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.
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)
Indies First Celebration at Tattered Cover
15 hours ago