February 11th, 2011 // 9:35 am @ Diane Johnstone
What age group are you writing for? Check out the children’s section of your local bookshop or library and see what’s out there. Sales staff are very helpful with pointing out favourites and best-sellers. Who publishes them? Where would your book fit in?
Do your research. Look at publishers’ websites. They are full of information about their book lists and often have reviews of their latest publications. What aspects of the story appealed to the reviewers? Build on these in your own work. In The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook you’ll find literary agents who represent children’s authors.
Be aware that writing a children’s story isn’t easier than writing for adults; in fact it can be harder, because you have to be more careful about your vocabulary and writing style, and you have to tell your story in fewer words. If you’re writing for young children, use words they’ll understand, in short sentences with plenty of rhythm and repetition.
You’ve got a plot in your head: think about it carefully before you start writing. Is there a beginning, middle and end? Are your characters strong and believable? Is there plenty of conflict and tension to keep the reader turning the pages? Children love to be scared. Is there any humour in the story? Are all the loose ends tied up satisfactorily by the last page?
Do start with a strong sentence that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to know what happens next. The first paragraphs of your book should be just as page-turning as the exciting bits further on. Do know your characters really well. Try writing brief biographies of them so that you know why they behave as they do and how they’re likely to react in a difficult or dangerous situation. What’s your main character most afraid of? Make sure he/she has to face that fear somewhere in the story!
Don’t put in long chunks of description. Children get bored and will skip it. Try to find interesting and original ways to describe things. Do have plenty of dialogue.
When you’ve come to the end of your story, put it away for six weeks or so. Don’t look at it. Try not to think about it. Then come back and take a fresh look to see if anything needs changing. At this point you could send it to a literary consultant. Their report will point out your strong points and weaknesses, suggest ways of improvement, and advise you on the marketability of your manuscript.
Be professional. You expect your agent and publisher to be professional, after all. When you submit a manuscript to them you’re offering a product for sale. So present it as perfectly as possible. Check the submission guidelines on the agent’s website and do exactly what they ask for.