I’ve Written a Children’s Book. Now What?

I see this question a lot on social media sites and forums about writing. People ask, “I’ve written a children’s book. Now what?”

I love talking with people about writing for children, so I’m always tempted to answer. But the answer I want to give is not the answer people want to hear. They want to hear one or two of a few things:

  1. How to get it illustrated
  2. How to get an agent
  3. How to get it published
  4. How to start selling it

So while I know what answers they want to hear, I also know those are the wrong questions to ask. Look, I get it. I’m impulsive and impatient, too. When I do something difficult, or something that I really love, I want to hear a word that rhymes with “Gongratulations!” I don’t really want to go back and hear about how I could have done it better. Or where I went wrong. Or that it’s not quite done.

Since these people are asking on social media or websites, I have to be really careful how I answer. Because it’s hard to convey tone in a quick, written post. I can easily come off as rude or flip. And I don’t want to be rude. But I know my answer will sound rude, because the first answer I want to give is actually another question.

My answer is “How many children’s books, like the one you’ve written, have you read recently?”

And the second answer is, “Have you read children’s books, like the one you’ve written, that have been published in the last two-three years, or even stretched to five years?”

If the answers to those questions are “zero” or “none” or “I don’t read children’s books” then the red flags start popping up all over the place.

The phrase “red flags” reminds me of a children’s book my kids loved but I don’t think would get published today. Have you ever read the book Tootle? It was a Little Golden Book. I’m not sure this book would get published today.

Tootle was at train who didn’t want to stay on the tracks, he wanted to frolic in the grass.

 

This book is actually a perfect analogy for people who don’t read children’s books, or who have read a few and say, “Well, my book is totally different from what’s out there.”

I get it – we want to forge our own way.

But folks, publishing is an industry. A business. There are rules that publishers and bookstores follow to sell their products. They know what people want and products are created to meet those needs. That’s why we don’t see t-shirts with three sleeves.

Sure, that kind of shirt is totally different from what’s out there.

But no one is going to buy it because it won’t fit.

What we do see is t-shirts all kinds of styles with all kinds of unique features and designs that appeal to all kinds of personalities. But they are still all similar in certain important ways. The essence is still there.

You need to KNOW those ways. These are the rules of the game. You need to KNOW the basic features of children’s books that are common across all books. Then you can go wild and free and create your unique version while understanding the essence of the product.

Here’s your homework:

  • If you’re going to write a picture book, go read 100 picture books from the past 2-3 years.
  • If you want to write a chapter book – don’t. Too hard. Will discuss in later post.
  • If you want to write a novel, read a minimum of 25 novels directed at your age group. Yes, there are different age groups. Do you know them? No? OK, will discuss in later post.
  • If you want to write nonfiction, read between at least 25 nonfiction books that are produced for your age group. Yep, there are different age groups for nonfiction, too.

Once you’ve done your homework, then take a look at your manuscript again. Does it have that essence of the children’s books you’ve read? Really? OK, how can you revise to fill it with the essence while keeping it true to you?

Sure, that’s hard. But I know you can do it.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s a great event for writers who love deadlines and external accountability. The challenge is to write a novel about 50,000 words long in one month.

I made some great friends through NaNoWriMo in the past. I’ve “won” the event, or reached 50,000 words, a few times. So I have fond memories of this month.

But I’m not doing it this year. This year I’m doing my own “NaNoRevMo” – or “National Novel Revision Month.” I have two novels, one fiction and one historical fiction. I am so lucky that people in my family will read my drafts and offer honest, helpful feedback.

Excellent feedback from my personal editor

Once I get through the suggested changes, I can’t wait to send these two projects to my wonderful agent.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I wish you luck! If you are doing a different project, I wish you luck, too! The goal is to write, create, and explore.

 

I love the look of a completed manuscript!

 

Is #PitMad Worth It?

Is #PitMad worth it?

Did you have any luck at the most recent #PitMad? I think a lot of people think that unless they get a book contract sent via DM that day, they failed. But I say you need a broad definition of success.  Here’s how it worked for me, and why I think it’s worth it.

In June 2019 I tweeted this:

Then I tweeted it again in September 2019. An editor liked it. So I contacted the editor. She told me her publishing house didn’t do picture books. So she asked if I’d put together a middle grade proposal. I said YES!

So, I did. I sent in the proposal in January 2020!

But they said NO. Or at least, they said “not at this time.” Here’s the direct quote:

“While we aren’t ready to make an offer on this proposal right now, I’d be happy to follow up with you in a few months…”

So I took the proposal to SCBWI NY 2020. I pitched it at a pitch session there, and an agent asked to see it. In September 2020, she said “I don’t like it like this – would you rewrite it as a graphic novel?” The picture book that became a middle grade nonfiction is now a middle grade historical fiction graphic novel. After a lot of research and writing, I’m almost done the first full draft.

BUT. ALSO. The editor who first liked my tweet? I contacted her in August 2020 and asked if she had any projects that needed authors. She said YES. And after I sent in two proposals, then revised one, and revised it again…I got a contract for Animal Allies.

book contract announcement

And as you can see, I signed with my wonderful agent, Miranda Paul.

That’s how #PitMad worked for me. The next #PitMad is in December. Give it a shot. And keep your definition of success nice and broad.

Help for Writers who are Parents and Parents who are Writers

In 2016, I was picking my kids up from art camp when I received a phone call from a New York phone number. Since this was the summer of 2016 (and the election had not yet happened) I was just still a naive, optimistic person. I answered the phone.

It turns out I had won a fellowship from Pen Parentis. It was an incredible feeling.

Read more about the all the Pen Parentis fellows here! 

In 2021, Pen Parentis is once again giving me incredible feelings. I’m reading and speaking at their opening salon featuring middle grade writers on September 14, 2021!!! That’s my birthday!!!

I hope you join us!

Finding a Mentor or Inspiration – Alhazen and Leonardo da Vinci

When I wrote my book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the things that really captivated me was how Leonardo learned a lot from an early scholar and scientist, Alhazen. I’d never heard of Alhazen before, but he did a lot of exciting work.

It turns out Alhazen is the Latinized version of his real name, Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham. He’s was a polymath and studied optics. He was a leader during the Islamic Golden Age. There are some books about him, and he wrote books himself. But the world could always use more books and I hope someone writes a book for kids exploring how Hasan Ibn al-Haytham saw the world.

Take a look at this Wikipedia page about him and explore the primary and secondary sources at the bottom of the entry to find further reading!

How to Write Nonfiction for Kids

I’ve attended so many excellent Highlights Foundation courses over the past several years. Each one has helped me uncover big and small ways to develop my creativity and productivity.

Now I’m so thrilled to be announce I’m working with the Highlights Foundation! I’m so honored to be helping an incredible faculty at the online summer workshop on writing nonfiction for kids. Check out this workshop and all of their other offerings and sign up today!