Becoming a Children's Writer,

A Step-by-Step Guide for Adults


Children's publishing is a fiercely competitive market. People interested in writing for children sometimes get caught up in looking at trends and trying to figure out what publishers want. I believe this is the wrong approach. If you want to write for children, here are some suggestions that really will help. It's best to read through this guide from the beginning but if you have a special concern, you can click on one of the topics below and go directly to that section.  If you are interested in children's picture books, you can read my article, "What To Do With a Picture Book Manuscript" which was written for Word, the newsletter of the Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.  

1. Read the Type of Books You Want to Write
2. Learn Your Craft
3. Competitions
4. Writers' and Other Support Organizations
5. Manuscript Evaluation
6. Publication

 

1. Read the Type of Books You Want to Write

A surprising number of people interested in writing for children don't read children's books. This is a mistake. Make friends with your local children's librarian or children's book seller and read what she recommends. Notice what you like and what seems to work. Pay attention to the writing.

 If you don't have access to a children's library or book store, look at some recommended reading lists. For
for a number of years, I ran a book club I ran out of Granny Bates Book Store in St. John's. Here are links my Summer Reading List for 2001, and a Summer Reading for 2004, put together with suggestions from young readers in the group.
The Canadian Children's Book Centre's annual Our Choice booklet lists books that juries of children's literature professionals have judged to be the best each year. To find out more, click on the link above, then click on the "Our Choice" option in the sidebar menu. 

2. Learn Your Craft

You may not get feedback from a professional editor for quite a while. There are two main ways to learn about writing in the meantime: through books about writing and by workshopping your material. Don't underestimate the value of books.

Good Books About the Craft of Writing

Here are some books about the technical aspects of writing that I recommend constantly:

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, Harcourt, Brace and Company.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, Vintage Books, Random House, 1983. A book for adults in spite of the subtitle.

Jack Hodgins, A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction, McClelland & Stewart, 1993.

David Madden, Revising Fiction: A Handbook For Writers, Plume/Penguin, 1988.  Find this book even if it's out of print.


Good Books About Other Aspects of Writing

These books deal with important background issues such as why we write and how to keep writing when the work seems discouraging.

Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing,  Bantam Doubleday, 1992.


Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life, HarperPerennial, 1993.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Doubleday, 1995. 

Writers' Workshops

If you live near a university or college, find out if they offer writing workshops. Some will be about writing for children specifically, but any writing workshop is a good idea if you're just beginning. If you want to write picture books, consider taking a poetry course if nothing else is available. Good picture book writing is like poetry in many ways.
Summer Workshops
Intensive, short-term workshops are helpful to writers who have gained some experience. Most will require you to submit work in advance, and only accept those writers who seem most likely to benefit from advanced instruction.

In Atlantic Canada, the University of New Brunswick runs the Maritime Writers' Workshop
every summer, with a section on children's writing taught by a leading Canadian children's writer.
To find out more, click on the link above, go into "Workshops and Conferences" and click on Maritime Writers' Workshop.

In Western Canada, Saskatchewan's  Sage Hill Writing Experience is one of the most respected workshops in Canada. It sometimes has a special section devoted to writing for children.

In Toronto, Humber College has been running an intensive summer Writing for Children program for the past few years.

3. Competitions

As you develop confidence in your skills, you may wish to enter competitions. The Writers' Union of Canada runs an annual Writing for Children competition for unpublished writers. With a maximum limit of 1500 words, this is mainly for those working on picture books.

4. Writers' and Other Support Organizations

Writers' organizations provide encouragement, advice and support for both experienced and developing writers. Many provincial writers organization accept members who are not published in book form. To find your provincial writers' organization, visit Wordwright Canada's Provincial Writers Organizations page.

For children's writers, one of the most important organizations is CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers. CANSCAIP has a "friends" membership category for developing writers and supporters of children's literature and performance arts. To find out about joining, visit the CANSCAIP's "Join Us" page.

Anyone can become a member of the Canadian Children's Book Centre, and everyone interested in writing for children should. Membership gives you the newsletter, "Canadian Children's Book News," and a free copy of the annual Our Choice booklet. To find out more, visit the CCBC's "Membership Information page." 

5. Manuscript Evaluation

If you are looking for feedback on your work, The Writers' Union of Canada offers a manuscript evaluation service that provides assessment of a professional writer working in your genre. You don't have to be a member to avail of this service
and you will be given a detailed critique. To find out more, visit TWUC's Manuscript Evaluation Service page.

Provincial writers organizations' manuscript evaluation service may be limited to members. The Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador offers a Manuscript Evaluation service to members. These services are subject to fees.

6. Publication

When you feel your work is ready to be considered for publication, the Canadian Children's Book Centre sells a kit called Get Published: The Writing for Children Kit for $14.95. It contains useful tips for authors and illustrators, a list of Canadian publishers currently accepting manuscripts and other helpful advice. To find it, go to the CCBC store and click on "Get Published. 

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