Showing posts with label writing for children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing for children. Show all posts

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

"I've written a book. Can you help me?" What to do if someone says this to you. Moira Butterfield

 I reckon that all professional authors will - at some point - get the question above, probably more than once. Someone you know contacts you to tell you they've written something and they want your advice - to judge it, edit it and/or pass it on to a publisher. It might even be about to happen a bit more regularly, as more people may have started writing during their Lockdown furlough time.  

It's hard not to feel irritated - for all sorts of emotional reasons you will be familiar with. You are spending your time putting your heart and soul into your own work, after all. Plus said heart will probably sink because, let's face it, the work could be dire. What are you going to do then? 

Here's what happened to me recently. It taught me the best path, by far, to take. 

An old friend sent me a novel out of the blue. This old friend lives far away in another continent and we don't communicate much. I had no idea he'd been writing a novel. I immediately sighed and worried. What if the book was rotten? How would I handle it? 

In fact, in another twist, my friend had already had a 'publishing offer', which had made him very excited. He wanted my advice on whether to say yes (but also would I read the book). He'd googled publishers who would take submissions and top of the list was an infamous company who calls itself a publisher, with marketing et al, but is really a 'hybrid publisher'. Its marketing and list-building was plainly perfunctory - nothing like a true publisher - and it asked my friend for upfront payment. It also took care to flatter him immensely on his wonderful work. It was a vanity publisher in disguise. 

With some help and wise words from the other authors on this forum I was able to convince him not to go down this route. I sent him quotes of other people's experiences and directed him to some damning online comments. 

Meanwhile I read the book. It wasn't bad. It made me laugh. But it was a first draft with lots of issues. I wasn't surprised. Anyone who writes for a living knows about first drafts not being the finished item - and I felt really angry that the vanity publisher had tried to suggest it was the finished book, so they could get a payment from my eager friend. 

What to do? Should I edit this draft? I could make suggestions and point out weaknesses, but it would be a lot of work and what would it do to our friendship? The answer was obvious...It was a big NO! I didn't think our friendship would survive the honesty I would need to employ, and though I am used to people pointing things out about my work, perhaps he wasn't. In fact I felt pretty certain that he wouldn't be too pleased by me telling him there was a lot still to do on the manuscript. 

The answer 

I directed my friend to a reputable editorial agency. Thank goodness they exist. I searched 'editorial agencies UK' and researched a few further. I found a number of my own author colleagues involved in them and felt confident in passing on a list of links. The cost was remarkably reasonable for top-notch editing and mentoring, including helping with the process of agent-finding. 

My friend took this route and so far he was been helped brilliantly, it seems to me - and is very content to be supported by the editor he was paired with. I did check in with him and she sounds great. 

So, to recap - I was supportive. I steered him away from the fake publisher. I did not 'pile into' his manuscript. Instead I helped him find a professional who knew how to handle the work far better than me. 

I'm so relieved I didn't criticise because I then discovered that my friend had a serious illness and that this writing probably mean a lot more emotionally to him than I had known. That's something really vital to take onboard - We don't know, when we receive these requests for help, what emotional freight the work is carrying. It's like being tossed an emotional grenade! 

So recommend a good professional editing agency to help instead of trying to do it yourself. Pass your friend onto someone who is objective and can help without smashing up a friendship. 

PS: If you provide editorial services for any genre - or have recommendations - perhaps you could add them to the comments below. 

Good luck! 

Moira Butterfield writes for children, including international success Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow). This year saw three non-fiction books published - Dance Like a Flamingo (Welbeck), The Secret Life of Trees (Quarto) and A Trip to the Future (Templar).

Twitter: @moiraworld 

Instagram: @moirabutterfieldathor 

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Moan or be joyful about children's books here, by the Grinch and the Christmas Fairy

Humph. The Grinch here. Here are some grumpy thoughts I had this year. 

1) I’ve seen one or two really didactic preachy books out there. Save kids from humourless moralists.

2) There is no children’s art/music section in our local Waterstones (or it is so well hidden I couldn’t find it). Why? Nobody will buy things if they’re not there.

 3) Celebrities are now broadcasting 'buy my book' messages over the tannoy of my local supermarket, without warning, leaving me stricken and unable to function. 

4) Money. Don't even get me started. Publishers think we live off air and dreams. 

Oi! Grinch! Move over! Here is the Christmas Fairy, with much more positive thoughts, thank you very much.

1) Children’s books have, in the main, been really vibrant and exciting this year.

2) Fact-loving kids are getting a great choice at last.

3) We have a really articulate effective Laureate who is doing great work promoting libraries.  

4) We are still here, doing our best to make the best work we are capable of.

Happy Christmas and happy writing. Do you have a Grinch moan to get off your chest or a Christmas Fairy ray of light to impart? 

The Grinch and the Fairy visited the head of author Moira Butterfield, last seen curled in a ball moaning softly in her local Sainsbury's. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

I want to write for children... A guide to Writing for Children & YA - Linda Strachan

IN 1996, which seems a lifetime away from today, my first book (in fact a series of 8 books) was published, and it is strange to think that many of my first readers are now adults.  In 2008 with over 50 books published for a variety of ages I put together much of what I had learned and experienced, in both the writing and the business side of being a writer, into a book called Writing for Children.

Now, 11 years later, since so much has changed in publishing, and in the world of children's books, I have a new and very much updated and expanded edition which is published tomorrow.  It is the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A.

There is also a great  competition for unpublished and unagented writers where you can win not only a copy of my new book but also the latest copy of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, a place on their writing conference and I am offering a critique, including a skype or phone call. So, please pass this on to any unpublished writers you know.

Competition for unpublished writers ( writing for MG and YA)  Deadline midnight Monday 9th December 2019

So many people love the idea that they could write a book and get it published, often seeming to expect that one naturally follows the other. But writing is a craft, not merely an extrapolation of what we learned at school when asked to write an essay or a letter.
Some think it will be easy, especially if it is 'just' for children.  But that comment alone shows how the young minds in our society are often disregarded, the adjective 'childish' frequently being used disparagingly. Children, and things relating to them, are sometimes looked on as being of less interest and their opinions as being less valid.

I firmly believe that we should encourage greater respect for children and young people generally, as well as their ideas, and that adults can benefit from listening to them more. They are fascinating and sometimes have an honest clarity of thought that is breathtaking.  Children are also a discerning bunch of readers, less likely than an adult to finish a book just because they started it, which makes writers for children work harder to keep them engaged.

Children and young adults are not an amorphous group of readers, they are not similar to adult readers, in that their ability to read, their life experience and so many other factors will dictate what kind of book is suitable and appealing.

I have often been told, "I am writing a children's book" but the same person looks puzzled when I ask what age they are writing for. It has often not occurred to them that a story for a 3 year old will not be ideally the same as one for an 9 year old, and a 7 year old may not want to read the same book as a 14 year old. Obvious when it is pointed out, but for those new to writing for children sometimes their thought processes have not quite travelled that far.

They have often not even begun to understand that not only is the content different but the format will be different as well, and if they want to get it published they need to understand much more about getting published for children than merely having a lovely idea that their children or grandchildren enjoy, when they tell them about it.

Writing for publication is also a business, it is a commercial venture for all those who work in the industry, not a hobby, so writers are expected to be professional if they want to succeed.  The 'gatekeepers' editors or agents who read submissions are looking for something that a) justifies their time in reading it and b) shows the person who sends their work to these incredibly busy people, understands what is expected and required for publication.

This means learning as much as you can about the area you want to write in and also about the way publishing works. When you write for children there are aspects of the craft that you need to understand, i.e. how many spreads a picture book has, what kind of subjects are of interest or not acceptable for different age groups. Whether what you are writing is right for children of today rather than what you may remember reading and loving as a child.

Being a children's writer often means school visits and for some it is the very first time that they have been self employed. Both of these experiences require added knowledge and often help to avoid the many pitfalls. This is why I have always felt that a book on writing should include what happens after publication, as well as a basic toolkit for writing.

Many writers I know have a shelf of books on writing and associated non fiction. In my case it is not only an interest in the craft but a desire to continually improve that spurs me on, and when someone suggests another new addition to my collection I find myself listening with keen interest.

I have dictionaries of several varieties, books on punctuation, books of quotations, one on phrases and fables and an encyclopedia of magical creatures. My shelf groans with many books on the craft and the business of writing; screen and script writing, writing a bestseller etc. as well as books on the publishing process and classic staples which I love to dip back into every now and then, such as Becoming a writer by Dorothea Brand and Virginia Woolfe's A Room of One's Own. I would imagine most people who have a passion for their work have similar shelves of books referring to their particular profession.

Being a writer can be a lonely business, and without the support of other writers it can seem daunting at times which is why the Scattered Authors Society has been invaluable to me. A lovely supportive and knowledgeable group.  For the, as yet, unpublished children's or YA writer SCBWI (and here in the UK SCBWI-BI) offers a similar kind of support and connections, and many who subsequently became published are still keen members and supporters.

Writing for children is exciting and challenging and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

My new book is part of a new series of Writers' & Artists' Guides- including
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A. by Linda Strachan (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published by Alysoun Owen (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)


My website
Twitter @strachanlinda
Also new for 2019   Middle grade - Fact/fiction  The Dangerous Lives of the Jacobites

Friday, 10 May 2019

Why do people think children's books should be less than the price of a pizza? Moira Butterfield

I recently asked a local book group about their book-buying habits. They were lively retirees who bought children’s books regularly, keen to encourage their young relatives to read. I felt inspired. Here was part of an army of grandparents and great-aunties trying to get their families interested in books.

But then I asked them where they bought books. The answers were very depressing for an author, and has led me to ask…Why do people think books should be so cheap, and is there anything we can do to change that attitude?

The book-buyers I questioned went to cheap book outlets to get bargains. These are the kind of outlets mostly stocked by children's book companies who specifically print bargain books. They keep origination costs negligible (low fees for authors and artists, no royalties for contributors), and they keep book prices very low, making their money (lots of it) on high-volume sales worldwide. There will also be publishers' unwanted stock in the shops. 

The people I asked also went to charity shops, not to save the planet by recycling, but because they really didn’t want to pay much for books. Sometimes they went into bookshops to look at book selections, but then left to get the books more cheaply on Amazon. That’s a particular shame as our local independent bookshop will do its best to match the Amazon price if you ring up and order.

I don’t blame people for being thrifty, but this isn’t thriftiness. It’s the perception that books should cost peanuts and this all-pervasive attitude prevents authors from making a sustainable living, as we know from this week's depressing ALCS survey statistics. The price of books has fallen to the point where being a full-time author is almost impossible.

So how can we challenge this idea that books should be really low-cost objects? How can we get this into the news? How can we alert these really well-meaning book-loving folk to the reality? Maybe the Children’s Laureate could speak about it? Perhaps famous authors might speak up about it (authors that might make news headlines)?  They could compare the lasting and valuable purchase of a well-crafted children’s books to, say, the price of a quickly-eaten Easter Egg or a takeaway pizza.

Why should people bother about creators when they perceive all authors and illustrators to be rolling in money and getting most of the purchase price. How can we put them right? 

We do somehow need to get this out there as a public talking point because if we want to get a range of people writing books  – anyone who doesn’t have the support of a well-heeled partner or a pension cushion - then the perceived value of books must somehow rise. 

Moira has written a number of children’s books for UK publishers. Recent books include Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow) and Home Sweet Home (Red Shed – due out in June). 2020 will see publications from Walker, Nosy Crow and Templar. 

Moira Butterfield
Twitter: @moiraworld

Instagram: @moirabutterfieldauthor

Thursday, 18 April 2019

What's the point? - by Lu Hersey

Some days, writing doesn’t go well. While gnashing my teeth and rending a few garments on a particularly gloomy, soul shredded morning, I wondered what on earth makes me want to keep trying. 

According to a recent Bookseller article, the average author income is estimated to be around £10K a year – and many children's writers actually earn even less. Much of our income will be from school visits, workshops and events, not book sales.

So why didn’t I become an accountant, doctor or lawyer – or even work in Tesco? Something SENSIBLE? On what I refer to as ‘Rightmove days’, I mostly look at islands for sale in remote places and wonder if I should buy them (if I had the money, obvs). Then I could stop writing, come off all social media, lose the angst and become a hermit.

But I don’t. I keep writing. And not just because of lack of island buying money. So why? What’s the point? 

A psychiatrist friend once told me he thought writers were simply trying to achieve immortality and cheat death. Writing books, even if they go out of print, proves we achieved something. We’ve left our mark.

People have been doing this for millennia. Realistically we haven’t evolved much in the last 40,000 years, since our Palaeolithic ancestors took the time to stencil their hands - which amazingly still wave at us from the dark past.

Archaeologists speculate that cave paintings, hand stencils and patterns could be ritualistic, tied in with hunting or spirit journeys. They may well be right. But what if those artists simply wanted to tell stories? To create something others could see beyond their lifetime? To leave something of themselves behind.

Is this a story told by a paleolithic writer?

Go to any historic monument and you’ll find graffiti. It might be seen as vandalism – but in time, even graffiti can become interesting. From crude phallus drawings (there are plenty in ancient Pompeii as well the garage walls around the corner) to the runes the Vikings carved inside Maeshowe burial mound and Banksy 'vandalising' walls in public places, sometimes making your mark really does last. And often the graffiti tells us a story, even if it's simply 'Thorni f*cked. Helgi carved.' (A Viking rune at Maeshowe which official guidebooks usually tone down)

Runes at Maeshowe
But we writers don’t carve our words into stone, and paper doesn't often stand the test of time. So are all those sleepless nights, weeks of self doubt, terrible angst and railing against the machine really worth the few odd moments when you meet a reader who tells you they loved your work?

Yes. I guess they must be or we wouldn’t do it. We may not achieve immortality through it, but we probably all secretly hope that at least a few children who read our stories will remember them long after we (and our books) have gone. Perhaps see something we've tried to express in our writing that strikes a chord, or makes them feel better about themselves. 

Anyway, realistically, I’m not much good at anything else.