Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Started as a Children's Book Writer

10 Tips for Getting Your Story Published

I often am approached by people after my art or writing workshop that have written a children’s book and are struggling to find next steps to get their story published. Many times I get e-mails requesting more information. Yesterday I visited an artist friend, who in a phone call, insisted I come by and see the story and art she created for her book. She confessed that she had never done this before and really needed some direction. When I arrived at her studio she excitedly read the story to me and showed me reproductions she made of the art, then pulled large sheets of paper from a portfolio to share the original illustrations created with expressive watercolor and bright pastel. The large playful artwork was laid on the floor in sequence so that I could see how they fit with the story. We walked from colorful illustration to illustration critiquing the art and evaluating how it fit with the words. I was impressed by the quality of the work and her determination to get to the next level and wanted to encourage her as best I could. I suggested a few possibilities that afternoon and left her studio feeling that I should provide more resources for her in this highly competitive market. Below are some basic tips I came up with and will share them with her and hope others will find this helpful as well.

1. Research the market

Check out trade magazines like Publishers Weekly for trends in the children’s book market. Get a copy of the 2008 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Writers Digest, containing over 700 listings for book publishers, magazines, agents, art reps and much more.

2. Join an organization for writers

Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a great resource for new as well as seasoned writers. They have many informative publications for members and have regional and national groups, events and conferences.


3. Use community resources

Talk to teachers and librarians about your book idea. They may have good insight on what has been done before and whether some topics go ignored.

4. Know the rules of the game

Do your research. Every publisher has specific rules for submission. Most guidelines are accessible on the internet. Some publishers, for example, discourage multiple submissions and only accept work from agents.

5. What about artwork

Publishers discourage submitting artwork along with your story unless you are an artist. If you are, never submit originals. Get color copies of your artwork and create a mock up of the book matching the words with the art on the pages (this is called a dummy).

6. Cover the basics

Be sure your manuscript has been thoroughly proofed for grammatical or typographical errors before submission. Make sure you copyright your work. For copyright information

7. Check for kid appeal

Read your stories to young people to get their reactions and comments. Revise if necessary.

8. Get organized

Keep track of where you submitted your story on index cards. If the manuscript is returned with a rejection, record the date and immediately send it to the next publisher on your list so you won’t lose momentum.

9. Search publishers for new talent awards

Lee and Low Books in New York for example have an annual New Voices Award for previously unpublished writers of color. You can go to their website for details

10. Be patient

The submission process can be very long. Editors may get hundreds of submissions a year. It is not unusual to wait 2-3 months before getting a response. Personalized, hand written responses are rare.

Posted in January, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Memories Growing Up in Chicago

Now that the holidays have come and gone, my memory of how things used to be when I was a kid still remain. I grew up in Chicago with my three brothers and sister. My parents were both from Georgia. I remember the live Christmas tree and how it filled the room with the strong scent of pine that I crave every Christmas. I remember decorating the tree with big multicolored bulbs and being careful to string the lights just right. One Christmas I got a small electric shock when I plugged in the lights and it made a small hole in my pajama shirt. It scared me, but Daddy reassured me with a hug that everything would be alright.

I remember how Daddy would take us down to 12th street in Chicago, to this outdoor market to buy fruit, nuts and sweets. We would buy different kinds of nuts in the shell like walnuts and pecans and those big dark, hard nuts, which I can’t remember the names of now—and how we struggled to crack them open to reveal the sweet meat inside when we got home. Sometimes my Aunt Ruby would send us pecans in shoe boxes from Georgia. When momma got them we would shell them and she would make the best pecan pie you ever tasted.

I remember Daddy buying peanut brittle and a special brittle made with coconut and those giant peppermint sticks that we would crack and eat greedily. Daddy would always buy lots of fruits like tangerines and sweet red apples. We would make a big platter on the table with the nuts and fruit. While driving home Daddy would take a detour and we would drive through neighborhood after neighborhood looking at the light decorations in front of peoples homes. Daddy always had a station wagon with a back seat that would face outside. My brothers and sisters and I would always fight to get the back seat to assure a perfect view of the twinkling lights. Daddy would always call back to me, “Are you still there”? he asked smiling, because I was always so quiet.

When we finally got home we would rush under the tree to shake whatever present had our names on it, and try to guess what was inside. As a joke sometimes we would wrap up something someone already owned, and present it to that person on Christmas day as if it were new. Momma and Daddy didn’t like us to do that, but we got such a kick out of it. I always seemed to get exactly what I asked for. Back then we got simply one gift each. One year all I wanted were white go go boots. Another year I longed for a new pair of ice skates so I could skate near the park off Lake Shore Drive.

I remember shopping for a gift for Mama and Daddy and going to Sears downtown off State Street. I loved taking the escalator up and down and the funny music that piped through the store. My big sister Cynthia always took us to Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott to look at the elaborate Christmas decorations in the store fronts. There was always an animated Santa in the window and toy trains and gingerbread houses. It was all so enchanting.

Posted in January, 2008