Writing Books for Children and Teenagers
Thinking about writing for children and/or teenagers? Here are the easy
- Yes, it's as hard as writing for adults;
- No, you probably won't make a lot of money, even if you do sell a book;
- No, selling a first book is no guarantee of a second just like selling
a second is no guarantee of selling a third and so on.
- No, I wouldn't want to do anything else.
Still with me?
Good. Now, we can talk. This is more of a collection of thoughts than an
essay, and I'll add to it now and then.
First off, if you're a teacher or parent or the coach of the local girls’
soccer team, that's great. But if you're the only kid you've ever really
understood, that's okay too. You need to be an expert on only one child
to write for children and on only one teenager to write for teenagers.
child, that teenager, is the person sitting right where you are reading
this message right now.
I still have a LOT to learn, but I have also learned
a lot along the way. There are all kinds of sources on the nuts-and-bolts
of children's writing and publishing (and you can find them below), but
this is my big-picture take:
Writing for Children and Teenagers
- You must read.
You must read like you breathe, only more proactively. You must read so
much that when anyone mentions a children's or YA book, you are familiar
with it or at least its author and/or editor, or you are jotting the title
down to check it out. You must be better read than your independent bookseller
and your public librarian (if you live in an amazing book city like Austin
where this last goal is impossible, you must nevertheless still TRY).
When someone announces the, say, Newbery winners, you should have read
so much that there are no real surprises to you. You must study the books
you read, the good ones and the bad, and be able to clearly articulate
what does and doesn't work and why. And if you think that you have no
time or money to do this, get a different goal because you don't deserve
to make it. Libraries are a godsend.
- You must support the children's and YA literature community, become
an advocate for library financing, and give quality books to the children
and teens in your life. Publishing companies have real competition within
children's media, and you need to do everything in your power to make
sure that today's kids are exposed to the best literature. Preserve, protect,
and promote the venues that link kids to books. In doing so, you will
learn the industry and its surrounding culture. This also counts as writing
- You have to tell the stories that ignite passion within you, those
that only you can tell in a way that only you can tell them. You have
to tell the stories that you can somehow continue to work on when you
are so sick of them that your eyes water and bile rises in your throat.
You have to write until blood drips from your fingertips and the words
appear as if by magic. You have to tell the stories you're afraid to tell,
the ones that might upset your mother, and yes, if it makes you feel better,
you are allowed close your eyes when you type.
- You have to believe. You have to believe if your spouse or your parents
or that annoying woman at church sneers at your abilities or the importance
of children's and YA literature. Anyone who thinks that books for young
readers and their creators are not two of the most significant forces
in the universe is worthless scum on the excrement of worms and not worth
any further consideration. Anyone who doesn't believe in you is worse.
But there will be those people, and you have to sum up enough strength
in yourself to continue anyway.
Does this sound stern or triumphant? Go with triumphant. Be triumphant.
This isn't an easy thing to do, writing for children. But it's so important.
No, I don't really think anybody could completely live up to the goals I've
outlined above. I sure don't.
But you have to set your standards high. You have to strive.
"Make no little plans. They have no magic..." as they say in Chicago.
Reading, community, faith, and writing are all precious to me. I hope you
feel the same.
Follow the links immediately below for more insights on writing for children
and young adults! Or, if you're eager for more nuts and bolts, skip ahead
to thought starters,
or online resources
(education, promotion, publishing, agents, editors and publishers, and more!).