A decade ago, I was dating a physician. He was a nice guy, but I knew the relationship was doomed the night he asked: "So, when are you going to write a grown-up book?"
I laughed, unsure how to answer. But as I was driving home, I realized what I should have said: "Do people ask pediatricians that? When are you going to start seeing grown-up patients?"
No one thinks pediatric medicine is a lesser form of medicine. So why do some people think writing for children is a lesser form of literature? I happen to love writing children's books. You might, too. Here's why:
1. Kids read more books than adults. A librarian recently told me that reading for pleasure in this country peaks in fifth grade. I believe it. Among my books, the ones that sell best are for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. According to a study by the Association of American Publishers, the largest area of industry growth in 2014 was in the children and young adult category.
2. Children's book authors can make a living. Not right away, of course. Early in my publishing career, someone told me I'd need to have five books in print before I could quit my job as a journalist. Turns out it was closer to 10 books. It also turns out that while it's great to see my titles on bookstore shelves, my best customers are schools and libraries. They buy in bulk, especially when a book is nominated for an award or becomes part of a recommended reading list.
3. Hollywood loves children's books. On any given weekend, your local multiplex probably includes a film adaptation of a popular children's book. None of mine have made it to the big screen, but five have been optioned by studios, which means a nice check in the mail -- or two checks, if the studio renews the option agreement.
4. The world of children's book publishing is welcoming. Yes, it's harder than ever to get a book deal with a reputable publisher or even to find a literary agent. But there's a terrific organization for aspiring children's book authors called the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). For a nominal fee, you can join SCBWI and attend a conference where you'll meet editors, agents, and other writers -- all of whom will provide valuable information and support. You might not leave with a contract, but you'll have a stack of business cards so you can follow up with agents and editors once you finish your masterpiece.
5. Children's book authors pick up nice speaking fees. Many adult book authors supplement their income by teaching at the college level. Full-time professors fare well, but pay for adjunct professors is notoriously shabby. Children's book authors have a sweeter deal. We're invited by schools, libraries, law firms, and Fortune 500 companies to share our best writing tips and strategies. Speaking fees for most children's book writers range from $1,000 to $2,500 per day, plus travel expenses. If you win a Newbery Medal, you can charge even more.
6. Children's books can be silly or serious. My books are filled with talking mice, silly plots, and a Victorian ghost. Other writers, such as Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) and John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), tackle grittier subjects. The point is, anything goes in children's books and young adult literature. You can even drop the f-bomb, if you're so inclined, provided you're writing for teens and your name isn't Laura Ingalls Wilder.
7. If you write for children, you'll be in good company. E.B. White wrote many fine books and essays for adults, but he's probably best remembered for his classic children's books, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. Likewise, Charles Dickens wrote serious literature. But ask people what book of his they remember, and I bet most will say, A Christmas Carol. Why? Because they first read it or saw the play as a child.
8. It's harder than it looks--but also more fun. Writing for children isn't easy. Kids will abandon a story that doesn't interest, enchant, delight, thrill, or terrify them. But when you can find a way into a young reader's imagination through something as simple as words on paper, well, there's nothing more satisfying.
9. It's cheaper than therapy. Nearly every time I sit down to write for young readers, I revisit issues from my childhood. I've written about growing up in a big family, bad haircuts, the death of a parent, the joy of reuniting with an old friend, and lots of stuff in between. That's the thing about writing for kids: You'll think you're writing for them when, in fact, you're writing for yourself--or maybe yourself at their age.
10. Children's book authors get the best fan mail. I received a letter last week from a reader in Oak Park, Illinois, who said my 43 Old Cemetery Road series had been "like a friend since second grade." The letter writer, now in sixth grade, went on to say: "Even now as I read slightly more advanced books (Moby Dick and Little Women), if I can't sleep at night or can't seem to calm down before bed, it's one of your books that comes down and saves the day." I'm getting misty-eyed. You will, too, when you receive mail like this. But these priceless letters make me feel like what I do matters. And isn't that what we all want from our work?
I finally did write an adult book called In the Bag. It sold well in Italy and Indonesia, but I rarely hear from anyone in this country who's read it. Meanwhile, I get letters every week from young readers who have read my books, sometimes multiple times. My new friend in Oak Park said she'd memorized one of my books. (It's 136 pages.)
So the next time someone asks when I'm planning to write a book for grown-ups, maybe I'll just tell the truth: I'd rather write for kids.
Kate Klise is an award-winning author of 30 books. When she's not busy writing, Kate leads workshops around the country for aspiring authors of all ages. Learn more about Kate Klise here.
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