Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SIWC 2013 Workshop #6, So You Want to Write a Children's Book

So You Want to Write a Children’s Book (Bruce Hale)
Taking a leap of faith. That’s what you’re doing when you set out to become an author.

Picture Books
Publisher chooses illustrator for picture books
Most picture books have 32 pages, due to publishing constraints of physical paper size, and cost. Story books can be longer (48 pages), but most are 32 pages because of cost. Normally the story text starts on page 3, leaving the pages for publishing info/dedication/etc
Picture books are the weakest area for children’s book, they’ve been in a slump in the last 10 or so years while MG and YA are booming.

Tips for writing Children’s books:
1) Lead with your heart (passion, write a story ‘cause you love it, not ‘cause you think it’ll sell)
How do you find these stories from the heart?
Quick Exercise: write 10 childhood events that provoke emotion.
Other ways: write your dreams, things you notice around you, ask ‘what if?’, write what you know, knowledge both learned or experienced or want to know about, create a Bradburry List of titles, like: ‘The Lake’, ‘The Crickets’, etc

2) It’s not who you know, it’s who and what you know.

You don’t only need to understand the craft, the craft of writing for children, but also publishing knowledge.

There are 28,000 children’s books published in Canada and the USA. That includes everything from picture books, all the way up to YA. BUT, there are so many more submitted... approximately 300,000-500,000 every year.

Types of Books:
Board books: Simple, basic, chewable books designed for toddlers, 16 pages at most. Short/snappy/rhythmic.
Picture books: 32 pages, all about the page-turn. Build suspense on one page, then move onto the next. Target word count is 500 words. Longer/rhyming/flowing sentences with funny/unexpected sounds, internal rhymes and repeated words. Rhyming at the end is not a great idea as they’re harder to edit, hard to sell foreign rights, etc, so you’re limiting the publishing options.
Easy Reader books: Meant for kist just learning to read. Fun, but tricky to write as every tiny parameter is pre-determined and vary depending on publisher, like, they have a character count (including spaces) per line. 250 words-1500 words, depending on what level/complexity.
Chapter books:  10 chapters, 60-ish pages, writing is more complex, but still the occasional picture popping up. ‘The Magic Treehouse’ is a classic series. Grade 1, 2, 3.
Middle Grade books: 8-12 year olds. Fewer pictures (maybe 1 every couple chapters) for low end, to the upper-age end, maybe only 5 or 6 pictures in the entire book. 15,000-30/40,000 words. Issues get more complex, light violence, etc. You can kill, but not violently. (13/14 year max for protagonist)
Young Adult: 13-18, word count 55,000-85,000 words, but there are exceptions on either end. Includes swearing, violence, death, sex, etc.

3) Educate Yourself
Educate yourself on what kind of books the publishers.
Read Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf
Take workshops and join critique groups to improve skills, try it out on kids in your target age group (volunteer at local schools/libraries to go in and read)
Research in bookstores (what’s being published now), publisher’s websites, what they’re publishing, promoting, etc.
(subscribe: BruceHaleWritingTips.com)

Learn what works, and what doesn’t
Things that don’t work: adult main character or narrators, someone other than the protagonist saving the day, teaching a moral, reminiscence of your own childhood, inappropriate material
Things that work: using your childhood as a springboard, letting the protagonist use their own brain/skills to solve the problem, the closest you can get to a child’s point of view the better.

Your voice is the best voice
Authors develop their voices through lots and lots of writing. Don’t mimic someone else, it’ll come off as a bad rip-off.

Voice is as individual as a thumbprint
Phraseology, attitude, tone, world view, sentence length, etc

4) Character is King
Make the readers care about the character, then put that character in jeopardy. Give them aspects which are unique that can be both weaknesses and strengths.

Questions actors ask to get into character: 
What does he want?
What externally prevents him getting what he wants?
What inner character traits will get in his way?

Exercise: your two main characters have to change a tire in the rain. write a 1 page monologue from the hero’s POV, Describe your protagonist’s bedroom and closet.

5) Hook Your Reader
This is the magic question that gets the reader asking, what’s going to happen next?
Hook at the beginning for the story, the beginning and end of each chapter.
Examples: humor, surprise, plunging mid-stream into the action, posing a question, foreshadowing
Ex. Charlotte’s Web “Where is Papa going with that axe?”

6) Kid appeal
Something all editors say they want: stories kids will love.

Think about what you loved in stories when you were a kid.

Some ideas:
Kid’s POV
Using accessible language
Having elements of things kids love, like animals, gross things, physical humor, mystery.
Up to grade 4, ‘love’ will make them squirm/bored, but older than that will make them interested.

Keep the kids in your heart, and you will stay in theirs.

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