Laura Backes Bardwants to help authors of children’s books write better. About 25 years ago, Laura—who worked as a literary agent—started the Children’s Book Insider, a newsletter aimed at sharing advice to writers looking to improve their books for kids. She’s published several how-to books and been an editor on other projects. She graciously agreed to sit down with me and offer up some advice for budding children’s book writers. Without further ado, here’s the interview.
Tell me about yourself and your background in writing/publishing.
I moved to NY from Colorado back in 1986 to work in publishing. I knew I eventually wanted to be a literary agent, but first wanted to work at publishing houses so I’d get a more rounded view of the industry. I started in publicity at Random House, then I moved to subsidiary rights at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. From there I got a job at a small literary agency representing their children’s book clients. I was a first reader of submissions, and I found myself writing two page rejection letters detailing why I was rejecting the books and how to make them better. I commented to my husband that I wished there was a source of information to which I could just refer aspiring children’s book writers. He said, “Why don’t you start one?” I’m a closet Type A personality, so when someone says something like that, I take it as a challenge. I started the Children’s Book Insider newsletter in May of 1990, while I was still an agent. Through working on the newsletter and teaching workshops, I discovered that my true love and talent is really helping authors shape their work before they submit to agents and editors. That’s where my focus has shifted since then.
I’ve published several how-to books for writers through Children’s Book Insider, and authored Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Random House). I was asked to be the technical editor of Writing Children’s Books for Dummies (Wiley), and have published articles to Writer’s Digest as well as Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Tell me more about Children’s Book Insider?
Children’s Book Insider is an electronic subscription newsletter, ranging from 8-10 pages a month. The first two pages are always listings of publishers, agents and contests to which aspiring and published authors can submit their work. The articles cover everything from writing to publishing to marketing books for children and teens. The subscription includes access to our membership site, The Children’s Writing Knowledge Base (www.cbiclubhouse.com), which houses 25 years’ worth of articles, videos and podcasts on all aspects of writing and publishing for children, as well as several years of back issues of the newsletter. We add new content to the Knowledge Base each month to which our members get exclusive access. In the last couple of years we’ve expanded our focus to cover self-publishing, ebooks and apps along with traditional publishing. My husband Jon and I also host www.writeforkids.org, which is our public website that covers children’s book publishing news, short posts on writing, and guest posts with advice from published authors.
What is the Picture eBook Mastery course and what are the benefits for writers?
Back in September 2014, Amazon released the free KDP Kids’ Book Creator software, which allows anyone to create illustrated ebooks in landscape format and upload them to Amazon. We quickly realized that this was the opportunity many picture book writers and illustrators had been waiting for, but they might be intimidated at the thought of self-publishing and marketing an ebook. So we created Picture eBook Mastery, which walks you through the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software step by step, and includes some cool secret design techniques I developed that Amazon doesn’t even know you can do. The meat of the course is a series of videos where I actually use the software and break everything into small steps for the non-technical people out there. We also include sources for finding illustrators, show you how to upload your book onto Amazon and position it with the best key words, and have video interviews with four authors who are Amazon marketing geniuses. The course exists online, so once someone purchases it they have lifetime access to the content and any updates I create, which I do whenever Amazon tweaks the software or I learn something new about the process.
Writers do not need to be super-techy to publish an ebook. Unless you want lots of bells and whistles, it’s really just text and JPEG illustrations. I had to teach myself this whole program the day after it was released, before anything had been written about it. I am not super-techy by a long shot. People get stressed out about the tech aspects but really, put your energy into writing a great story, creating or finding top-notch illustrations, and building a marketing platform. The creation of the ebook is the easy part.
What’s the most common piece of advice you give a writer who wants to publish his or her children’s book?
On one hand, what this actually means is that craft is more important than ever. This is because a lot more people will be self-publishing now that it’s so easy and inexpensive to do so. And if you want your children’s book to rise to the top and get talked about, it has to be great. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] Craft has always been paramount in children’s books, I think even more so than in some areas of adult publishing, but now more responsibility is being put on the author and illustrator to oversee that craft component on their own. So learning what makes an outstanding picture book in terms of storytelling, character development, language, pacing, how the text and illustrations work together, is really the author’s obligation and duty to his or her young audience.
Want to create your own illustrated children’s eBook and sell it on Amazon?
Laura Backes Bard and Jon Bard teach you how in this online course,
Picture eBook Mastery: The Unofficial Guide to Publishing
& Selling Kindle Children’s Books.
Click here for a sneak peek at the course and to enroll now!
What advantages do you see for writers who choose to publish through Amazon on the Kindle?
First, it’s far less expensive than self-publishing a print book, or even hiring a company to publish your ebook. The software is free, and it’s free to upload to Amazon, so the author only has to pay for illustrations if he or she isn’t an illustrator. It’s a terrific way to start a writing career, build an audience, or experiment with new and innovative story-telling techniques. Second, these authors will have the same access to the world’s largest book-selling platform as the authors on the best-seller lists. It’s a level playing field, and the your success rests entirely on how much time and effort you want to put into creating and marketing your work. You don’t have to wait for someone else to give you permission to become a published children’s book writer.
What drawbacks should writers be aware of?
In terms of how the electronic delivery platform affects craft, it’s important that authors and illustrators keep in mind the size of the smaller screen. This will require fewer words on each page, and less expansive illustrations. The scenes in the story might be broken into smaller pieces, requiring more page turns than in a print book. But the beauty of ebooks is that there are no restrictions on page length. If your story is served well in 18 pages, then that’s how long your book should be. If you need 33 pages, then you can do it. You do have to keep in mind your young audience and don’t expect them to sit still for a 54 page picture book, but if you have a longer story you could easily break it into short chapters and still include illustrations. The possibilities for creating your own format that best serves your book are endless.
What drives you to help writers get their work from hidden on their hard drive to out where readers can find it?
A well-crafted picture book is truly a work of art. To create a story that resonates with young children, that works in concert with imaginative illustrations, is a little bit of genius. And picture books change lives. They can open up the world to kids, spark their imaginations, or give them comfort. We all remember our favorite childhood stories, and in that way picture books can become a part us forever. I truly appreciate anyone who has the dream of impacting a child’s life in this way, and I’m honored to be able to help them realize that dream.
Anything else you¹d like to add?
This is really the golden age of publishing. Authors and illustrators now have options that they didn’t have just a few years ago. Those who take advantage of the many routes available to publication have the opportunity to reach children worldwide. Can you imagine getting an email from a child in Kenya or Germany or Japan telling you how much they liked your book? Or from a parent in Spain saying how your story helped her child get through a difficult experience? I can’t think of a better reason to embrace this new age and all it offers.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.