24 Dec COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WRITING FOR CHILDREN
There are common myths and misconceptions about writing for children and about children’s books.
Writing for kids is easy—there are so few words. When writing for young children, the text is sparse—that’s true. But every word must count. Say good-bye to utility words, flowery adjectives, adverbs and complex sentence structure. And be prepared to substitute two-syllable words for longer ones, which might not be “grade level appropriate.” Expressing an idea in just a few words and with a lower level of vocabulary requires skill.
Talking animal stories are always popular. Not so. Some editors loathe anthropomorphism and say so in their submission guidelines. Before you write that tale about singing peaches or piglets, do your market research to find an interested editor and publishing house.
Rhyming books are always popular. Again, not so. Because there are too many beginners unaware of meter, scansion, true rhyme and the Bell curve of reading comprehension, many editors and agents will not read rhyming manuscripts at all.
It’s easy to break in with kids’ books. Not really, particularly in the picture book market. Shirley Raye has written a number of romance novels. These were easier to sell than any of my children’s books—and the editors were less persnickety.
Kids’ books have no plot. The story plot may be simpler, but it’s there. If you can’t identify it, then you’re not ready to write for kids or the editors that buy stories for them. Even nonfiction books have story arcs. Jennifer and I address both at length in our workbook. Remember, a story plot has character + action+ conflict + climax + resolution. You should be able to state simply when asked: This is a story about Lisa Lou, who wants more than anything to_______ but she can’t because________.
Kids books should teach a lesson. Really? As a child, I wanted to lose myself in a good story. Books with lessons were called textbooks. I don’t recall being fond of any of them. Recently, there’s been a rash of aspiring children’s book writers who have confided to me that they want to write books denouncing bullies. Their stories are dull and preachy and just like every other “lesson” on bullying. Kids want to be entertained. They want to lose themselves in another time, another place, like Narnia, Redwall, Hogwarts. If you can weave a lesson throughout the narrative, that’s great. After all, there are bullies in the Harry Potter novels, but the author didn’t bore her readers with a lesson on the subject.
Anyone can come up with a good idea for a kid’s book, and if your kids or grandchildren love your stories, an editor will. Not necessarily. When you read to children your close to, the emotional factor and time with you make the reading special. But to sell your story, the key word is marketable. You must learn what make a kids’ book marketable and makes it a story that children want to hear over and over. You must research and study what’s been successful on the market and make your story fill a market niche while it tells an appealing story.