Children’s Writing Weblog

Want to Write Children’s Books? You Need These Four Things!

Posted on: August 17, 2009

My son’s been studying karate for 4 years, and every time he tests for the next rank (he’s up to brown now), fewer and fewer kids who began with him as white belts test alongside him. It’s not that Matt’s necessarily a better athlete than they are, but martial arts are more important to him. He likes learning the forms, and he enjoys surviving a long, physically grueling test knowing that most of his friends would have been flattened in the first 20 minutes. When aspiring writers begin identifying themselves as authors, just as Matt sees himself as a martial artist, they’ve taken that first big step toward success.

But there’s a difference between wanting to see your name on a book, and wanting a career as a children’s book author. Anyone with a few dollars can publish their own story, and many books are perfectly suited to be self-published titles given to family and friends. The career mentality, however, is deeper. Check out some common characteristics right now and see how you stack up:

Humility: When I get messages from people saying, “I’m going to be the next Dr. Seuss,” I sigh. Confidence is fine, but don’t compare yourself to someone like Dr. Seuss when you’re a beginner. In fact, don’t compare yourself to anyone. Work on finding your own style and voice. And know that you don’t have to become a literary institution to be successful. Learning to write well is a lifelong process, and the writers who get published understand that each stmanuscript, whether it sells or not, teaches them something. They’re unafraid to be critiqued or edited. They’ve put their heart into a book or article, and then removed their ego. They understand that if their critique group or editor says a plot is too predictable, it’s far better to chuck the storyline and start over than to fight to preserve a mediocre manuscript. And they’re thankful for the input that saved them from scores of rejection letters.

Will Work for Resumé: Successful authors are aware that their query letters are more impressive if they can list some publishing credits. They’re willing to write for little or no money at first, because the experience of meeting a deadline and working with an editor is invaluable. They may decide to sell one story to a magazine that buys all rights so their next story can be sold to a larger publication that buys first rights only. They’ll submit to local magazines, regional publishers and small presses while they perfect their manuscripts intended for larger, national children’s book publishers. Well-published authors don’t overlook any market that might be appropriate for a particular work. And when you’re just starting out, seeing your byline in a local parenting magazine is just as satisfying as appearing in Highlights for Children.

‘Tensity: Matt’s karate teacher works hard to increase Matt’s practice intensity, and Matt’s dubbed this mindset “‘tensity.” The successful writers I know think the same way. Though most have families and jobs, they live, eat and breathe writing. Any spare moment is used to work on a manuscript. Free weekends are spent at conferences and workshops. When they’re not writing, they’re reading children’s books. As soon as they get one manuscript in the mail, they start the next one. In fact, super successful authors work on numerous manuscripts at once. If they’re not in the mood to revise a scene from their novel, they’ll write a query for an article idea or do research for a picture book biography.

You don’t have to maintain this level of activity to become published. Most writers don’t. But if you want to make a living as a children’s book author, if you want your web site to list 50 or more books in print, then it’s practically required.

Plays the Field: Well-published authors don’t limit themselves to one genre. They’ll write picture books, novels, short stories for magazines, poetry, nonfiction, and material for adult markets such as parenting magazines or writing newsletters. After one book comes out they aren’t waiting for their editor to ask for another manuscript; they create what inspires them and if it’s not right for their current editor, they market it someplace else.Truth is, it’s tougher to get widely-published if you only write one type of book. A publisher carries a limited number of titles per season, and the editor of your middle grade novel might not appreciate your having another novel for the same age group come out with a different publisher simultaneously. But a magazine article or nonfiction picture book won’t compete with a book for older kids, and still gets your name in front of reviewers and book buyers.

Successful authors don’t dabble in writing on a whim, they embrace it and do whatever it takes to get published because it’s what they want more than anything else. So get in there, work with ‘tensity, and send us a quote for our web site when you hit the jackpot.

Laura Backes is the Publisher of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Book Writers. Want to learn how to become a successful children’s book author? Come hang with the Fightin’ Bookworms at Whether is writing picture books, chapter books, young adult novels, finding children’s book publishers — or anything else — you’ll find all the answers at the CBI Clubhouse!

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