From picture books to young adult novels, there are certain rules newer children's book authors should never break. Here they are!
Hi everybody! I am Jon Bard, Managing Editor of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers and Fightin’ Bookwork-in-Chief at the CBI Clubhouse, our brand new community for children’s writers. You could find it at cbiclubhouse.com. Today’s topic, writing children’s book 4 beginning writers should never break. In the pages of Children’s Book Insider and at the CBI Clubhouse, we often talk about the rules of writing for kids, citing proper page lengths and story types for different age groups. A better term would probably be guidelines. These rules exist only to tell you what in general editors like to see in the manuscript to them. And of course for every rule there are numerous exceptions. While we’d all like to think our book is strong enough to overwrite the guidelines, this is usually not the case. So, with that in mind, here are some rules that shouldn’t be broken until you really know what you're doing. Don’t write picture books in rhyme. Yes, you’ve seen in the stores and kids like them. But children also like picture books that aren’t written in rhyme. It takes a great deal of skill and hard work to craft an original story complete with unique characters in about a thousand words. It takes another skill entirely to tell the story in rhyme, if you’ve got it, great. But don’t assume that because your story is aimed at young children, it has to rhyme. Always try to write in prose first. Once you’ve got the story on paper, decide if the rhyming format will add to the text. If the answer is yes, make sure it’s a strong rhyme. It has a consistent meter. Uses no clichés or extra words, it has a rhythm that is easy to real aloud. Don’t disregard designated word lengths. No editor is going to turn down a terrific book just because the text length falls outside the average guidelines. If your young adult novel is complete in a hundred pages, there's no sense padding the manuscript simply because most -- are longer. But length guidelines are there for a reason. Publishers have determined about how much text kids at different ages can read. And so it behooves you to try to stay at close o the guidelines as possible. And if you ever tried to get a group of four year olds to sit still for a two thousand picture book, you'll understand why editors are leaning toward shorter texts in the youngest age brackets. When submitting to magazines, it’s absolutely essential that you stick to the requested word limits because articles must fit within a fine amount of space on the page, too long or too short can mean instant rejection. Don’t provide testimonials and queries. It’s nice to have lots of neighborhood kids read your manuscript and give you positive feedback. But your potential editor doesn’t need to hear about it. Frankly, editors at children’s book publishers don’t give much credence to testimonials from readers who may be family or friends of the author. Also don’t clutter up the query letter with ideas of why children need your book or what they’ll learn from it. That’s up to the editors to decide. Now, there's one exception, if you’ve written a non-fiction book and you could show that there aren’t any other or many other books at least in print that cover the same subject. Keep your query letter tight, brief and to the point. Provide an intriguing plot synopsis for non-fiction outline, relevant information about yourself and close the self-address stamp envelop. Sell your book, not your reasons for writing it. And finally, don’t write a series before selling the first book. We’ve critiqued many manuscripts from authors who say, I’ve got six more books written with these characters, should I mention that to the editor when I submit my manuscript?” our answer is always no, unless an editor is specifically looking for new series proposals and the books were written from the start to form a series, this is a bad idea. Realize that series are created as a group of books that are bound together by some sort of hook. In fiction, it might be the club, the main characters for a neighborhood that they all live in or a cause they championed. In non-fiction, it’s a topic like natural sciences or biographies, and in age group. Rarely do you see picture book fiction series. But does happen as a character may become very popular with readers and the author is asked to write another book featuring the same cast. These fiction series actually grows slowly, one book at a time. So, unless you’ve conceived your books as a traditional series and are able to send a thought out series proposal to the editor, stick to selling one book at a time. When an editor sees you have numerous manuscripts featuring the same characters and similar plots, she may feel that you’ve spent too much time writing new material and not enough time revising what you’ve already got. And remember, each book, series or not must stand on its own. It needs a strong beginning, well developed middle and satisfying end. No fear of leaving the ending unfinished with the intention of continuing the story in the next book. Well, that was a lot of don’ts. So here is one “do” for you. Come and visit us at the CBI Clubhouse, cbiclubhouse.com and get lots more information about writing children’s books. Till next time, this is Jon Bard, well, see you.