You've had the idea running through your head for some time. You don't want to write the great American novel, but you'd like to see your name in print. Drawing back on your youth, you remember all of the fun you had reading -- or more likely, being read to. All of those books you read as a child, filled with color, imagination and morals.
You might even look back and think that writing children's books would be easy. But like most professions, becoming a children's book author requires a good deal of discipline, a hearty dose of know-how and often times, luck.
Do you have what it takes?
If you're serious about diving into the world of children's literature, then you need to be serious about your prospects. Like any form of writing, children's literature requires a certain set of character traits. First and foremost, you need to be passionate about your craft. Any good children's writer will tell you that you need to be able to relate to your audience. Putting yourself in the position of your reader -- whether they be six, eight or twelve, is imperative to successful writing. Try and remember what it feels like to experience things for the first time. Take a stroll through a local playground; read through titles that match your idea; turn on Saturday morning cartoons; or flip through your old scrapbooks. Don't be afraid to lose yourself to daydreams or memories of your childhood. All of this will help in the creative process.
From brainstorm to paper
As the creative juices start flowing, now is the time to think like an adult. Analyze. Strategize. Visit the children's section of your local bookstore or library. See what's out there. More importantly, see what's not out there. Chances are there's an idea to be had here. If you're thinking about writing a book that will teach kids about healthy eating for example, and you don't see any titles on the shelves, that could be a good sign that you'll be able to convince a publisher to take a chance on your book. Write down your ideas in a journal or log them into your computer. Over time, you'll settle in on your best ideas. Now, it's time to develop them.
Decide who you're writing for. Once you've settled on an idea, it's time to put pen to paper. But before you begin channeling Suess, decide who you're writing for. Are you writing for a begin-to-read audience, or is your book targeted for read-on-your-own demographic. Becoming familiar with the differences in reading comprehension between ages is critical to pitching your book. Before you do anything, you need to decide "My book is recommended for ages __ and up."
Outline. Start with an outline. Character names, setting, and a rough story arc are all important to effective writing. Creating an outline, though sometimes tedious, can provide you with a much smoother writing process. You don't need to fill in exact details; the document need not even be definite, but putting your story in order goes a long way to clear and concise writing.
Often, general authors will say that they knew how a story would end even before it began. Others start with strong characters and see where the story leads them. Both approaches are valid, but childrens literature often requires exceeding attention to clarity. An outline here is especially helpful.
Keep it simple. For books geared to younger children, this rule applies doubly. Keep your writing simple. Avoid big words and self-indulgent prose. Childrens books are generally light on pages, which makes each word all the more valuable. Keeping it simple will make your job a whole lot easier and make the story more understandable to your reader.
Once you've completed your story, it's time to get it to the publisher.
Publishing For many first-time authors, this step can be the most frustrating. Just as in your writing, for best results, know your audience. Do some research on different publishing houses. There are many out there, but not everyone takes childrens books. Still more generally do not consider first time authors. Here, a copy of the annually released Writers Market is key. Loaded with hundreds of names, addresses and overviews of publishing houses, literary agents and editors, it is a must for any aspiring author.
Follow the guidelines and recommendations found in the book and target your search by looking up other titles the publisher has put out in the past. Familiarizing yourself with not only the submission requirements, but also the flavor of each publishing house can give you a leg up on pitching your story.
Once you've done your research, send out your manuscript to a number of potential publishers. Smaller publishing houses might be a better bet for first time authors, so too might regional or local outfits. Just like children, you must do your homework.
Now you wait. This is the hardest step of all. Publishers are inundated with manuscripts and query letters from known and unknown authors. If you don't hear something at first, don't fret. Be patient and persistent. If you have a good story idea, you will hear a reply.
When submitting your manuscript, be sure to take note of the following
Try to limit your cover letter to one-page only. Try to be engaging, but not overblown.
Some publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts or first-time authors.
Proofread your proposal for errors. Typos can be a killer.
Be sure to include a SASE ("self-addressed stamped envelope") with your proposal package. Make sure you have covered the return postage for your entire mailing.