Wednesday, 27 November 2019

I want to write for children... A guide to Writing for Children & YA - Linda Strachan

IN 1996, which seems a lifetime away from today, my first book (in fact a series of 8 books) was published, and it is strange to think that many of my first readers are now adults.  In 2008 with over 50 books published for a variety of ages I put together much of what I had learned and experienced, in both the writing and the business side of being a writer, into a book called Writing for Children.

Now, 11 years later, since so much has changed in publishing, and in the world of children's books, I have a new and very much updated and expanded edition which is published tomorrow.  It is the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A.

There is also a great  competition for unpublished and unagented writers where you can win not only a copy of my new book but also the latest copy of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, a place on their writing conference and I am offering a critique, including a skype or phone call. So, please pass this on to any unpublished writers you know.

Competition for unpublished writers ( writing for MG and YA)  Deadline midnight Monday 9th December 2019

So many people love the idea that they could write a book and get it published, often seeming to expect that one naturally follows the other. But writing is a craft, not merely an extrapolation of what we learned at school when asked to write an essay or a letter.
Some think it will be easy, especially if it is 'just' for children.  But that comment alone shows how the young minds in our society are often disregarded, the adjective 'childish' frequently being used disparagingly. Children, and things relating to them, are sometimes looked on as being of less interest and their opinions as being less valid.

I firmly believe that we should encourage greater respect for children and young people generally, as well as their ideas, and that adults can benefit from listening to them more. They are fascinating and sometimes have an honest clarity of thought that is breathtaking.  Children are also a discerning bunch of readers, less likely than an adult to finish a book just because they started it, which makes writers for children work harder to keep them engaged.

Children and young adults are not an amorphous group of readers, they are not similar to adult readers, in that their ability to read, their life experience and so many other factors will dictate what kind of book is suitable and appealing.

I have often been told, "I am writing a children's book" but the same person looks puzzled when I ask what age they are writing for. It has often not occurred to them that a story for a 3 year old will not be ideally the same as one for an 9 year old, and a 7 year old may not want to read the same book as a 14 year old. Obvious when it is pointed out, but for those new to writing for children sometimes their thought processes have not quite travelled that far.

They have often not even begun to understand that not only is the content different but the format will be different as well, and if they want to get it published they need to understand much more about getting published for children than merely having a lovely idea that their children or grandchildren enjoy, when they tell them about it.

Writing for publication is also a business, it is a commercial venture for all those who work in the industry, not a hobby, so writers are expected to be professional if they want to succeed.  The 'gatekeepers' editors or agents who read submissions are looking for something that a) justifies their time in reading it and b) shows the person who sends their work to these incredibly busy people, understands what is expected and required for publication.

This means learning as much as you can about the area you want to write in and also about the way publishing works. When you write for children there are aspects of the craft that you need to understand, i.e. how many spreads a picture book has, what kind of subjects are of interest or not acceptable for different age groups. Whether what you are writing is right for children of today rather than what you may remember reading and loving as a child.

Being a children's writer often means school visits and for some it is the very first time that they have been self employed. Both of these experiences require added knowledge and often help to avoid the many pitfalls. This is why I have always felt that a book on writing should include what happens after publication, as well as a basic toolkit for writing.

Many writers I know have a shelf of books on writing and associated non fiction. In my case it is not only an interest in the craft but a desire to continually improve that spurs me on, and when someone suggests another new addition to my collection I find myself listening with keen interest.

I have dictionaries of several varieties, books on punctuation, books of quotations, one on phrases and fables and an encyclopedia of magical creatures. My shelf groans with many books on the craft and the business of writing; screen and script writing, writing a bestseller etc. as well as books on the publishing process and classic staples which I love to dip back into every now and then, such as Becoming a writer by Dorothea Brand and Virginia Woolfe's A Room of One's Own. I would imagine most people who have a passion for their work have similar shelves of books referring to their particular profession.

Being a writer can be a lonely business, and without the support of other writers it can seem daunting at times which is why the Scattered Authors Society has been invaluable to me. A lovely supportive and knowledgeable group.  For the, as yet, unpublished children's or YA writer SCBWI (and here in the UK SCBWI-BI) offers a similar kind of support and connections, and many who subsequently became published are still keen members and supporters.

Writing for children is exciting and challenging and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

My new book is part of a new series of Writers' & Artists' Guides- including
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A. by Linda Strachan (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published by Alysoun Owen (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)


My website
Twitter @strachanlinda
Also new for 2019   Middle grade - Fact/fiction  The Dangerous Lives of the Jacobites


Joan Lennon said...

Happy new book birthday, Linda!

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks Joan :) It comes out tomorrow the 28th!

Sue Purkiss said...

Excellent post - and I hope your book sells zillions of copies!

Penny Dolan said...

Congratulations for tomorrow, Linda!
Good wishes to the book and all who pop into your useful pages.

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks, Sue and Penny.