Most new parents prepare their nurseries with clothing and stuffed animals. But as I get ready for the birth of my son, I realize I have stockpiled his room with books. As a gay mother I've had to be discerning because many children's books include a mother and father, and have often thought about writing some of my own to reflect his upbringing.
But what should new authors know before beginning the process of getting published?
Becca Goldman, Editor at Pants on Fire Press, has this advice:
Proofread your query letter. If a publisher gets a query letter with spelling and grammar errors, it is an immediate red flag. The query is the first introduction they have to your story, so it needs to be polished, organized, and spell-checked.
Only send a completed manuscript. Presses are continuously receiving query letters for manuscripts. Nothing is more frustrating when you read a great letter, request the manuscript, and then hear that it's not finished/still being added to/still a very rough draft. You're job as a writer is to write the book, our job is to edit and publish it. We can't do our job if you haven't finished yours yet.
Research your genre. One of the best tips for becoming a great writer is to first become a great reader. Pick up various books all within the genre you're writing and study them. Don't read them just for pleasure, read them for knowledge. Think about the conflict, the settings, the character development, the language, resolutions. Consider the age group who will primarily read your genre and look for trends that specifically cater to those age groups.
Make your conflict meaningful. Purposeful conflict means conflict that progresses the narrative. We don't want a fight between the main character and a stranger on the street if that doesn't cause any progress. What you need to remember though, is progress can be big or small. That fight between the main character and the stranger could cause a physical fight that leaves the main character permanently disabled for the rest of their life, or it could spark a line of thoughts that leads them to make a decision about how to deal with a relationship. Essentially, you want to write in conflict that helps us get to the resolution.
Write in vivid details. As a reader, one of the best things is to read a book that fully immerses you into its world. If you can't adequately describe the world you're writing, then it'll be harder for the reader, or in this case possible publisher, to connect to the story. Giving small details about setting, emotions, character appearance, etc. will make those things not only memorable, but real to the reader. Don't be generic. Don't write that it was a room with a bed and dresser. Write unique details about the bed and dresser. And carpet, ceiling, walls, and anything else. Your job is to draw people in and make the world as real as possible.
Lara Starr, Senior Publicist at Chronicle Books, offers new writers these tips:
Mind your own business. Children's publishing is a business, and I'm amazed at how often I hear from aspiring authors who are uneducated about the process and realities of publishing. There are a lot of resources out there, SCBWI, newsletters from Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness that will help aspiring writers learn the landscape.
Authors are doing it for themselves. Or are they? Publishing involves an complex, multi-disciplinary set of skills, connections, and resources that most authors don't have. Yes, you can "publish" your book via any number of avenues, but unless you have a really strong platform on which to stand, you're unlikely to find customers beyond your friends and family.
Reconsider rhyming. It takes a high level of skill to write a text in rhyme that doesn't sound insipid. I hate to break it to you, but if you're a first-time picture book author, you probably don't have it.
Get the message that "message books" are a drag. Every book has a lesson to teach about something, but the books that set out to teach it in a hammer-handed, obvious way are almost universally rejected by kids and the grown-ups who love them.
Create a Community. Publishers are looking for partners who will be active in the promotion of their books. Get yourself out there in the community of booksellers, librarians, readers and booklovers online and off. You're job doesn't end when the manuscript is turned in. You can't just "hope Twitter will go away" as one author lamented. You may not need to play in every digital sandbox, but you can't sit by and wait for the limo to whisk you away to your interview on the "Today Show." You'll be waiting a long time.
Best of luck to you aspiring authors! I look forward to adding your work to my son's library.