What is Your Path as a Children's Writer?

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Recently and coincidentally (don't tell Stephen King I opened with two adverbs please), I have had a few children's writers approach me for editing of their picture books and middle grade novels and for writing coach sessions about their journey as a children's writer and figuring out: what's next? Because of this and my love for children's literature, I thought I would share my journey.

I've talked before about how I came up with a tagline for my platform. I had to create something to tie my work together because I had a book for each age group of kids and teens and in different genres. So how did I get to this predicament? How did I get started writing for kids? How did I get traditional book contracts? Is it similar to your story?

In 1999, I saw an ad in Family Circle magazine for the Institute of Children’s Literature, and I decided to take their correspondence course, where I learned more than I ever thought was possible. I learned that nonfiction is easier to get published than fiction, how to read magazine submission guidelines, how to find and enter contests, and how to research and start a novel. (I actually started my first novel that got published in 2012 in that class, titled Finding My Place, historical fiction middle-grade.) My teacher was amazing and offered wonderful feedback and guidance. A couple of the stories I wrote for the class placed in contests—once I had that taste of success, that’s all I needed.

From there, I found a critique group. Once you have a basic knowledge of writing for kids or adults—whatever your goal—I believe you need a critique group to offer you feedback on a regular basis. Not only did the members help me become a better writer, but they also challenged me to write pieces outside my comfort zone, including essays, short stories, and poetry for adults. I learned the most about writing in this group, and I went to many writing conferences with them, too, where I learned even more. Each step of the way, I had some success and acceptances, and then I had many rejections. But the successes helped keep me going.

Now onto Caught Between Two Curses, my young adult novel. I worked on it some with this first critique group and at the same time as Finding My Place, but I didn’t start seriously working on the manuscript until I got the contract for the middle-grade. I wrote CBTC as a young adult novel, and I had two different critique groups that offered advice and suggestions on it. I pitched it at several conferences—some agents told me that they just didn’t get the storyline with the Cubs and the Curse of the Billy Goat. I tried to explain that it was just a small part of the novel—the real story was Julie’s, and her life as a teenager with a boyfriend pressuring her to have sex and a family that was stuck in the past with the curse. So either I was terrible at pitching my book or they hated baseball that much—or both.

I had a couple agents ask for more pages, which resulted in more rejection. Then I revised it ONE LAST TIME and pitched it in April 2013 at the Missouri Writers Guild in St. Louis to Robin Tidwell of Rocking Horse Publishing. She said, “I love baseball. The novel sounds fun. Send it to me.”

I also wrote a picture book during this time, went to a writing conference, and pitched the idea to a publisher there--which also resulted in a contract.

So my journey as a children's writer is filled with education, critique groups, writing conferences, hard work, and a little luck. I think this is probably true for most children's writers who are finding their way--but I'd love to hear from some of you on how you got your start--whether or not you are published yet. I think it helps us all.

Margo L. Dill is a children's author, writing coach, and editor. You can see the class she teaches for WOW! here or check out her website here

Photo above by Joe Kopp: "Wahkeena Loop Trail, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon" 

Find more at: http://www.joekoppart.com


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