammar are important.

Include a cover letter to the editor, and a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope.)  For more manuscript form specifics, click to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators web site for their publication, "From Keyboard to Printed Page."
Help!  How do I write a cover letter?   
New writers sometimes panic about writing a cover letter, wondering what to say.  Relax!  It doesn't need to be very long.  In fact, editors prefer them to be brief.

Type your letter on letterhead stationary and use standard business letter format.  Find out an editor's name, and address the letter to the editor as Ms. or Mr.   Use a colon, not a comma.
Then introduce yourself.  If you have any writing credentials- previous sales to magazines or book publishers- say so.  Otherwise, is there anything in your background that helps qualify you?   Teaching experience?  Librarian experience?  Experience with subject matter of the book?  What qualifies you to write this particular story?  Do you belong to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators?  The Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers?

Mention your manuscript title, and what sort of manuscript it is- picture book, beginning reader, chapter book, historical novel, science fiction, or whatever. You can include a brief description of your story.   If you have researched and found that this story is unique in its genre, say so.  If you hand-picked this particular publisher, say so.   Do NOT say "I have read this story to my children/my grandchildren/my students and they loved it!"

Sign off "sincerely"  (some say "warm regards" works even better!)  See?  It's not so hard! (See sample cover letter.for business format.)

Does a personal rejection letter mean more than a form letter, or is the editor just being nice?  
While children's book editors are very nice people, they don't take time to write personal letters- or even to scribble a quick, handwritten note on a form letter- unless they are interested in encouraging you as a writer.  If you are getting personal letters (addressed to you instead of to "Dear author", with a mention of your book by title, and signed by an editor) you are doing very well!  If they ask you to send more stories- send more stories!  If they offer suggestions to improve the manuscript, try to follow their suggestions- and then re-submit your story to them. 
 
Welcome any suggestions editors may offer and learn from them.  If you are getting the same sort of comments over and over again from different editors, take a good hard look at your writing.  See if you can revise your manuscript before you send it out. again.   Rejection letters can actually be valuable sources of information.
What are  query letters?
Sometimes, instead of submitting a manuscript, a publisher prefers writers to send a letter, describing the manuscript.  They will then let you know if they are interested in receiving the manuscript.  This is common for novels and non-fiction.  Some publishers request that you send a few chapters along with your query letter, but not the entire manuscript.
What are multiple submissions?
Some writers like to submit the same manuscript to more than one publisher at a time.  Some publishers frown on this; others accept this practice.  If you decide to submit to more than one publisher, state in your cover letter that it is a multiple submission.  
Do I need an agent?
My answer to this has changed over the years.  There aren't as many publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  Either look for an agent, or look for publishers who accept unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts.  
(See writers' resources for links to research children's book publishers.)

more FAQs about the writing life

BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN'S WRITERS

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Sample cover letter:

Ike N. Writewell
Author Road
Your Town, Hopeful State 99999
Your phone
Your e-mail address 

May 15, 2001

Ms. Spelled Right Name, Editor-in-Chief
Only the Best Children's Books, Inc.
Publishers Lane
New York, New York  Zipcode

Dear Ms. Spelled Right Name:

I am an SCBWI member with a B.S. in early childhood education, and a background in elementary school teaching and in school library work.

Enclosed is my picture book manuscript, THE ADVENTURES OF SAM PIG.  Thank you for your consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Ike N. Writewell

 

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