Jon’s here with some tips on how to view the world in a way that will make you a better and more successful writer.
Jon’s here with some tips on how to view the world in a way that will make you a better and more successful writer.
Jon checks in with some ideas about how to bypass a huge pothole that often engulfs writing careers.
Getting honest feedback for your writing is absolutely vital — but necessarily a whole lot of fun if you don’t have a thick skin. Jon’s here with some thoughts on how to get unbiased input, and how to deal with criticism in a positive way.
by Rachel Thomas
There are many things to keep in mind when writing books or content for children. Age and skill level will play a very important role when devising your content. You want it to be comprehensible, but not overly loaded with words that are beyond his or her range. Careful planning goes into creating successful reading material and a different perspective is needed during the proofreading of this material. For those who have a range of writing talents, this could be complex at times.
1. Syllables - One of the more important aspects to consider when writing for children is the use of words with extensive syllables. You want to keep this level with what is currently the norm for the age group you are writing for. Simple syllable words can be understood far easier than those containing more. Sometimes, this will mean breaking up the meaning of the word in order to get your point across. Take the word "extensive" for example. It may be difficult for a first or second grader to break down however you can do it by saying, "too much of" or "too much."
2. Sentences - Your sentence structure will need to be simplified as well. On average, most professional writers could create sentences that are between 15 to 30 words. This may be OK for older children in higher grades, but younger children will need less to work with or they could become frustrated. That last sentence was 24 words, for example. For the younger age groups, you may want to reduce your sentences to 10 words or less depending on the age group of your target audience.
3. Paragraphs - The length of the content can drive many to become bored with it. The same is true when writing content for websites. With children, their attentions can be even harder to maintain. Keeping the paragraphs as simple as possible can help keep the flow of reading for a child. Not to mention that paragraphs can be used as stopping places and easier to pick up where someone left off. Each paragraph needs an individual point that the child can assimilate into their brains in order to keep the process fluid.
4. Metaphors and Slang - Try to stay away from metaphors and slang. While dating a book isn't necessarily bad as slang words evolve over time, you want the child to be able to understand the material without having to find a translator. A first-grader shouldn't have to think too deeply about the meaning of the content in order to get something out of it. He or she should immediately have a working knowledge of the content in order to provide a synopsis of what they had read.
5. Appropriate Material - Could you imagine if Stephen King were to write a children's book while keeping his style of trilling horror? There is a good chance the child would never sleep again. Make sure the material you are creating is appropriate for the age group you are writing for. This may take a little bit of research to find out what children are reading in school these days, but it will help you from turning a pleasant story about a dog and its favorite chew toy into a nightmarish gory tale of the toy chewing on the dog.
6. Vocabulary - Not every age group has mastered the same words. You don't want to fill a book with words that the child hasn't had a chance to learn yet. However, you could produce a story with words above the target audience's age range in order to develop a primer for the future. While this may be a good idea to some, it may be too much for specific children to wrap their minds around. Like stated above, a child shouldn't have to dwell too long on a word in order to understand the meaning.
7. Closure - One thing that some writers don't consider when developing material for children is the need for closure. It doesn't have to be a complex ending to the book, but you should end the story without leaving the child wondering where the rest of the pages are.
Keeping the language as simple as possible regarding the target audience's age group is a priority. You want the child to obtain something from the story through the use of the words provided. Any content can be leveled down as long as it's a simple to read text. You don't have to enroll in child psychology, but understanding your target audience is paramount in any content writing.
Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wanted to write about this last week, but I couldn't quite express how I felt at the time. Now, with a few days having passed, I'll give it a try.
When, in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, I heard that a young child was among the victims, it hurt. When I heard a name and an age, it hurt more. But nothing could prepare me for the picture.
You know the one. That beautiful child, Martin Richard, proudly holding the sign he made that now tells the entire world "No More Hurting People. Peace."
It broke my heart. I'm certain you felt the same way.
As the shock, the sorrow and the anger abated a bit, I realized something:
This is why we write for children.
There is a world filled with Martins waiting to be touched with our words. For them, the thought of a world without hate, without violence, without senseless killing isn't an abstract notion for "some time way in the future". It's real. And there's no reason we shouldn't have it right now.
For goodness sake, someone has to tell them they're right, and the adults they see on the news are the ones who are crazy.
Families need to tell them that. Teachers have to tell them that. And, I know in my heart, children's writers need to tell them that.
I know we all tend to obsess over rejection letters, and getting our apps published and having Facebookers "like" our pages. And yes, those things are important. But maybe it's time to take a step back and remember why we're really doing all this.
It's Martin. And kids just like him.
Carry on this beautiful young man's message, and help his words reach other children across the globe.
Because that's why we do this.
Feel free to Pin this or use however you like. It's pretty darn handy….
Want to impress an editor? Then heed this advice…
I have tremendous respect for editors at children's book publishers. It's a grueling job to wade through a pile of manuscripts looking for that elusive gem. And it can't be much fun seeing the same mistakes made again and again by aspiring writers. I know lots of editors who would love to issue proclamations such as, "Don't even think about sending me your work until you understand the difference between 'your' and 'you're'." But editors are, by and large, very nice people who wouldn't dream of being so rude. So I'll do the job for them. Here are seven things that, I'm willing to bet, editors at children's book publishers would wish more writers knew:
1) Please learn to punctuate. A misplaced comma or two won't prevent you from getting published (children's book publishers do have people on staff who correct those things), but if your manuscript is riddled with typos, it gives a bad first impression. To me, the most egregious offense is poor punctuation. It's easy to gloss over a misspelled word when reading a manuscript for the first time, but inappropriate semicolons or dialogue with all the quotation marks in the wrong place ruins the flow of the story. If you're not absolutely sure of your punctuation skills, have someone else proof your manuscript before you send it out.
2) Don't rhyme unless you have to. Many authors think picture books equal rhyming stories. The problem is that most people can't write very well in rhyme. The rhyming format should be the last thing you think about— first comes the character development, then the plot, then the pacing and tightly-written text. If all that's in place, then you can overlay the rhyme, without adding any extra, unnecessary details to the story. Only tell a story in rhyme if it's absolutely the best way— the only way— it can be told.
3) Only develop ideas worth a publisher's investment. Did you know it costs a major children's book publisher over $100,000 to get a picture book from manuscript to the book store? Is your idea worth that much of a risk? Novels cost less to produce (no color illustrations) but the market is smaller. Books that are simply cute, sweet, informative, or teach an important lesson don't do enough to justify the publisher's financial risk. Manuscripts need to do more than one thing. So develop ideas that are funny and teach science concepts, or are multicultural, entertaining, and illustrate an important life lesson without preaching to the reader.
4) Pay attention to established age groups and word counts. Once you're famous, you can break all the rules you want. In the meantime, you need to write within established guidelines so editors can visualize exactly where your book would fit on their list, and (more importantly) how their sales reps would pitch it to a book store. Don't submit a 3000 word picture book for ages 3-6. It simply won't fit into 32 pages with illustrations. Don't write a 15-chapter easy reader. Most second graders will be intimidated by a book that long. Be creative with your story, not its format.
5) If you're writing for older readers, understand the distinction between middle grade and young adult. Read several novels for ages 8-12, and for ages 12 and up, so you can begin to see the difference in characters and conflicts for the two age groups. Very often beginning writers think they're writing YA, but they've actually created a middle grade novel with 15-year-old characters. And do incorporate subplots into your story. These books need to have several layers— some emotional, some action-driven— that all work together to build the plot.
6) If your story is very personal and specific to your life/family, consider self-publishing. For your life to be interesting to a wide audience, you must be willing to sacrifice the facts when necessary to make good fiction. The incidents need a universal theme that's relevant to many children. If you have your heart set on writing a book about all the funny, mischievous things your kids and pets did when they were little, and you don't want to alter any events to create a solid, unique plot, then self-publish a few copies at your local copy shop (or an online site like CreateSpace) and give them to family members at the next reunion. Your book will be treasured by the people who will appreciate it the most.
7) Don't think you can abandon logic just because you're writing for children. Several years ago, I worked with a writer who was creating a middle grade fantasy set in the distant past, and yet one of his characters had a few modern-day items in his bedroom. I explained that, even though the book was fantasy, 21st century devices couldn't exist if he clearly stated the story happened long ago. "Kids aren't going to care," was his response. But they will. Even picture book readers will wonder why your spider character carries a life-sized baseball in his pocket. And then your credibility as an author is shot. If you maintain logic in the details, you can get away with a far greater suspension of disbelief in the story. And a story that's a delight to believe is what editors at children's book publishers wish for most of all.
If someone told you to "fade", would you ignore them or guard your wallet? The answer depends not just on who is doing the talking, but when. Joe College in the early 1930's use the term to mean "to leave"; a 1940's zoot-suiter "faded" by covering a bet; it meant "to ignore" in the 1980's hip-hip vernacular; and the youth of the 1990's said something was "fade" when it crimped their style. Simple words–fade, sweet, lamp, dig and cut, to name just a few–change dramatically when incorporated into the slang of each generation. Usually the meanings have nothing to do with the literal definitions of the terms.
So how much of this colorful verbiage should you use in your writing? Slang immediately dates a book, but that's not necessarily bad. Certain words are closely identified with different eras of American history, so slang can place the story quickly into a specific decade. The way a character talks provides a window for the reader into that character's personality, as well as his age and social class. And since slang originates from the youth culture of the time, the words themselves help portray the prevailing attitudes of teens and young adults. Finally, slang can be fun and interesting to read.
Entering writing contests is a great way to get your foot in the publishing door. To help you get started, here are some useful links:
For writing tips and more information about writing for children, visit The CBI Clubhouse – Home of the Fightin’ Bookworms!
Note: This rant is almost assuredly not about you, dear reader. It's about a small percentage of folks who are really getting under my skin. But even if you're not in that group, please read on — just don't take it personally!
If you spend a fair amount of time online, perhaps you've noticed it:
People are becoming ruder. And angrier. And more entitled.
Really, I'm simply amazed at some of what appears in my e-mail inbox. Folks with whom I've never corresponded are sending me demanding messages such as "SEND ME THE EBOOK!!!!" and "I WANT TO GET PUBLISHED. TELL ME WHAT TO DO!"
People (non-customers) send us long, detailed questions out of the blue and expect immediate responses. If they don't get one, we often receive an abusive message as a follow up.
And then there's the magic words that many people seem to be using as a justification for curt, nicety-free missives:
"Sent via my iPhone"
Look, I've been doing this a long time, and I've got a pretty thick skin. So I raise this not to prevent my feelings from being hurt, but rather as a cautionary message about how *not* to sabotage your writing career.
As a 21st century author, your ability to communicate is paramount to your success. Editors, agents, bloggers, book reviewers, distributors, promotional partners and readers are just some of the people who are important to your career. For goodness sake, treat them with more respect than "Here's my new book. Write a review!".
Here then, are my tips to help you be seen as a courteous author worthy of consideration:
- "Dear", "Thank you", "Please" and "Sincerely/All the Best/Yours Truly" aren't archaic leftovers from the distant past. They're still as important as ever. Use them. Please.
- Composing a message from your phone or tablet is not an excuse for overly-direct curtness. If you have a business message to send, wait until you have the time to write it properly.
- If you're contacting someone for the first time, make the effort to introduce yourself, and clearly state the purpose of your message.
- If someone doesn't get right back to you, don't fire off an angry e-mail accusing them of ignoring you. Perhaps the message got lost. Maybe they're on vacation. Perhaps they're ill. Calmly send another friendly message restating your request or comment.
- Remember that you're dealing with human beings. In our case, every piece of e-mail is read either by me or by Laura. We don't have a building full of underlings to take care of that for us. When you send us kind words (and many of you do — thank you!), it feels great. When you're rude or angry, it stings. Treat me with respect — I think I've earned at least that.
The vast majority of you are nothing but gracious in your communications with us. That bodes well for your future success. Keep at it, and gently work to correct those who aren't minding your manners.
For the few of you who may have let your etiquette slip, please take heed of the points I've laid out, and make a resolution to make the online world just a little bit more courteous.
That's it — venting over! Onward….