Photo credit: Kristi Hedberg PhotographyHello! I'm a young adult book writer living in Asheville, NC. My debut novel, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, is the first in a Gothic trilogy coming January 29, 2013 from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. I am represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

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Recommended websites:

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: the number one association for children's book writers and the first organization you should join. They also sponsor national and regional conferences.

Highlights Founders Workshops: This popular children's magazine has a foundation that sponsors excellent workshops covering a variety of topics for children's book writers

Query Tracker: database of literary agents

Harold Underdown's website: collection of articles and resources on writing for children from a top editor

Cynthia Leitch Smith's website: Cynthia is an author and knower of all things children's book related. She also runs an amazing blog featuring interviews, new books, and more

Mediabistro: online courses in writing for children, writing for young adults, copy editing, and much more



Recommended books on writing:

THE ANATOMY OF STORY: 22 STEPS TO BECOMING A MASTER STORYTELLER, John Truby

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, Donald Maass

CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET, Alice Pope

ON WRITING, Stephen King

BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott

THE ARTIST'S WAY, Julia Cameron

CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, University of Chicago Press

 

FAQ on writing for children:

I have written a picture book. How do I get it published?

If you are just starting out thinking about writing for children, hooray! Whether you write as a hobby or are seriously considering it as a career, it is a wonderful, fulfilling passion. It can also be very challenging. Writing is a skill that authors spend years—sometimes decades—studying. You wouldn't take a point-and-shoot photo of your family and expect it to hang in a New York art gallery, would you? In the same way, just because we can all pick up a pen and write doesn’t mean our stories are ready for publication. Creating a well-crafted story takes time and dedication. If you are serious about writing for publication, expect to spend at least several years perfecting your craft.

OK, I’m serious, so what do I do now?

Learn the craft. A friend once told me that getting published isn’t hard—what’s hard is writing a great, publishable book. Before you think about agents and publishing houses, work on learning the skill of writing. Scour the websites above. Read a dozen books on writing. Join a critique group and find the bittersweet joy in having people tear your work apart. Attend writing conferences and workshops.

Read, read, read. I don’t know a single published author who isn’t also a passionate reader. Aim to read 100 books in your genre before trying to write your own (this is where I’m envious of picture book writers!). Get an innate feel for what makes a story gripping, funny, heart-wrenching, and thrilling.

Learn the business. Once you’ve spent years studying and your critique group says it’s time to submit, write a query letter giving a brief description of your book, a line or two about yourself, and why this book should be published. Submit the query letter to agents or editors, following the exact directions on their website. Next, wait. Make a cup of tea. It’ll be anywhere between 2 days and 2 years before you hear back. You might want to start on your next book.

What is the difference between picture books, chapter books, easy readers and novels?

Picture books
infant to 7 years old
50-1500 words, most under 500
Examples: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Where the Wild Things Are, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Walter the Farting Dog

Easy Readers
5-8 years old
500-2,000 words
Examples: Green Eggs and Ham, Frog and Toad Are Friends, Amelia Bedelia

Chapter books
7-9 years old
4,000-10,000 words
Examples: Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Children, Junie B Jones, Ivy and Bean

Middle grade novels
8-12 years old
25,000-50,000
Examples: Harry Potter (not typical for word length), Charlotte’s Web, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Tale of Despereaux, When You Reach Me

Young adult novels
12-18 years old
60,000-85,000
Examples: Twilight, The Hunger Games, Looking for Alaska, Story of a Girl, The Book Thief

Do I need an agent? How do I get one?

My friends who write adult literature insist you must have an agent. The children’s book publishing world is a little more open. Some publishing houses are open to unsolicited manuscripts (ie, you send it to them directly and it goes in a stack the size of my first apartment), and some are closed (ie, you have to have an agent for them to even take a look). If you hear an editor speak at a conference, often she will accept unsolicited manuscripts from conference attendees even if her house is closed.

But...though in some cases it is possible to publish without an agent, I strongly recommend it, especially if you are an author/illustrator or if you write for older children. An average editor receives thousands and thousands of queries a year. The first ones she looks at, and takes most seriously, are from agents. Though an agent takes a 15% commission, most agents are such good business people that they will negotiate you a deal that greatly makes up for that amount. 

When are you going to write a "real book," you know, for adults?

Perhaps surprisingly, I get this question often and if you pursue your writing dreams, so will you. Writing for children and writing for adults are both very difficult. Writing for very young children involves technical knowledge of reading levels, rhythm, and the poetic skill to conveying big ideas in a few sparse words. Trust me, it only looks easy. Writing for teens requires the same world-building as adult novels, but with a voice and approach that feels authentic for teenagers.