Learn what it takes to achieve success in children's book publishing as well as essential information about the publishing industry from You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils. Read on to discover some of the misconceptions about writing a children's book.
Misconceptions About Writing for Children
Let’s start with what you think you know about children’s book publishing. Most writers who are considering writing children’s books have some preconceived notions about the genre. Many of these ideas are probably right on. Others are misconceptions that we’ll want to clear up before we go any further.
- Writing children’s books is easier than writing for the adult market because the books are shorter. Because of the special nature of this audience and the competitive nature of the market, most writers find that writing for children is as challenging as, or even more challenging than, writing for other audiences. Writing for children, for instance, requires knowledge of how children develop emotionally and how they acquire reading skills.
- Stories for children need to teach a moral lesson. While many of the stories we remember from childhood suggested lessons about right and wrong, today’s publishers are looking for stories that suggest hopeful messages subtly, depict a “slice of life,” or offer a humorous or unusual look at the child’s world. Moreover, young readers are more sophisticated than you may think. They are turned off by heavy-handed morals. They can figure out a story’s implications for themselves, without having the morals spelled out for them.
- Because my kids love the stories that I tell them at bedtime, I’m sure they are good enough to be published. While your own kids—and even their friends—probably love your stories, this small sample of children is probably not an indication of the market as a whole. It’s a good start, of course, but an editor is going to expect that your story ideas have broad and commercial appeal.
- I’ll need to find an illustrator to create the images for my story. This is probably the biggest misconception about writing picture books. Publishers—not authors—almost always find and work with the illustrators of the book they publish. In fact, most publishing companies prefer to work this way.
- Kids can think abstractly. While some young readers can think abstractly, most children (especially younger children) understand fiction quite literally. That means you have to be careful about what you suggest to them. Perhaps you have a story idea about a little girl who is lonely. Suddenly a magical man arrives and takes her away on a fantastic adventure. That may be a solid story idea, but your reader might also take that story line literally and believe that it’s okay to go on an adventure with a stranger.
- Kids are fairly unsophisticated consumers. Today’s kids are selective and sophisticated consumers of everything from athletic shoes to online entertainment to their own reading material. Text messaging, e-mail, and interactive social networks, such as Facebook allow kids to share ideas about new products and trends much sooner than they ever did before. Do not underestimate how discerning children are.
- I need to find an agent before I can publish my children’s books. As competitive as today’s market is, many children’s book editors are still reading unsolicited materialand delight in finding a gem of a story in their “slush pile.”
- If I send my story to a publisher, they might steal my idea. Publishers are simply not going to steal your idea. They aren’t in the market to steal. Chances are, your idea isn’t entirely original anyway. The old adage “there’s nothing new under the sun” applies here. There’s not an idea for a book that hasn’t been invented before.
- I need to protect my work with a copyright before I send it out. Your work is protected by federal copyright laws whether or not you apply for a copyright through the U.S. copyright office. Don’t display a copyright notice on the manuscript—the work is protected without it. By using one, you’ll only end up looking naive to a publisher. If you are still concerned, you can ensure that your work will be protected in a court of law by mailing a copy of it to yourself in a self-addressed stamped envelope. When the envelope arrives at your mailbox, don’t open it. Keep it sealed in a file. The postmark will help you defend the work if you need to.
- If my story or book idea is rejected, the manuscript just wasn’t good enough and I don’t have what it takes. Publishing is a business like any other business. When a publisher rejects a manuscript, it is a business decision, although it almost always feels like a personal decision to a writer. A publisher sees the act of publishing a book as a business proposition. If they can generate a profit by publishing your work, they will be more apt to say yes. If they can’t, they may very well decline the work no matter how engaging and well-written the work is. And that doesn’t mean that another publisher might not see a valuable business proposition in your work.