Getting a Children's Book
The Pony Game
by Robyn Opie Parnell
When I'm looking for ideas for a
children's book, I sometimes think about subjects
children love, such as horses, dinosaurs, sport
etc. These popular subjects inspire book after
book. Lets face it, they sell in the thousands
and publishers love anything that sells well.
A few years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book
called Looking After a Pony. I was involved in
the photo shoot for the book and met several
people who were very enthusiastic about horses.
It was at this time that I decided to write a
fiction story as well. Why not? Girls love horse
stories. Look at all the series about ponies and
I thought about the subject and remembered my
experiences from childhood. I wasn't really into
horses. I loved all animals, especially dogs. But
my best friend was horse-mad. We often played
games that featured horses.
I also remember playing games with my dog. We
pretended to have great adventures and I often
imagined that my dog was something else, like a
horse or a dragon.
When writing for children, I often draw on the
experiences of my childhood. Writers often hear
the advice: write about what you know. I know
what it's like to be a child. I was one a few
The above memories inspired my book The Pony
Game. The main character, Lucy, loves horses but
she isn't allowed to have one for obvious
reasons. They are too expensive and too much
work. So Lucy pretends that her dog, Black
Beauty, is a pony and plays the pony game with
him. One day Lucy gets to look after a real live
horse and poor Beauty is forgotten.
I wrote the book for a series aimed at 6 to 9
years olds with a word count of between 1500 and
2000 words. I believed in the story and spent a
lot of time getting it just right.
Unfortunately the first publisher rejected The
Pony Game. I did further
polishing and editing and submitted it to another
publisher. Again, I received a rejection. But
this rejection included some nice comments about
the story and the publishers regret that they
couldn't publish it because the word count was
too short for their list.
Back to the drawing board.
I still believed in the story. It featured two
girls, a horse and a dog. It had a good message
and it was cute. I was certain that little girls
would love it.
Part of my work as a writer includes reading
children's books for research, so I know what
stories are being published and also what series
are being published. I knew of a series (now
called Giggles) published by Lothian Books as I'd
read many of the titles. Wondering if The Pony
Game might fit their list, I researched the
series. The books are for 6 to 9 year olds with a
word count of 2500. But, most importantly, the
series didn't include a "horse" book. I
saw this as a gap I could fill.
The Pony Game was too short at around 1700 words,
so I sat down and extended the word length. After
I'd finished, I edited and polished. Then I
handed the story over to Rob Parnell from www.easywaytowrite.com to
assess. I never submit a manuscript to a
publisher without first having it assessed. A
writer is so close to his/her work that he/she
can miss mistakes or problems that are obvious to
fresh eyes, like Rob's.
Rob made a few suggestions and alterations and I
submitted the mansucript to Lothian Books. That
was in May 2006.
In August of that year I received the wonderful
news by telephone: Lothian Books wanted to
include The Pony Game in their Giggles series and
release it in May 2007. They loved it!
Of course I was thrilled and I was pleased that
my "targetting" had worked. I'd been
right. The Giggles series didn't include a book
about horses. Now it does.
The point I'm making here is that popular
subjects sell. You can write about dogs, cats,
horses, dinosaurs, school, friends etc. However,
success is not guaranteed. Writing your story is
only the first step. The next step is making sure
the story is the best that you can make it with
editing, polishing and manuscript assessments or
critiques by people in the know. Then, when
you're ready to submit to publishers, spending
time and targetting the right publisher can make
a big difference.
The first publisher could have accepted the
manuscript. It fitted their series in word count,
age group and they didn't have a horse story
either. To be honest, I suspected that the
manuscript would be too short for the second
publisher. When they said no, I looked for a more
suitable publisher and adapted the manuscript to
fit their list. I'm glad that I did!
Lothian Books are thrilled with The Pony Game.
The illustrations by Elise Hurst are wonderful.
The editors call the book "delightfully
Obviously I'm working on further titles for
So, when writing for children, if
you can think of a popular subject and can tackle
it in a fresh way, you could be onto a winner.
But remember when you've finished it to near
perfection (The Pony Game needed little editing
by Lothian Books and the quality obviously made
them sit up and take notice), spend some time
researching the market. You might just find a gap
and increase your chances of success.
Now I'm wondering what I can do
with dinosaurs . . .
If you'd like to read the blurb of
The Pony Game please click here.