Enroll in writing courses, especially writing for children courses, at your local college or university. Buy or check-out books on writing for children. This kind of writing does have specific techniques you need to understand. This is the step most often skipped by well-meaning people who think writing for children is easy. They don’t get published, and can’t understand why.
Attend writers’ conferences and workshops.
Get involved in your state’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). It is an organization dedicated to authors, illustrators, and aspiring writers of children’s literature. (Find it on the internet.) You will learn what certain publishers are looking for, marketing trends, and other vital tips that writers who stay home miss. Your participation immediately puts you several jumps ahead of the crowd. You could also contact a local university or college and ask their English department what programs are available for children’s book writers. Good workshops cost money. Usually they are worth every penny you’ll spend. You will not only get manuscript feedback and writing instruction, but you will meet other writers and possibly agents and editors. You’ll get submission tips and other “inside” information that most hopeful writers don’t have access to. I’m published today because I attended a writing conference and got my work in front of the right people.
Join or Create a Writer’s Critique Group.
Extend yourself to other writers in the classes, workshops, and writing societies you participate in. Swap email addresses. Create or join a “critique” group, where you can share your works-in-progress and get honest, even harsh, feedback from other serious writers. I can’t emphasize enough how instrumental this can be to your eventual success. Have a shoot-straight policy in your group. Family members and spouses (unless they are serious writers) are not reliable critics.
Read and familiarize yourself with as many children’s books as you can.
Go to your local library and read recent and classic children’s books. Read Caldecott winners. Pay attention to the amount of text per page, and how words work in conjunction with pictures. I recently read the interview of an editor at a well-known publishing house. She remarked that a large percentage of manuscripts they received each day were written by people who obviously hadn’t even looked at a recent children’s book.
- Write and get feedback.
If you can, get an agent.
Getting an agent can be as hard as getting published. But the advantage of an agent is that he/she knows the publishers and their editors, often personally, and has inside tips on what they’re looking for. The agent will often know the best places to submit your story, saving you tons of research time. Plus, the fact that your work is agented means it will be looked at more seriously by the editor, instead of winding up in a slush pile. Once your story is selected for publication, an agent can be immensely valuable in negotiating the tiny details of the contract for you.
Don’t be fooled by scamming “agents” who ask for lots of money up front. A good agent will not ask for money or “reading” fees. He or she will represent good authors with current books on the shelves.
If you don’t have an agent, research children’s book publishers.
Get the most recent copy of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market from your local bookstore. This book is tremendously helpful. Research the publishers and what kind of stories they publish. You can also find children’s book publishers online. Read about their submission guidelines. Choose publishers who print stories similar to yours, who are accepting unsolicited manuscripts from unagented authors. Follow their submission guidelines closely. Send in your manuscript.
(Waiting is the one sure thing in the writing world. You will wait to hear back from editors; you will wait to get published; you will wait to get your advance, wait to see the illustrations, wait to get your book on the shelves……writing is not for the impatient.)
In the meantime, become a good juggler.
Get into a routine of writing stories and submitting them. Send off your manuscript, and before you get a response, start working on another story. Use your critique group, revise, polish, and send your new manuscript to a different publisher. Do this over and over until it becomes routine. Make sure you are always waiting to hear back on at least one story. If a story comes back with a rejection, make revisions and send it somewhere else. This way, you’ve always got something out there, and you keep hope alive.
Keep at it, and don’t give up.
Since I dreamed of being published when I was in kindergarten, you could say I spent thirty years waiting for it to happen. But I didn’t know a lot of things about the process which could have saved me time. Educate yourself, and network with other writers. Publishers are not going to magically call you up one day and ask to see your work. You’ve got to get your stories–good ones–on their desks.