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Writing for Children: How to Write a Children's Book, Writing for Magazines, Getting Paid for Writing, Getting Published

Do you want to learn how to write a children's book? Make money writing for children's magazines? Every Friday the Writing for Children podcast publishes from The Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1969, ICL has taught over 470,205 aspiring writers. Listen to the director of both The Institute for Writers and The Institute of Children's Literature and bestselling children's author Katie Davis host the show as she focuses on the craft of writing for children. She talks about how to write a children’s book, how to write for children’s magazines, how to get paid for your writing, and how to get published in the world of kidlit. There are listener questions, with answers from the experts at the Institute, plus hard-to-find resources, tips, and links included in every week's show notes.
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Now displaying: 2016
Dec 30, 2016

Today we’re going to talk about submissions. This is a topic that comes up frequently with each new contest. People ask about everything from naming and saving their Word documents to asking if we could rank all the entries. That way people would know where they stood. So, let’s spend a little time talking about the process of submissions.


Our contests were designed by the founders of ICL as a way for people to practice submitting their work to agents and editors. Let’s break down each piece of the contest process and how it applies to submitting to agents and editors.


FORMATTING GUIDELINES
Entries submitted to our contest must follow the guidelines listed in the contest rules page. Manuscripts should be double-spaced with one-inch margins and in Times New Roman or Courier 12-point font.


Why is this important in the publishing industry? It’s important because agents and editors may read hundreds of manuscripts a day, some from their current clients and some from hopeful writers trying to break through. By having a standard, it allows the editor to focus solely on the story and not be distracted by a strange font or hard-to-read size. It also allows them––at a glance––to get a feel for the length of your story. It also ensures that as
your manuscript goes up the publishing chain, formatting isn’t changed because someone’s computer doesn’t recognize the font you chose. Using the proper formatting and font shows you are professional. What did your teachers use to say? Neatness counts! (And it still does!)

 

For a better understanding of how submissions work (for our contest and out in the publishing world) listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/032

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Is your manuscript ready for submission? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Dec 23, 2016

WHAT DO KIDS CARE ABOUT?
You may have heard me mention that the great nonfiction writer––and editor––Andrea Davis Pinkney said, when shekeynoted at the online conference, Picture Book Summit, that nonfiction sounds like nonfun. But you should know, kids love nonfiction. Sometimes we forget that some readers find nonfiction more exciting––it’s their favorite reading.

Also, there are very few magazines that don't buy nonfiction––but there are quite a few that buy only nonfiction. With this reality, most of us can see the value of dabbling in nonfiction, but some find their nonfiction pieces meeting rejection time after time.

How do we find the perfect topic and slant to make the sale? Often it comes down to connecting with our kid-side.


Let's sing that old Sesame Street lyric “One of these things is not like the others…” our example is that three of these articles ideas belong together, but one just doesn't belong here. Which one and why?


A Teaspoon of Kerosene for that Cough? Disgusting Doses from the Past
I Vant to Suck Your Fluids––Vampire Caterpillars.
Kids In the White House
Overcoming Homework Hassles––Helping Kids Set Priorities


Right, what kid is going to read an article on how to get kids to do their homework? If you wanted to write an article on homework, you would need to do it from the viewpoint of the kid, not of the parent hoping to get kids to work.

Many new writers produce nonfiction that would be of interest to adults––especially parents––but would not be of interest to kids. Now, writing for parents is a potentially lucrative market, but it’s a different market.
When you choose a nonfiction topic, realize that no one is going to make the child read it.

For tips on writing nonfiction kids want to read, listen to the episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/031

 

What questions do you want to ask our instructors?

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature wants to hear from you. Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap.

Wondering if your manuscript is ready for submission? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Dec 16, 2016

Do you ever wonder if you have a real plot in your short story––something that an editor will find satisfying and complete? It can be tough, but one way to find out is to imagine your main character in front of you and just ask him or her some questions. What questions? Ah, there’s the key.


Kurt Vonnegut said, ”Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water."


The first question to ask your character is what he or she wants. A character who wants for nothing is probably not someone an editor is going to find interesting. Let’s ask that question of the main characters in two short stories––one for young readers (Penny) and two from two different stories for intermediate readers (Hannah and Carter).


Author: Hi, so, tell me––what do you want most in the world right now?

Penny: I want to go back to my old preschool where all my old friends are.

Hannah: I want Olivia to move back to Texas before she ruins my life.

Carter: I want to make enough money to buy another new cell phone, but I don’t want to be bored to death doing it.

All of these wants are very serious for the main characters. Now, Penny and Hannah aren’t going to get what they think they want––Carter will, but he may learn something about being careful what you wish for. Penny’s family has moved, and they aren’t likely to move back. And Hannah’s nemesis isn’t likely to move away just because that’s what Hannah wants. We can
sense the problems inherent in their desire right from the moment they tell us what they want.

For more questions to ask your characters, listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/030

 

What questions do you want to ask our instructors?

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature wants to hear from you. Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap.

Need a fresh set of eyes? ICL instructors offer critiques!
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Dec 9, 2016

One of the most common reasons for editors to reject a poem is bad meter. Meter is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. When the pattern works, the sound of the poem aids the content of the poem instead of distracting from it. Many writers think it’s enough to for a poem to rhyme but don’t understand the nature and construction of meter.


So, if you know how to handle meter, you’re more than halfway to selling your poetry. But there is another problem that is probably just as widespread and can affect even writers with a totally perfect ear for meter.


I’m talking about forcing the rhyme. Sometimes a poem will be about a specific subject, or be telling us a lively story, but the writer will suddenly find herself stuck. She needs a line to rhyme with a different line. After all, rhyme scheme is important.


So, she’ll make a slight detour in subject so that she can make the rhyme––then she’ll return to the first subject:

While birdies all stand ‘round and preen
Spring wears a bright weskit of green
With buttons of white
A dazzling sight
The choicest of seasons I’ve seen.


Okay…why are there birds in a poem that’s basically a simile about how the bright spring grass and white spring flowers are compared to stylish clothes? Sure, there are birds in spring. And preening is kind of related to sartorial splendor, but let’s be honest––the birds snuck in to make a line that rhymes with green. And the poem’s writer knows it did. The editor knows it  too. The poem is not likely to sell, even overlooking the lame last line.

Once you’ve chosen what your poem will be about, you must be true to that. Rhyme and meter is essential but content is just as essential. It’s not a hierarchy. All must work together.

To find out how to make it work, listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/029

 

We want YOUR questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature wants to hear from you. Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap.

Need a fresh set of eyes? ICL instructors offer critiques!
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Dec 2, 2016

8 INGREDIENTS OF A GOOD STORY

1. A cup of plot. A plot that proceeds logically from beginning to end, giving the reader a sense that this is exactly how the story must be told.


2. Four tablespoons of conflict. Okay, I’m dropping the recipe joke… let’s just get on with this! Conflict is an essential part of a good story plot. So, who or what is your main character in conflict with?


3. Dialogue. Exciting dialogue that brings the reader into the story. Dialogue where children
don’t talk like adults, and where all the children and adults don’t talk like each other. Make each
character a separate person and they will automatically speak differently and have more
interesting things to say.

 

To find out the other 5 ingredients, listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/028

 

We want YOUR questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature wants to hear from you. Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap.

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Nov 25, 2016

SERVING UP TEMPTING TITLES
When it comes to titles, most writers fall into two camps: those who seem to effortless come up with extremely cool titles like “Pistol Packing Paleontologist” (an article by Kelly Milner Halls) and those who struggle and strive to come up with something that doesn’t make an editor nod off in mid read. If you’re in the first group, excellent. If you’re in the second group, there is hope. It’ll take a little more effort but you can learn to whip up some tempting titles with the right recipe.


TITLES ARE NOT LABELS
When you’re labeling things, you choose the most information in the shortest form. The Ziploc bags in your freezer probably
say “hamburger” and “chicken,” not “tempting treat” or “future yum.” The problem with labeling an article or story is that a good label leaves little to the imagination. A good label for the story would tell the most important part and basically spoil the surprise. For example, Very Hungry Caterpillar might be labeled “A Caterpillar Turns into a Butterfly,” and Harry Potter might be labeled “Wizard Boy Saves the Day.” A label gives away the surprise.


You never want to give away the surprise.

To find out how give your title some oomph, listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/027

 

We want YOUR questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature wants to hear from you. Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap.

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Nov 18, 2016

Robyn asks:
Can you explain the importance of stressed and unstressed syllables in prose picture books to help guide the rhythm. Can you explain it? (Better than I just did!)


Geraldene asks:
Would today’s fourth grade children be interested in what life was like for kids back in the 1920s and 1930s?


Wendy asks:
How do I handle back matter in a picture book? Is it included it in the word count, should the font be different, and how would I include it––as a separate document or within the story?


Angelique asks:
What are the key differences between writing a story for a magazine and a book? How can we tell if our story is better suited for one or the other?


Kimberley asks:
How do you know when you’ve hit the right audience age range? Do you need to have kids in that age group or just read a lot of books targeted to that age?

Now leave us YOUR questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature are ready to answer your writing questions. Leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap!

For more information on questions featured in this episode listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/026

 

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Nov 11, 2016

CONFLICT FOR ANY AGE
Many times writers have trouble understanding the place of conflict in stories for young children. Either the stories will be devoid of conflict. Or they will be wondrous stories of fighting and near-death experiences. In magazine fiction, the place of conflict tends to land somewhere between these two extremes.

In story terms, conflict occurs when something must be overcome in order to move from our perceived goal to achieving that goal. Our main character’s goal could be want-based (getting a new bike) or need based (finding a way out of a trap.) The difficulty standing in his way tends to increase as the age of the main character increases. In a very young character, the child may only need to do some problem-solving to achieve the goal. For example, in “Zindy Lou and the Dark Place” by Judy Cox (published in Spider) the main character is frightened of the dark bathroom at school. She tries a variety of methods to solve her problem and finally hits on one that works. There is no bad guy, no adult to the rescue, no friends or siblings making fun of her fear––finding a way of coping with the fear is the sole conflict. However, for older readers conflict usually increases. In “Prayers and Other Nonsense” by Kathleen Ahrens (published in Skipping Stones), the main character must talk her mother into leaving their home before a storm destroys it. The need is greater and the conflict is more interpersonal.

For more information on developing conflict in your story, including a story structure template you can use for any fiction manuscript, listen to this episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/025

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Nov 4, 2016

HOW TO GET YOUR NONFICTION REJECTED
If you’re like most writers, you’ve heard by now that magazines need nonfiction. Actually, magazines are desperate for nonfiction. Magazines never get enough nonfiction. So, many writers smile and settle down to write an article. How tough can it be, after all, these are just kids? Well, tough enough that many of those writers collect rejection letters. How did that happen? Are editors hot for nonfiction or aren’t they? Well, it depends.

WHERE’S YOUR BIBLIOGRAPHY?

Children’s magazine editors are just as picky about sources as any other editors. They want to know that your information is current, unique, and accurate. Most writers can only be as good as their sources. An article on penguins cobbled together from watching a Discovery program and touring a few websites is not going to impress an editor. Television documentaries are notoriously inaccurate (after all, they need drama – lots of drama) and websites often pass misinformation from one site to another.

Nonfiction requires good research and good research requires work.

Listen to the full episode for four steps to avoiding getting a rejection!

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/024

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Oct 28, 2016

QUERY LETTERS
Many of the more prestigious children’s magazines (and most of the YA magazines) prefer writers query instead of sending finished manuscripts. Most book publishers and agents require queries as well. Queries help (slightly) in keeping slush piles thin, and makes the editor’s job easier in some ways and more taxing in others. Queries mean editors are responding to your idea, your professionalism, your qualifications, and your scholarship instead of your finished product.

For many writers, queries are terrifying. We know we can write, but can we pitch? And a query is a kind of pitch. You are persuading an editor that your product will be superior, but you must do so with something other than your product.

Your query must convince the editor:

* you are qualified to write the story/article/book,
* you have the skills to write the story/article/book,
* the story/article/book will fit well in that specific magazine, specific publisher, or specific agent because you understand the desired style, tone, and the specific * * needs of that magazine, publisher, agent,
* the finished story/article/book is/will be special.
* the finished nonfiction will be accurate.

The queries that tend to grab interest quickly often have a few things in common.

To find out how to increase your chances of getting your pitch picked up, listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/023

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Oct 21, 2016

POETRY FOR THE VERY YOUNG

Poetry for very young children has a lot in common with poetry for older readers. It’s built word by word, as poetry has no room for extraneous words. It sounds good to the ear. It gives the reader a different way to look at the world by drawing attention very closely to something. Still, when writing for the very young, some things must be kept in mind.

Generally speaking, the younger your audience, the more concrete your poetry must be. Young children have such a limited range of experience that they cannot make connections between the sun and a golden disk because they have no point of reference for "a golden disk." When dealing with young toddlers, they have difficulty grasping comparisons at all. To a toddler, dogs are so much like cats, that if you compare them, the child may have difficulty understanding that they are really different things at all.

BABYBUG is probably the magazine geared toward the youngest of all children. Poetry in BABYBUG may contain play on sounds, but they won't use much (if any) simile. The poems for this magazine are often 10 words or so. They will focus on very common experience: seeing a dog while on an outing with mom, watching water run in a tub, discovering that both balls and trucks roll. The poetry reinforces common experience, helping children discover their world. When the poem goes outside common experience, such as a poem about a bear cub snuggling with his mother, the poem stretches his boundaries slightly, but not too far since the poem will still deal with baby friendly ideas like snuggling with mom, snow is cold, night is for sleeping.

For more tips on writing poetry for children and suggestions on what magazines to submit your poems to listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/022

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Oct 14, 2016

FEELING MYSTERIOUS?

Mysteries are one of the most popular genre in literature. In books, there are even thriving sub-genre, like cozies, hard-boiled detectives, and police procedurals, that have countless fans. Magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine have been feeding the adult reader’s need for short mystery fiction for generations. But what about kids? Do children’s magazines still want mysteries or is this the land of books only?

Many children’s magazines will accept mysteries. Many editors say they would love to get more good mysteries. So what makes a story good?

* A fresh idea with a clever puzzle.
* Strong characters.
* Lively, real dialogue.

In other words, the same stuff editors want in any story. So why aren’t they getting these things in mysteries? Well, mysteries can be kind of tricky. First, you really need to plan a mystery before you start writing it. This flies in the face of the writing style of many (especially many newer writers). So they come up with a possible problem (who took the teacher’s special fountain pen?) and they know who the main character will be so they jump in and start writing. But, when the writer doesn’t know who took the pen, often the result is (1) a solution that doesn’t flow logically from the clues, (2) a solution that flows too logically, making it not a puzzle at all since everyone knew who the villain was well before your ‘detective,’ or (3) a solution that falls back on old clichés (more on these in a minute.)

How do you plan your mystery? Listen to the full episode to find out!

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/021

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

Oct 7, 2016

FIVE TIPS TO A GREAT MAIN CHARACTER

What makes a memorable main character? Well, for a character to carry a series of books, you’ll need to make the person memorable. Although the “every kid” type will offer instant ability for readers to connect, it won’t be enough––the character needs specific, unique traits or abilities to linger in the mind of the reader. The unique trait might be learning disability (Joey Pigza in the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos has ADD) or unusual ability (Cam Janson has a photographic memory) or speech patterns (Junie B. Jones speaks like a real kindergartener, which makes some people nuts, but she does sound like a five-year-old) ––but the character needs something to stand out from the pack.

1. Make the main character matter emotionally.

That doesn’t mean the MC must be a paragon of virtue (in fact, no one like’s perfect people since they don’t read “real” and they’re kind of obnoxious), but you must give the character something we can connect with so that their fate matters to us. It’s the weakness in a character (and the character’s voice) that makes him/her linger in our minds.

For four more tips creating a great main character, listen to this episode of Writing for Children.

Find out how to be a good partner for your illustrator by listening to this episode!

Read more in our show notes plus get a handy guide on word count in today's children's publishing market at http://writingforchildren.com/020

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 30, 2016

BE A GOOD PARTNER!

These tips come from notes taken at a Writer's Retreat several years ago when the wonderful illustrator Brian Lies helped us gain an illustrator's eye view:

* Think about how things look as you write.


Sometimes we writers choose creatures for a story based on how funny they sound to our ear. We might giggle at the idea of an elephant who goes to live with a family of mice––but think for a minute about the job of the illustrator. How big is an elephant? How big is a mouse? How do we make them both fit on a page? Are we saddling the illustrator with choosing between showing the whole elephant (and little dots of mice) or showing the whole mouse (and just the tip of the elephant's trunk or perhaps a toe).

* Consider little things that make illustrations interesting.

It might be interesting to read a story that is a conversation between two kids––but after the first illustration, it's pretty dull to draw it. Keep the characters moving --new actions, new places, and new times of day can go a long way to making the story look good.

Find out how to be a good partner for your illustrator by listening to this episode!

Read more in our show notes plus get a handy guide on word count in today's children's publishing market at http://writingforchildren.com/019

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 23, 2016

DO YOU SOUND LIKE A KID?

Dialogue is one of the best ways to connect with readers and one of the quickest ways to lose them. Your readers know a fake kid when they listen to one––so your dialogue not only carries plot and characterization burdens, it needs to be real. Let’s look at some tips for “realifying” your dialogue.

Eavesdrop on kids. Libraries are great places to do this because no matter how often they’re shushed, when kids gather, they talk. You can often grab a chair or table near a gathering spot and simply take dictation. Then, when you’re at home, you can analyze what things make kid-speak unique.

Catch Kid TV. Yes, it hurts and it can be didactic and goofy, but bad kid tv will teach you almost as much as good kid tv. You’ll learn to identify young characters who are slipping into overly mature speeches and preaching to the audience––and then you can avoid it in your own characters. Not all kid-speak on tv is good––a lot of it is horrible. Spend time listening and you can begin to identify good and bad.

Find out how by listening to this episode!

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/018

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

Sep 16, 2016

IS LAUGHTER REALLY THE BEST MEDICINE?

I don't know, but I do suspect that laughter is a great way to get published. If you spend much time listening to acquiring editors or librarians or agents, you'll soon discover that humor is very much something they desire. Kids love books that make them laugh. Humans, in general, appreciate humor, even in the darkest times.

Unrelenting horror or pain is hard to survive, so being able to step outside it, even a little, to laugh can be life-saving. And readers will appreciate a story that allows them to do that. But for an author to find the way to do that takes a little understanding of how humor works.

In Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the alien character tries to understand laughter and comes to the conclusion that it's about pain and wrongness. In some ways, there is truth there. But, as a writer, I'm looking at humor as a technique and "pain" isn't really a helpful answer for me. So I began to look for what really makes something funny. What is a basic foundation of written humor that I can build on to lighten up my writing?

Find out how by listening to this episode!

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/017

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 9, 2016

NEVER ADD THE ADVERB JUST BECAUSE ‘SAID’ FEELS BORING

Why is Harry Potter full of adverbs? Mostly to make the tag lines feel interesting to the writer. That’s pretty much the same reason adverbs clutter up the tag lines of many examples of beginning writing. Let’s face it, tag lines just feel boring. They aren’t particularly active and they feel redundant…he said, she said, he said, she said. As writers, we hate the idea that anything we write is boring so we look for ways to jazz it  up. And adverbs feel like one way, but without care, adverbs can become a little silly.


“I could eat you up!” he snapped bitingly.


“Get away from me!” he yelled loudly.


One excellent cure for the tagline blahs is to alternate a little narrative action for the tag lines; this gets more movement into the scene, increases our sense of being there, and adds sentence variety. Another cure is to cut tags if the speaker is extremely clear and you want to create a brisker pace. A balance between simple tag lines (using said or asked), the rare unusual tag verb (whispered or bellowed, but never queried or continued, keep it simple enough to add without distracting), narrative action, and simply untagged speech will quickly cure the tag line blahs. Then you can add your adverbs to tag lines only when you know they’re the perfect  word for the job.

“If you need an adverb,” he said decisively. “Then use an adverb!”

When is it okay to use an adverb? Listen to the episode and find out!

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/016

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 2, 2016

HOW EVIL ARE ADVERBS?

Have you heard yet that adverbs are evil? Writers often mention their critique groups cutting out all their lovely adverbs. And you can also find writing books vilifying adverbs as an archaic evil creeping into modern prose. So, are adverbs evil? And if so, how do you make sure to kill them all?

WHAT IS AN ADVERB ANYWAY?

When you think of adverbs, you probably picture those –ly lovelies that shore up the dialogue tags:

“You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” she said cuttingly.
“I love pillows,” he said softly.
“I invented the light bulb!” Edison said brightly.

But adverbs can be single words without an –ly also, and they can even be phrases. The key to whether something is an adverb is whether it adds more information to the verb.

She walks fast. [The adverb is "fast"]
Mark throws with precision. [The adverb is “with precision”]
Jack eats often. [The adverb is “often”]

So an adverb serves an informational purpose in a sentence; that’s good, right? So why are writers afraid of them? Sure, J.K.Rowling sprinkles them like spring rain through all of her Harry Potter books, but many editors frown on them. Why is that? Aren’t they a perfectly good part of speech? Don’t they serve a purpose?

Actually adverbs can be a very good thing.

Find out why in this episode.

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/015

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Aug 26, 2016

NONFICTION DOES NOT MEAN NONFUN

Many new writers connect the word "nonfiction" with horror filled memories of slogging through dull textbooks and trying to memorize all the war dates through history. Or trying to memorize the states and capitals. Or trying to memorize scientific terms for the test. In other words, we remember mostly painful associations with nonfiction as a child. So we assume kids won't want to read our article unless we jolly them into it.

So many beginning writers will do one of the following:

1. Address the reader directly, a lot, in kind of a jolly voice, and often asking questions about the reader’s life to try to draw comparisons with the article’s subject.

2. Mix fiction into the nonfiction much like you'd mix tasty syrup into icky medicine to force it past the lips of a cranky child. Since we assume fiction is tasty and nonfiction is icky, we're sure we need some fiction to make the nonfiction fun.

And yet, those are two things editors hate to see. You could easily get a rejection over that. Why?

Listen to the episode and find out!

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/014

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.speakpipe.com/WFC. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Aug 19, 2016

WHERE DID YOU GET THAT INFORMATION?


If you do much nonfiction writing, you’ll hear a lot about sources. How good are your sources? Do you have primary sources? Nonfiction is only as good as its sources – meaning, everything in a nonfiction book or article needs the support of a good source. Now, if you happen to be an expert (or in the case of personal experience articles, if you happen to be the person who had the experience) then the need for outside sources lessens a bit, but it may not disappear altogether.


WHEN DO YOU NEED SOURCES?


Anytime you state a fact, you need a source:

  • In Iceland, steam from volcanoes heats homes.
  • In an annular eclipse, a ring-shaped part of the Sun remains visible.
  • Benjamin Franklin once worked out a magic square of sixteen x sixteen.

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/013

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.speakpipe.com/WFC. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Aug 12, 2016

Is This a Picture Book?

Okay, you've written a great story. It's pretty short, under 1000 words (hopefully closer to
500). You like it. Your critique group likes it. It really is good, but is it a picture book? It isn't
enough that it be good or even great, a picture book is a particular kind of writing. So, ask
yourself some questions:


1. Does your story sing? Whether the story rhymes or not (and not is usually better), your
prose needs to sing. Read it aloud, or better yet, try humming the story to yourself. Does it
have a flowing, singing rhythm? Not sing-song, but melodious. Picture book stories require a
special attention to the sound because if they succeed, they will be read again and again.


For 6 more valuable tips on evaluating your story, listen to the show!

Listener Question of the Week:

Jennifer asks:

How do you know if the book you're writing is targeted at the right age group?

 

Two episodes you might like:

Episode 003 - Creating Characters for Children's Magazines

Episode 005 - Picture Books 101

 

Will you please review our podcast … It really makes a huge difference in iTunes. Thank you!  Click here

Aug 5, 2016

Magazine Nonfiction that Grabs Kids

Too many of the children's nonfiction articles that editors receive each day lack a connection with kids. We hear and read over and over that editors are looking for nonfiction, but many times that isn't translating into sales for individual writers because of these missed connections. Here are some tips to help stop those missed connections:


1. Don't Parent. Do Entertain and Inform.
Kids don't read nonfiction to replace parental involvement. They read nonfiction because it's interesting, lively, fun and includes things they want. Too many writers are crafting nonfiction to fix a perceived flaw in today's kids and editors know kids won't read lectures, so editors don't buy them.


2. Don't skim. Do focus.
The number one flaw in nonfiction that editors receive is the lack of focus; when you try to say everything about frogs, you end up with an article that skims the subject and is likely to contain a great deal of information the target audience already knows. But when you focus on one aspect of the subject, that frogs can survive freezing solid and what scientists are learning from that, then you can really dig in and give fascinating details kids don't know.


3. Write for the kid in you, but know about the kids out there.
Editors complain that not enough writers are writing for today's kid. You need to remember this is a kid living in a technologically rich world. This is a kid who worries about the environment, is probably really informed about recycling, and is maybe following the news on self-driving cars. This could be a kid who never heard of a tomboy, doesn't worry about being one, but does have gay friends. This is a kid whose school probably has "what to do if bad people attack the school" drills. A kid who wants information to help in today's world.


4. Know that one‐size doesn't fit all in magazines.
The only cure for this is getting to know the individual magazines and what they're actually publishing in terms of tone, approach, length, and format. It's time consuming. It can be expensive. It can force you to become creative about seeking out issues in libraries, but it's always worthwhile to know the needs of the consumer (the magazine) before trying to sell your product (the manuscript.) So, please, editors are begging, put away the shotgun for submitting and try using a scope to target instead.


5. Don't write for anyone you can't respect.
Kids don't like to be baby-talked any more than they liked being lectured, so speak to your reader as you would have wanted to be spoken to as a kid. You don't have to be jolly to be lively; strong clear verbs, specific details, and clear crisp writing will win out over hyper-bright cheerleading peppered with exclamation marks!!!

 

Listener Question of the Week:

Tammy asks:

What’s the best way to have your story reviewed before you submit to an editor?

 

Three episodes you might like:
Episode 002 - Three Keys To Writing Nonfiction For Children


Episode 003 - Creating Characters for Children's Magazines


Episode 006 - Writing Holiday and Seasonal Material (for magazines)

 

Will you please review our podcast … It really makes a huge difference in iTunes. Thank you!  Click here

Jul 29, 2016

Unusual story forms

Stories for young children are sometimes written in unusual forms. These could be a great way to ...

Get Published in a Children's Magazine.

You’re probably familiar with the standard plotted story that appears on the magazine page with an illustration (or sometimes two). But there are others, and it’s worthwhile to know them, in case they’re exactly the right form for you.

REBUS

This one is familiar to many (if not most) magazine writers. In a rebus story, concrete nouns are replaced (or illustrated in the line) by small pictures. Thus, if you used the word “tree” in your story, a tiny tree would pop up right in the middle of the sentence and either the printed word “tree” would be in tiny print below it or it would disappear completely. Sometimes there is a kind of “key” in the illustrations bordering the story that reveal what the pictures stand for.

 

Rebus stories are very short––often 100 words or slightly more. They often have some kind of twist or surprise at the end. They almost always use each concrete noun more than once and limit the number of concrete nouns overall. So, for example, a rebus with a fall theme might show us “tree” three times, “acorn” three times, and “squirrel” four times. They try to avoid nouns that cannot be illustrated, and stick to very simple concrete ideas.

Magazines that use Rebus Stories: Highlights, Ladybug, and Your Big Backyard (their rebus is done in-house, they don’t buy them––but you can see examples there.

Learn more when you listen to the entire episode!

Listener question of the week:

Geraldene asks:

Would today’s fourth grade children be interested in what life was like for kids back in the 1920s and 1930s?

Get the links to the articles below in our downloadable show notes HERE.

How to Write a Rebus

What a great way to get published!

Metafiction - What Is It?

Metafiction is not new, but it’s being used in new ways. This is a great article to learn more about it.

Wordless Spreads in Picture Books

How and why to use them. Awesome article!

 

Episodes you might like:

Episode 004 - Don't Tell Us A Story

Episode 006 - Holiday and Seasonal Material

 

Will you please review our podcast … It really makes a huge difference in iTunes. Thank you!  Click here

Jul 22, 2016

Creating Characters for Young Children 

Writing for Children

Stories for very young children tend to come in two flavors: the story with a plot and the story with a purpose. Now, a story with a plot can also have a purpose, but if you don’t have a plot, you better have a purpose. The purpose of a very young child’s story may be to introduce a concept like counting or colors. The purpose may be to introduce the child to a moral or character-building activity like sharing or patience. The purpose may be to introduce the child to a potentially scary activity they will soon face like going to the doctor or starting school. All of these purpose things can also have a plot (and will probably sell far more easily if they do). And if the story has a plot, it probably has a single main character as well.

So let’s think a bit about that main character. Your character needs to be someone the young child can (1) relate to and (2) care about. Your main character may not be the nicest person we know. Children are actually much more forgiving about the flaws of others than we expect. Most kids know that they are not always so nice themselves––especially inside. However your reader needs to relate to the character––the reader needs to find something in the character that feels real.

Listen to the show to learn more!

Listener question of the week:

Claudia asks:

Can a long poem for children, where a character doesn’t really grow, but the story does advance, be a picture book?

Want to ask your own question? Go to speakpipe.com/WFC.

 

Download the show notes and get the links to the following articles:

The Delicate Art of Character Folding

Advice on character creation in writing for older kids

Humpty Dumpty Submission Guidelines

This group now consists of two magazines: Humpty Dumpty (ages 5-7) and Jack and Jill (ages 6-12)

22 Lessons for Writing Narrative, Expository, and Persuasive Texts.

This is actually a site for teachers, but whoo-boy, is it great for writers to read!

 

Here's another episode you might like:

EPISODE 007 - The “Write What You Know” Loophole

 

Jul 15, 2016

Here's my heart.  Go ahead. Stomp on it. | Writing for Children 008

Why You NEED To Separate From Your Work

How to Deal with Rejection - It's Not About You

Anyone in any area of the arts knows it’s difficult to separate yourself from your work. Your writing feels like an extension of who you are. It hurts to hear anything negative said about a piece you’ve written. As long as you’re writing only for your own enjoyment, and not to be published, feeling totally bonded to each thing you produce is fine. But once you begin looking for publication, it can just kill you. Not only does rejection hurt, but every single step in the process of publication has fresh hurt for writers who cannot see the piece they produced as something other than a shard of their soul.

Go to the show notes HERE to get the links to the article included below.

Listener Question of the Week:

Wendy asks:

How do I handle back matter in a picture book? Is it included it in the word count, should the font be different, and how would I include it––as a separate document or within the story?

You can leave your question at http://www.speakpipe.com/WFC. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive the fab embroidered ICL cap.

 

Maybe It’s Your Punctuation?

This little PDF about using different punctuation marks is well worth printing out and putting up beside your computer.

 

12 Tips of Creating an Engaging Flawed Hero

Heroes can be tough. We have to be able to connect with them, but no one should be perfect. Here are some great tips to achieve the balance.

 

If Only My Mom Owned the Publishing Company

Rick Riordan on having connections. (Do you have any?)

 

Episode 007 has a question about rejection…click here to listen to the answer.

 

Join us at our webinar!

Click here to register. If you entered the novel contest, it’s free, and if not, it’s basically a $7 lesson from ICL on how to a whole bunch of great stuff every writer should know how to do!

 

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