Children’s Writing Weblog

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I have a very clean house. I vacuum almost daily, regularly dust my silverware drawer for crumbs, and organize my closets at least three times a year. What’s my secret? I’m a writer who works from home.

Like many writers, when deadlines loom I circle my laptop, finding excuses not to get started. But because I do consider myself a writer (and my Mexico vacation depends on it), eventually I plop myself in the chair and get to work. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. I hear from a lot of people who long to call themselves writers, but have generated all sorts of reasons never to try. So here’s a list of the top five dreamdashers, and why none of them are worth believing:

I have no time to write. Every beginning writer is time-challenged, because until you’re getting paid for your writing, you’re probably spending a chunk of each day doing something else. But consider this: author Claudia Mills, who has two sons and works as a college professor, said at a workshop that she writes every morning while her family is still asleep. Many days, she only gets in 5-15 minutes of writing. But those are actual writing minutes; not minutes spent thinking about writing, or worrying about writer’s block, or staring at a blank piece of paper. When she assembles all those little bits of intensive writing over several weeks, she ends up with a book. Check out her results at

I’m too old. Editors won’t know how old you are if you don’t tell them. Your readers won’t know if you don’t put your picture on the book cover. If you write well, your voice will be ageless. I know of a woman who promised herself on her 65th birthday that she’d pursue a lifelong dream of writing a children’s book. She followed the advice to “write what you know,” and at age 69 earned her first contract for a middle grade novel based on events from her childhood.

I don’t have a college degree. Guess what? If you’re a children’s writer, neither do your readers. Sure, you need to know the basic rules of grammar and how to express yourself on paper, but hopefully you mastered that by junior high. The best education you can give yourself as a potential children’s book writer is to read children’s books––many children’s books, especially those similar to the kind of books you want to write. And don’t let your lack of knowledge about a nonfiction topic stop you from writing about it. If you’re a skilled writer who enjoys research, you can teach yourself enough about many subjects to write about them, or find experts to help you fill in gaps in your knowledge.

Everything’s been written about. You’re probably right, but next season the shelves will be filled with brand new books. Why? Because though it feels like we’re approaching the saturation point on new ideas, the way those ideas are presented can constantly change. You have a unique way of looking at the world that no one else can duplicate. So play around with those worn out ideas until you hit on something fresh.

Publishers are afraid of controversial topics/religion/men writing for kids/books that teach a lesson…. The only thing publishers are afraid of is not selling books. Do cutting edge, issue-driven books get attention? Take a look at prestigious awards lists. Does religion sell? Go to any chain bookstore and see that even trade publishers are bringing out fiction and nonfiction with religious themes. Do male writers need to use female pseudonyms? Again, I refer you to prestigious awards lists. Can a children’s book contain a moral these days? If you do it in an entertaining way without preaching, parents will snap up your work.

If you’re tempted to start a sentence with “Publishers are afraid…,” it probably means one of two things: you haven’t walked into a bookstore recently, or it’s easier to blame a pile of rejection letters on timid editors than to figure out why your manuscript isn’t selling. Though editors are under pressure to show a profit (publishing is a business, after all), they’re always looking for the next manuscript that will turn children’s books in a new direction. If you’re going to be that writer, in the end all you really need to do is plant yourself in the chair and get to work.

Laura Backes publishes Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. For info about writing children’s books, free articles, market tips, insider secrets & more, visit

Interested in learning how to write a book and send it to children’s book publishers? Come on over to The CBI Clubhouse for audios, videos, insider writing tips and much, much more!

Posted on: November 4, 2009

Fightin’ Bookworms: Just posted – Audrey Carangelo’s Tips for Writing Easy Readers

Posted on: November 3, 2009

Five Reasons Why You Can’t Be A Writer (And Why None Of Them Are True)

Posted on: November 2, 2009

Fightin Bookworms:Hot young author Kaleb Nation on how he built an online fan base *before* getting published.

Posted on: November 2, 2009

Fightin’ Bookworms: November’s “Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers” is online!

I’m not very good with titles. Luckily, I publish an information newsletter, and my subscribers already know that each issue will focus on how to write children’s books. So an article title simply needs to quickly tell the reader whether the piece can be put to use right now, or filed away for later. Book titles, on the other hand, must entice a potential customer to pick up the book, open it, read a few lines, and then purchase it. When your customers are children with big demands and short attention spans, your title often serves as your main sales tool.

Picture book titles, like the stories themselves, must be active, concrete, and sound interesting when read out loud. A little surprise doesn’t hurt: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Williams, and When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale by Erica Silverman all promise stories of animals acting in very un-animallike ways. Titles can give a clue to the plot and tone of the book but should draw the reader in without giving away the ending (Hannah Mae O’Hannigan’s Wild West Show by Lisa Campbell Ernst; Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak). And don’t be afraid to go for a grabber like Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle. You may not like the story, but I dare you to walk by the book in a store without wanting to read a few pages.

Chapter books and middle grade novels must appeal to kids more than their parents, so don’t use the character’s name as the title unless it’s very unusual (Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe; Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli) . Titles that are funny (The Stinky Sneakers Contest by Julie Anne Peters), irreverent (Your Mother was a Neanderthal by Jon Scieszka), or relevant to readers’ lives (Gossip Times Three by Amy Goldman Koss) will give the author immediate credibility. This audience wants to read books about kids just like them, only more so (bigger problems, better clothes, more exciting social lives). Titles that telegraph adolescent angst (Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge; Rosy Coles’ Worst Ever, Best Yet Tour of New York City by Sheila Greenwald) forge a connection with readers.

Titles of young adult books are typically spare, sophisticated, and dramatic. The title may represent an idea from the book rather than the plot, as in Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk. Coupled with the cover illustration, the title is intended to intrigue the reader by presenting the overall tone of the story. Francine Prose’s After, illustrated by the word spray-painted on a bleak, gray brick school wall; Walter Dean Myers’ The Beast, with the title printed in large orange and yellow letters running bottom to top that almost swallow the black background; and Caroline B. Cooney’s Burning Up title imposed over an illustration of marshmallows being roasted on a beach bonfire, the flames a little too red, the marshmallows a little too burnt, all tell young adults that these are not their younger siblings’ books.

Interested in learning how to write a book and send it to children’s book publishers? Come on over to The CBI Clubhouse for audios, videos, insider writing tips and much, much more!

Posted on: October 31, 2009

✔ Just Posted: How to Give Your Children’s Book a Great Title