Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Kind of Kidlit Writer Are You? Part 2

Last Sunday I began a blog mini-series on one of my favorite things in the world: writing for young readers. The first part focused on getting started: magazine or book?

I'm writing these grounded in my experiences thus far, after several years of concerted effort to self-educate in the field, making many mistakes, and having some breakthroughs. In other words, I make no claim to be a world expert in this, but I hope you find some of what I have to say on the topic of interest and use! There are many ways to get to Rome, if that's where you want to go, and these are just some of the paths.

Agent or Editor? To Whom Do I Submit?

It's a question that crops up all over the place in the blogosphere. You can go either route, but here are some things to be informed of when making your judgment call.

Literary agents are "gate-keepers" in the publishing industry. You might not like that, but that is how it is and it isn't going to change any time soon, epublishing to the contrary! So why not just skip the middle step and go right to the editors themselves? After all, their mailing addresses are listed in publishing guides, right? Well, many editors are closed to "unagented submissions." And those that are open to all submissions have large, teetering "slush piles" (open submissions) that take months if not years to slog through. You'll wait longer to hear back on average, and generally speaking your work will be read by a despairing intern doing their time in the Siberian outpost that is the slush pile to prove their worth to the editor. Their goal is to slog through slush as efficiently as possible, not to pause and admire your turn of phrase. Although you and they both dream of submitting/finding the diamond in the cistern, the odds are against both of you.

The other thing to consider is that although you can send work to an editor, this counts as "shopping it [your literary work] around" and you have then determined a path you have to stay on. Agents are not interested in considering work that has been shopped around to editors already, unless you have an offer on it and would like agent representation to finalize the deal. Why not? Because first, you thumbed your nose at agenting and went it alone. Second, many agents want the opportunity to have you work some revisions before they shop something on your behalf. (This serves two purposes: they see that you are open to revision and behave professionally--you are someone they want to work with. And their name is on the line with yours when they send your stuff out on their letterhead, so they do want it to be the best it can be.) And third, if you have already sent out your work to a bunch of editors, what can the agent do with it? You have already "tainted the pool," so to speak. And unless you have an offer, you are admitting to an agent that you have been rejected by a lot of editors already (kiss of death: do not quote any nice things said in a rejection; it was still a rejection). Unless you plan to overhaul the manuscript significantly, it will now need to stay shelved until after you sign a three book deal somewhere.

If you go to a conference and meet with an editor either one on one for a critique or, in some cases, are simply in the audience for their presentation, the conference organizers have usually made arrangements for you to submit your work to them after the conference, following whatever submission guidelines they have set, and noting that you were present at the conference (thereby avoiding the slush pile and guaranteeing a slightly faster response time). This type of editor submission is acceptable to agents, providing you are only talking one or two editors, but full disclosure is important. Agents need to know where it has been submitted. If you have not sent it anywhere, say so in your cover letter.

Agents also attend conferences and permit attendees to submit to them afterward. However, it is rare to get picked up at a conference, and there doesn't seem to be any strong advantage to having met the agent or had a critique with them--other than good advice, of course. So if you do attend conferences (like SCBWI--Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) then do so because you will learn vast amounts about the industry expectations and good writing, not because Prince Charming might invite you to dance!

Education/Non-Fiction Writing

Agents don't really apply in the case of the non-fiction children's writer. Here, the hustle is different. Either send a pitch/prospectus directly to a relevant Press and/or send your resume to education presses that accept WFH (work for hire) applicants.

In my case, I sent my resume to around 40 presses. About a quarter or more of them emailed or wrote to say they liked my credentials and found me qualified to write for them. They kept my resume on file. Although this may yet provide some writing work, and for some it might do so very quickly, I found personally that networking has paid better dividends thus far.

A colleague in my writing group had an overflow of work from her editor and suggested to both of us that I might be a good fit. I sent my resume and magazine work clips, and got a contract two days later, and have my first book in this genre--for a high school market--due at the end of January. Needless to say, I'm extremely happy at this turn of events, and hope that this work will produce more work, particularly as the editor in question works for a book packager and thus works to connect press needs with writers. In other words, the editor represents many presses.

When I expressed my gratitude to my lovely writing colleague, she told me to pay it forward. She got her first break this way as well, and said that she suspects connections work best in this industry. And so I will.

So, my counsel in summary is: write. Learn the hustle of submitting, tracking, researching markets, and contacting agents and editors. Attend conferences that help you meet people. But the people you really want to meet are your colleagues, because they're the network that can help you most!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Daughter writes us notes, all the time. I have said this before. Sometimes they're sweet and loving, other times purely to convey information (please mak hot choclit), and other times... well, see for yourself! This one, on a giant sheet of paper, was handed to hubby this week:

Oneday you were harsh to me so i'll be harsh to you. I don't know how to be harsh to you. but it's pay back time. I know I can! oooo yay. PAY BACK.

(Hey. At least all the apostrophes were in the right places.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Type of KidLit Writer Are You? Part 1

I recently gave a fun talk to a grad class here about Adventures in Kid Lit Writing, and saw how many people are interested and curious about the field.

So herewith the first in a mini-series of posts dedicated to aspiring and beginning kidlit writers. The perspective is mine, of course, but I make every effort to ensure that I don't break with common sense and industry practice. If I talk about common errors it's either because I made them myself, and/or because I have read a lot of industry bloggers and absorbed their collective counsel. I hope you find the information helpful!

The Path to Publishing

There are two major paths to publishing success in kidlit: the stunning novel manuscript that grabs an agent or editor's attention and gets you a bidding war and a three-book deal, and the path that everyone else is on.

The latter path is characterized by not having all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. If you are submitting a single picture book manuscript, for instance, as your entry point into the publishing world, you are engaged in a methodical process of researching your market (agent or editor--more on that in another post), sending out submissions, tracking replies, and repeating the process. You can spend a year doing this, watching your email inbox as the seasons pass.

The adage about sealing the envelope, mailing off your baby, and then getting back to work is a good one. Better yet, letting your baby sit in a drawer for a good few weeks while you work on something else. Fortune favors the persistent, well-edited, and prolific. And that is why magazine publishing makes for an excellent (and still highly competitive) training ground for your skills.

If you haven't looked into it much, magazine writing may still carry some stigma for you. It's "Cinderella in the kitchen" of children's publishing world. Don't think of it as paying your dues, but earning your chops. It is difficult to get published in a magazine. Many other people are submitting to the same titles as you. Editors are skilled at identifying exactly what they want in a poem, piece of short fiction, non-fiction, or rebus story. By researching each market, learning the conventions expected of the genre and the publication, writing to those conventions, submitting correctly and waiting a month or two to hear back, you are engaged in a process of code cracking. Getting publications ("clips") indicates to you and to prospective editors that you are a working professional who understands the process.

The Cinderella analogy works here too, I think. Children's writing is glamorized but to be a successful children's writer takes the same type of grit and perseverance that it takes to do any other work. Writing to specs enables you to learn a type of writing hardiness and flexibility that will stand you in excellent stead whatever market you aim at. Before you send any submission to any magazine, read their submission requirements in a market guide and confirm them by going to the magazine's website. If a magazine will only accept submissions that state genre and age of intended reader in the subject line, and limit poetry to 20 lines, then you are wasting your time and theirs if you send a submission that ignores or defies their requirements.

Clips tend to generate more clips, as each editor sees from your growing list of publications that you are a capable and organized writer. But you can also learn a great deal about yourself while you apprentice as a magazine writer (and make your career here if you choose as well!). You will quickly discover what type(s) of writing you enjoy most, and have the best successes with. For fastest response times, begin with smaller, regional titles or specialty magazines. Submitting to national titles can be done later when you are more certain of your skills and can afford to wait longer to hear back on your submission.

Useful references:
Children's Writers and Illustrators Markets (CWIM)

Magazine Markets for Children's Writers

Children's Writer's Word Book (for leveled vocabulary)

The Business of Writing for Children (Aaron Shepard)

Writing it Right! How Successful Children's Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories (Sandy Asher--great for seeing revisions of successive drafts in several genres, leading up to published version)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Campaign Season

[At the dinner table, mid-conversation. Daughter raises her hand.]

Hubby: Yes?
Daughter: I have a question.
Hubby: OK. You know you don't have to raise your hand, though.
Daughter: Well, I'm training to be home schooled.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Santa's Bag of Tricks

Daughter: I really hope Santa brings me the things on my list.
Me: What list?
Daughter: I asked for: a real kitten, a real chestnut horse, and another American Girl doll.
Me: Oh.
Daughter: I asked for stuff for you, too!
Me: Like what?
Daughter: A lie detector. So you can tell when we are lying.
Me: I tell you what. If you don't lie to me, I won't even need one!
Daughter: Um. Yeah. You really do need one.