So You Want to Write A Children’s Book?

Okay, so I haven’t been posting updates as often recently — but there’s a reason for that:  I’ve just finished writing a children’s picture book.

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Book time at the Braunohler house

Ever since I started reading to Logan and re-discovered the world of children’s literature, I realized what an important role books play in the lives of children.  Walter, Logan, and I all treasure a good picture book (Katelyn is a little young yet).  We read it many times over, and yet it never grows old.  And we can never have enough books.  We order new children’s books from Amazon every week.  We ask for new books for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter.  Going to the book store is one of our favorite things to do.  So in love with the world of children’s literature I have become, that I am now determined to contribute to it.  I’m not saying I’ll be the next Maurice Sendak or J.K. Rowling.  I’m not saying that I’ll write anything as beautiful as Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, as captivating as Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, or as humorous as Mo Willems Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, but I’ve written something.  Something creative that involves a young boy who travels the world via his imagination.  And I’ll leave it at that.

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Cousins Issy and Maxi introducing Logan to The Adventures of Tin Tin, now one of his favorite series!

Do I hope to get published?  Of course.  Do I think I’ll get published?  I guess we’ll find out in 6-12 months – or even longer.  In the meantime, I’d like to write about my journey as an aspiring author every now and then.  If in the process of becoming a parent you’ve also found a passion for wanting to write your own children’s book, I hope you’ll join this journey with me.  Below are some of the things that I’ve already learned from the process of writing and submitting a manuscript — and suggestions you might want to think about if you are going in a similar direction.

1. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI).  

If you’re even thinking about voyaging into the world of writing children’s lit, this is an absolute must.  The discussion boards provide a treasure trove of information on how to go about writing your manuscript, contacting agents, forming critique groups, finding appropriate publishing houses . . . you name the subject in the world of children’s lit, and it’s been (or is being) discussed on the boards.  When I’ve posted a question, I’ve always received numerous responses — all of which are helpful.  Most of the responses come from published authors and sometimes even from editors and agents, which makes the information you receive via the boards all the more valuable.  The SCBWI offers yearly conferences where authors and illustrators can meet agents and editors, establishes local member groups for authors and illustrators to come together, critique one another’s work, and so on, keeps author and illustrators up-to-date on contests, and is a wonderful general resource and meeting place for those entering the children’s lit world.

2.  It’s not as easy as it looks.

We have our classic favorites that only the world’s most talented children’s authors could contrive, but we’ve also read some children’s books that seem so simple and effortless.  I’ve read those books and thought, “This isn’t hard.  I can do this.”  Right.  Something that is appealing to you as an adult reader of a children’s book might not also appeal to a child.  And that is the hardest part.  Getting out of the mindset of what you like to read and getting into the mindset of what a child would enjoy.  And after determining what this might be, you then have to put words on paper, write query letters, allow your manuscript to be critiqued, find appropriate publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, etc. etc.  Trust me — it’s a lot more difficult than it at first seems.

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Grandad sharing his love of aviation with Logan via children’s literature

3. Once you’ve determined your genre and developed your concept, just start writing.

I knew I wanted to write a picture book (as opposed to a middle grade novel, for example) but it took me months to develop my concept.  And by “develop my concept,” I mean just think about what story I wanted to tell children and how I would tell it.  That was the easy part.  Then I had to actually put it in writing.  Transitioning my work from my head to a written page has never been my strongest suit.  I’m not a fast writer, yet I’m a perfectionist.  This screws me in two ways.  In fact, it’s screwing me right now as I write this post.  Until I convey an idea exactly the way I want it to be conveyed (whether it be in the first sentence, second, third . . . ), I can’t move on.  This means it takes me a long time to write.  Too long, most of the time.  Instead of being like me, I would suggest (and I’ve read), it’s wiser just to get a first draft on paper — the whole thing.  Then, start revising.  If it’s awful, revise a lot.  But what matters is that your concept has been developed and written down — and you can continue to improve on it as much as you like.

4. Once you think you’ve got a good first draft, join or form a critique group.

A good critique group is worth its weight in gold.  Seriously.  The first draft of my manuscript has improved leaps and bounds since I’ve had other aspiring and published authors look at my work.  Although criticism of your writing, no matter how nicely conveyed, is difficult to swallow, trust me, this one is worth it.  How did I find a critique group?  I posted a comment through an SCBWI discussion board (there is a board specific to critique groups) and was able to find three other writers looking for critiques on their picture book manuscripts as well.  We traded manuscripts individually and responded individually via email.  It worked perfectly.  Finally, a rookie mistake I almost made:  sending it to friends and family for critiques. While I love my friends and family (and can’t wait for them to read my book), they are probably much less likely be as critical as others that you don’t know.  A not-fully-honest critique of your work won’t get you where you need to be to get published.

5. Once your manuscript is ready to go, start researching agents and/or publishing houses.

To agent or not-to-agent?  This was a big question for me.  After doing a lot of online research and talking with other published authors, I decided to give it a go without an agent.  Why?  Because I’m writing a picture book and many publishing houses — even some of the big ones — still accept unsolicited manuscripts from yet-to-be-published authors.  If I were writing a middle grade or young adult novel, I would have chosen differently. We’ll see how this works out for me in the end — but it is definitely something you need to think about before you start submitting.

Speaking of submitting, how do you know which houses to submit to?  Well, I have spent hours pouring over houses — the big five, the family-owned, the niche, independent houses — and am choosing to submit to those who: a) accept unsolicited picture book manuscripts and b) publish works similar in nature to what I’ve written.  A good place to start is the SCBWI’s Publishing Guide, which is updated online weekly for members.  From there, I checked the SCBWI’s discussion boards (in particular, the one on “Response Times”) to see which publishers I might be missing.  Once I had a tentative list, I then started checking out the houses online to make sure they were currently accepting picture book manuscripts.  If they were, I took note of their submission guidelines, editors’ names, and other picture books that they have recently published.  This is a really tedious process — but it makes much more sense (at least, in my opinion) to submit only to those houses who might have an interest in publishing what you’ve written based on what they’re looking for versus submitting blindly.  Again, we’ll see how it works out.

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At one of our favorite libraries in Bangkok: Neilson Hays

6.  Format your manuscript and write your query and/or cover letters.

After you’ve selected who you’d liked to submit to (whether it be an agent or a publishing house), make sure to write proper cover and query letters to accompany your manuscript.  Is there a difference between the two?  Yes, there is — but I’ll let you do some research on that one.  Do all houses require this?  No, they don’t, but it is always polite to submit a cover letter with your manuscript — so just suck it up, and do it.  And personalize it to the house and/or editor and/or agent.  Oh, and make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly.  Don’t be sloppy!

7.  Send that manuscript out and prepare to . . . wait.

Everything in place?  Well, then it is time to submit.  And then wait — one month, three months, six months, a year.  These response times are all normal in the publishing world, so get used to it.  And in the meantime, start working on your next manuscript!

Also, one thing that has really helped me is pinning all of the great blogs and pages I have come across during my research.  I am more than happy to share this with others, so if you want a little short-cut on all of that research, here is a link to my Pinterest “Getting Published” Board:  http://www.pinterest.com/lorenbraunohler/getting-published/.

Right now I’m in the waiting process.  I only began submitting a few days ago, so I’m not holding my breath for a response any time soon.  I figure, though, that I will keep pretty busy in the meantime with a newborn, the third mini-edition to our sweet family (nine more weeks to go)!

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