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Start Your Writing Career Today

by Robyn Opie Parnell

So you want to write a children's book. Great! Writing for children is a wonderful hobby or occupation (as in my case).

But where does one start? What does one need to do to become a children's author? How did I become a published children's author?

Actually, I decided that I wanted to be a writer before I decided that I wanted to write children's books. The first thing I did after realising that I wanted to be a writer was join our local writers' centre. Then I joined a romance writers' group. Writing romance seemed like a good idea at the time. At a meeting of the romance writers' group I met several writers who were also writing children's books.

I hadn't read a children's book in quite a few years. And I hadn't considered writing for children. But the prospect interested me, so off I went to my local library. A visit to my library can take me a good hour (or more) as I study the shelves for books published in the past year or two.

While at the library, I also looked for non-fiction books about writing children's books. I've read every book on writing for children that I could find in the libraries around my city. I'm a member of a lot of different libraries. It's a joke with me that I collect libraries like some people collect stamps.

Next, I investigated a number of courses about writing children's books. I settled on an eight-week course run by a local college. It covered everything I needed to know about writing for children (well, almost everything) at a very reasonable rate. Later, I completed a picture book course run by an adult education facility.

I call all of this reading and studying my apprenticeship. A writer has to learn how to write a book just as a pilot has to learn how to fly a plane.

After all this learning and writing I was ready to send my work to a manuscript assessment agency, other writers or my local writers' centre to gain feedback on my writing. I needed to know what I was doing wrong, as well as what I was doing right. This critical assessment of my work was part of my education.

It's through the writers' groups I belong to that I learnt about the publishing opportunities, which lead to most of my books. Therefore I'm a big fan of networking.

I'm also a big fan of knowledge and practice, as my main publisher said to me in his first email: "you've obviously done this before". Another publisher recently noted in an email to me: "someone who understands a lot about picture book structure".

So, to reiterate, my advice is:

a) Join writers' groups. Local and/or online writers' groups. By joining writers' groups you hope to network, learn about the publishing world,
obtain feedback on your work and make friends with similar interests.

b) Read a lot of recent children's books. Take notice of what you like and what seems to work. Study the writing. You're reading for research first, pleasure second.

When I visit the local library I look for recent releases. It's important to keep up with the market and what's being published. If you're writing a book about a comet hurtling towards Earth and a book with a similar storyline has been published in the last year, your story is unlikely to be published, no matter how good it is.

c) Read a lot of books about writing for children. Articles from websites are also a great idea – naturally. You’re reading mine now! It can help to read books about writing in general. But children's books are a specialised field. For example, you need to know the different types of children's books for the various age groups - the word lengths, language, style etc.

d) Write the type of children's books you enjoy the most. Write every day if possible. Practice makes you a better writer. Practice/repetition is how we learn and master tasks.

e) Take courses on writing for children.

I should point out that the writing for children course I did, many years ago, involved weekly writing assignments. I wrote a picture book, easy reader, early chapter book and sections of longer novels, which were all marked by my tutor. Two of my first six published titles were written during this course.

f) Have your manuscripts assessed by a reputable manuscript assessment service. Due to the volume of submissions publishers receive and the quality of some of these submissions, many publishers are now requesting a manuscript assessment accompany every submission.

g) Write down your dreams and goals. Look at them every day. Break them down into small steps if necessary. Your writing activities should
move you towards your writing dreams and goals.

h) Enter competitions. Write articles and short stories. Seek ways of filling your writer's CV with publishing credits.

Now you're on your way. From this point on, the secret to becoming a
children's author is persistence. I've read and heard quotes from many
authors who claim that the secret to their success is persistence. They never gave up!


Copyright Robyn Opie Parnell. All Rights Reserved.

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