Image “Little Reader” by Melanie Holtsman from Creative Commons
Big thanks to this week’s guest blogger, Bob Moulesong, who graciously volunteered to share his “bumpy path” to publishing children’s fiction. Enjoy!
I spent 15 years as a newspaper journalist (circulation 100,000+). I wrote news, sports, features, business, you name it. I wrote on deadlines that would make a sane man cry like a little child.
I retired in 2013 to devote my time and energy to fiction writing. I specialize in short stories. Most of them are “dark fiction” a la Stephen King. So far, so good. I have had stories published on several online sites and in a booklet called “Fiction Break Favorites”.
Then I decided to try my hand at writing children’s stories. And I soon realized that all my other challenges were creampuffs compared to writing for children.
I have five children and nine grandchildren. I have probably spent the equivalent of my 401k on children’s books. I thought I had a handle on it.
I decided to write picture books for a target audience ages 4-8. With four grandchildren in that age group, I figured I had a built-in audience and critique group that would make the transition easy.
What could be easier? Swimming across Lake Michigan in January.
What does writing for children involve? Here are the steps I have traversed to date.
Research: I realized that I needed to research writing for children. My research led to the purchase of two books: The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepard, and The Children’s Writer’s Reference by Berthe Amoss. I heartily recommend both. They contain a wealth of valuable information. I found a writing course at a website called http://www.writestorybooksforchildren.com/. With a Groupon, I paid $20 for the class. I have gotten a lot out of it, but full price is steep. Another valuable website is http://writeforkids.org/. I haven’t spent any money there yet, but I signed up for the free emails. They provide good ideas, suggestions, and prompts.
Write: So, after weeks of research, I wrote my first children’s story. 1,200 words. My family loved it. They thought my plaque should be placed right next to Dr. Suess.
Critique: I am a big believer in writing critique groups. I belong to four of them. I need hard, honest critiques of my work. So, I joined a children’s critique group and took my story. I found out I was 200 words over for my target audience and that there were actual industry standards for my target audience. I also learned that every word with three syllables needed to be replaced with simpler words. Children in my target audience are learning to read, so the words need to be simple. No flowery adverbs (sigh).
Rewrite: Tail between my legs, eyes downcast, I returned to the scene of the crime – my writing desk. After I removed my plaque from the wall, I went to work on my first rewrite. I cut 200 words. I changed another 200 words. I had two elementary teachers read the book. After they chopped me up even further, I did another rewrite. And another.
Research, part two: Just like when I was in school, the teachers sent me to the library. I spent four hours with a wonderful librarian who taught me the difference between books for age groups, and how to improve my aim for my target audience. I also learned that picture books must be done in multiples of eight pages. As a writer, I need to know how many pages my picture book will be. I have to create page breaks in the right places to coincide with the illustrations.
Rewrite, part two. At this point, I estimate I have spent 656,324 hours on a 1,000-word story for a child who won’t remember five words of it ten minutes after Mom has finished reading. Sigh. But I am determined now. I will not go quietly into the night. After three more rewrites (seven total), my critique group thinks the story is ready for the slew of rejection letters I will undoubtedly receive.
That will be a tale for another day.
Bob attended Indiana University Northwest and was recognized for his writing by the Arts & Sciences Honors Program. He has written professionally for over 15 years and has published over 2,500 articles and stories in newspapers and magazines. His current work is published online at Short Fiction Break http://shortfictionbreak.com. His publishing plans include a short story collection titled Lunacy (spring, 2015) and a series of children’s works titled The Adventures of Rugs (summer, 2015).