These are some of the questions that I am asked frequently, click on each to see my response.
Writing is such an intense need for me that I can’t go without for too long. So I’m always looking for those rare moments of freedom to get my “fix.” I grab snatches of time whenever I can. Using a laptop has helped me to take my writing wherever I go, and also gives me the ability to relocate to areas of the house where my presence is needed. So I usually position myself in the center of the house, where I can write and direct traffic. I’ve had to develop a keen inner-filtering mechanism to sift out the noises of children as I write, while still being alert enough to referee kid squabbles. It’s like dividing my brain in two. My best work is usually done while the kids are away at school (when the house is quieter) or just after bedtime (when the house should be quieter, but often isn’t). I also have to discipline myself to know when enough is enough and I’ve got to quit writing for the day. My summers are my most productive months, because all but one of my children leave town, playing the very unfortunate game of musical houses.
A whole lot of daydreaming and a little bit of luck. BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP almost seemed to write itself at first. I remember sitting down to the computer and composing a few images, and then the refrain sprang from nowhere onto the screen, like the swamp monster rising from the mist. My other stories started with a simple playful idea, usually attached to a rhythm, which I then had to build upon and repeatedly revise over and over again. My first drafts are usually snappy and fun but lacking a plot. I try to get away with that but eventually am told, “It needs more of a story.” So I have to go back and squeeze a plot into the meter I’ve already set up. It’s a grueling thing. COOL DADDY RAT was revised hundreds of times, shelved, and brought back for more revisions over a period of many years. First he was just a lonely rat, then I was told to add a girlfriend in. Then I took her out. Finally little “Ace” entered the story, and that’s when something really clicked. My first draft of COOL DADDY RAT was written more than ten years before its eventual publication. The text sounds so simple as a finished product that I’m sure people will assume I wrote it in five minutes while eating potato chips.
I’m often surprised at how many people tell me, “I want to write children’s books, too.” For years I thought it was this strange obsession I had, but I’m quickly learning it’s something that lots of people think about. My first advice would be that if writing children’s books is a fleeting thought, or an idea that occasionally crosses your mind, it’s not likely to happen. Few people realize the fierce determination you really need to accomplish it. You’ve got to be willing to study the craft, write, get harsh criticism, revise, revise, revise, and get rejected. (And then do it all again. And again. And again.) Many people believe that writing for children is easy. But most of us are not celebrities with their connections. We’ve got to actually sell our manuscripts because the writing is good. That takes a whole lot of tedious, tiring work. It took me nearly twenty years to accomplish it.
However, if you’ve got the passion and you’re absolutely determined to do whatever it takes, take a look at my “Top 10 things a writer SHOULD do to publish a children’s book”
I do. Since I have a few children with chronic illnesses and one with autistic disorder, I wanted to use my writing in a way that could benefit other parents. I remember years ago being a lonely young mother, searching the internet for answers and advice. Perhaps my experiences and what I’ve learned can be now be a resource for other parents who are just starting their special needs parenting journey. I don’t claim to be an expert but I’ve tried to do my research. I have to crank out those blogs rather quickly, and it pains me to think there may be errors I missed that are now out there for the entire world to see. Yet I’ll put aside my compulsive tendencies for the sake of trying to do some good. If I can provide hope to at least one parent who is feeling overwhelmed, I’ll know the blogging has been worth it. http://special-needs.families.com/blog
My father loves to write rhyming poetry and has always been quite good at it. I think he bred that tight-ticking meter in me. When I was a child, he would recite poems like “The Jabberwocky” in a way that was totally captivating.
I remember attending a writer’s conference as an unpublished writer, toting a funny little rhyming manuscript around about a rat in the city. An editor was there from a big publishing house, and she spoke to our group of hopeful writers. “Do not send rhyme,” she said. “I don’t like to see rhyming stories.” Other editors, in online interviews and articles had dittoed the same plea. “No rhyme, please.” So I felt pretty hopeless. I did have a bunch of stories written which weren’t in rhyme, but something told me this rhyming manuscript was good. I figured, I’ll just show it around and see what happens. Well, that same visiting editor at the conference took a look at it, and ended up asking me if she could take it back to New York with her. Huh? But this was a rhyming story, and she had just denounced rhyme a few hours earlier! I sold that manuscript, and then two other rhyming stories since. And I’m seeing a lot of books in rhyme on the shelves. I think the reason that editors may not want rhyme is because there is a lot of cheesy, predictable, silly rhyme out there. Editors probably get piles of manuscripts in rhyme that make their eyes roll. If you’re going to write in rhyme, it’s got to be snappy, fresh, and interesting.
I would say that you have to decide: how serious am I about this quest? If you’re dead serious, then you’ve got to treat it like a career, instead of a hobby. You’ve got to study, attend writer’s conferences, schedule time to write, get into a critique group, and act like you’re wearing an “author” hat. Find out where other writers are meeting and what they’re doing. Get in with the “in” crowd of writing. There is a whole underworld you need to discover. Hone your craft, by writing and revising a lot. Understand the product you’re trying to create, by reading lots of picture books regularly. I once read an interview from an editor who said that 80 percent of the manuscripts they received were written by people who had clearly not even looked at a recent picture book. You need to know your intended product very well. I think the biggest obstacle hopeful picture book authors face is their own misconception that writing for children is easy.
The problem I have with celebrity children’s books is that the focus seems to be more commercial than literary. I would hate to see the picture book industry become so overrun by commercialism that good literature no longer matters. I believe the author’s name should never become more important than the story itself. My hope is that parents are selecting books for their kids based on the quality of the story and how appealing it is for their children, rather than merely because a movie or rock star wrote it.
Without question, it’s the incredible amount of time it takes to get a book published. After selling your manuscript (which could easily take years of revisions and education) you’ll wait nearly a year for an illustrator to be selected. Then you’ll wait another year—at least– for those illustrations to be completed. Then after they’re finished, you’ll wait another year for the printing to get done. In most cases you’ll wait a minimum of three years from the manuscript sale to seeing your book on the shelves—but probably even longer. Picture books are typically printed in China and shipped by boat back to the United States. It’s an incredibly long process.