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Myths and Truths of Writing for Children
by Kathryn Lay

I write for children because I admire and love children’s books. I can be honest and interesting and fun. It’s hard work, creating stories and books that children will enjoy and read over again, but it’s never boring or less challenging than writing for adults. There is great joy and satisfaction in writing a story or book that children will treasure.

There are a lot of myths about writing for children, the worst being "save your best writing for adults."

If we don’t write those amazing stories and books for children, how will they even become great adult readers?

Do you long to write for children? Here are a few myths and truths to consider:

Myth #1

I need to find an illustrator before I can send in my story or picture book.

My friend/spouse/sister/me can draw the pictures. A publisher needs to know exactly how the pictures should look and if I prefer rabbits over kids.

Truth – Unless you or your friend is a professional artist, you will most likely be rejected as a package deal. When your story sells, the publisher will choose the illustrator. They often pair a new writer with an established illustrator to help sales.

Myth #2

You have to write what you know. If you aren’t an expert, you can’t teach a child something new or make your fiction realistic.

Truth -- Yes and no. It’s great to write about what you know; your own childhood fears and interests and experiences. But also write about what you can learn through research, interviews, and a new life experience. Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown, just make sure your newly learned knowledge is accurate and real.

Myth #3

Begin by writing a rhyming ABC picture book about talking animals because they are short and easy to do.

Truth - Author Mem Fox said, "Writing a picture book is like writing War & Peace in Haiku." Most picture books that come across an editor’s desk are in rhyme. Many are ABC books. And a huge amount are about talking animals. All these things can work, but not all the time and not by everyone. Don’t write what everyone else is writing, find your own story first.

Myth #4

My kids, grandkids, students, neighborhood kids love this story, so an editor will too.

Truth - Never tell an editor or agent this in your cover or query letter. It doesn’t hurt to get a child’s opinion or see their reaction, but children love to be read aloud to and may not give you the best feedback. Editors have many reasons for accepting or rejecting a story – timing, trends, or their current needs.

Myth #5

Since its kids stuff, if I print my submission on cute paper and put in stickers and confetti, editors will notice it.

Truth – Yes, they’ll notice it and more than likely toss it from the pile. Whether writing for adults or children, be professional in your marketing. Always.

Myth #6

It doesn’t matter if my grammar’s off a bit or there are a few typos or the writing isn’t perfect. If an editor loves the idea, they’ll work with me.

Truth - There was a time when this might be a partial reality, but no longer. Editors are swamped and they want a story that is in as good a shape as possible. Your first impression is your biggest impression. Your story must leap off the page, both in the storytelling and structure and in the way it is written.

Myth #7

Real writers write books and writing for magazines is just a stepping-stone to getting a book published.

Truth - If you enjoy writing short stories and magazine articles and puzzles and rebus’ and crafts for kids, it doesn’t make you any less a writer by not writing books. Your book might sell 5,000 copies and be read by 10,000 kids. But one story in Highlights or Boys’ Life will reach a million kids or more. Writing short will hone your skills. Magazine competition is big as well and to sell to a magazine is a great accomplishment.

Myth #8

Kid’s need to be told and retold the moral of your story.

Truth -- Nope. Not every story has a "moral," but every story will teach something, however small or large. But don’t beat kids over the head. Don’t preach at them. Give them a great story with great characters and a well-told plot.

Myth #9

A parent can come in and save the day for your character.

Truth -- NO! Your character must solve his own problem. Mom and dad can be in the story if need be, but the less meddling that adults do (unless they are the antagonist) the better. Don’t cheat your reader by letting an adult rescue the main character.

Myth #10

I’m too old to remember being a kid. I don’t know how to write for modern kids.

Truth -- We all have a child in us who is dying to tell a story. We can tell the story of both the child we once was as well as the child we could have been. The one who finally stands up to the bully we never could. The child who overcomes a fear of heights or dark places. As children’s writers, we can slay that monster under the bed, or make friends with him.

The truth is, there are lots of myths about writing for children. But the real truth is the thrill you receive from the smile on a child’s face who reads or hears your story.

© Copyright 2004, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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