Friday, July 29, 2016

The Changing Face of Children’s Book Publishing

Most writers don’t have any idea how the business of children’s book publishing really works. Most assume it’s the same as that for adult book publishers. But it can overwhelm the creativity of those considering a children’s book idea. But knowing a little bit about how children's book publishing has evolved will help.

Until the late 1960s, children's book publishing was a relatively small part of the overall publishing business. Publishers published only a few new children's books a year and relied on a small number of well-known authors like Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, and Robert McCloskey. The majority of their business relied on backlist titles, titles that had been published in previous years, not on new books from new authors.

All of that has dramatically changed n the last 35 years as publishers realized that they could make real profit publishing children’s books. What used to be a cozy corner of the publishing world has grown into a billion dollar business. First, because this market is full of insatiable readers—how many kids take just one book out of the library—and second, because the market is renewable. While times and attitudes change, kids are kids. Another reason that the kids market has grown is due to the multitude of reading programs in schools that are encouraging kids to read more.

Undoubtedly, what kicked off this explosive growth was the release of the first book in the  Harry Potter series in 1997---Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by first-time author J.K. Rowling. First published in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury, with Scholastic as the United States publisher, it targeted kids in the 10-12 age group.. Since then, the series has sold over 400 million copies, and the Harry Potter brand, including the books, merchandise, and movies has an estimated worth of $15 billion dollars. It has made J.K. Rowling the highest earning novelist in history and has made unprecedented profits for her publishers.

Most importantly, Harry Potter created a revolution in the publishing industry. Reading, especially among children over eight years old, was suddenly more popular than ever before, and many teachers claimed that Harry Potter got more boys reading than ever before. The release of each new book in the series brought hordes of buyers into bookstores, discount stores, and warehouse clubs. The phenomenon wasn’t only good for the books’ publisher, it was good for all publishers since new releases brought more foot traffic into stores and more customers for all kinds of books. Finally, because the first Harry Potter volume was simultaneously on the adult and children’s bestsellers list, it proved that children’s books also had a readership among adult readers. That showed that children’s books had grown up.

Children's publishers have become better at publishing books that make a profit. For writers, this means there are many more opportunities to get published since there are simply more books being produced. With online retailing, there are also more ways to sell books. And there are more creative opportunities, too. Publishers aren’t afraid of trying new formats and new book/product combinations, plus they’re taking chances on innovative and creative topics. As a result, children's book writers are getting better financial deals and stronger publicity support. 

As the children's book publishing business has grown, it has been affected by the diversity trend that’s sweeping the country. Publishers are creating more and more books with characters from a wide variety of races and cultures that are focused on multicultural themes.

The world of kids book publishing, once the domain of mostly female writers, has opened up to everyone. And more opportunities now exist in non-fiction for children. For those who have good ideas that kids will love, the children’s book publishing world is their oyster.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How to Get Started in Children’s Writing

If you like kids and have a genuine love of children’s books, you’re on your way to writing for them. But you’ve probably heard stories about how competitive publishing is—especially children’s book publishing—and how manuscripts can sit on an editor’s desk for a long time before the editor takes action, one way or the other. But don’t let that stop you.

The first step to getting published is to find an idea that will fit within the category of children’s books you’ve chosen. The idea must fit the category, and thus the age and reading level of the child who will be reading it.

To begin, make friends with the children’s librarian at your local public library. Find out what the new trends are in children’s literature.  Find out what kids are reading these days. The answers will surprise you. And if there are any kids there, watch how they choose books from the shelves, especially in your book category, and listen to their conversation. Then check out a dozen or so books in your chosen category that are similar to the concept you have for yours.

If you don’t have a definite idea, read other media directed at children. You can often get a sense of what the next trend in children's book publishing is going to be by studying kid's magazines. You’ll find a selection them at your library or bookstore. Most come out monthly, so they respond to trends faster than book publishers. Studying Web sites geared for children can also provide cutting-edge information. Many of these Web sites are educational ones. Others tie in directly to product lines or books directed to children. And many children’s magazines have their own interactive sites for kids.

When you come up with some ideas, test them out on some children of the age range you’re targeting—your own or those of friends and neighbors. Tell them about your ideas and ask them what they think. Children, especially younger ones, are extremely honest, and they’ll tell you whether they like the idea. In fact, they’ll ask you how soon they can read your book. This is early test marketing.

If you’re considering writing a non-fiction book for your children’s age group, read the news, either in print or online. Start a file of clippings or printouts of articles that apply to children and your specific subject.

Besides talking to kids about the books they’re reading, spend time with your target readership.
Volunteer at a school library, get involved with a church youth group, or figure out another way to get firsthand experience with kids. Investing your time and creativity into getting to know kids is the best way to learn to write for them.

Attend writers conferences. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, a large international organization for those who write and illustrate children's books, sponsors regional conferences and two large national conferences a year. But don’t limit yourself to just children’s book writing conferences. Networking with other writers at general writing conferences can be helpful, too. Besides interacting with other writers in person, you should also search for children’s writing forums and communities online.

You should do all of the above on an ongoing basis. Once you get a good idea and test it on some children, you’re ready to begin planning your book. The information you gather from the above sources will help you throughout your children’s writing career.

Next Week: The Changing Face of Children’s Book Publishing

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Writing for the Younger Set

Have you ever thought about writing for children? Most writers have the misconception that writing for them takes less skill than writing for adults. In fact, the opposite is true. While most people have either read children’s books when they were kids or have read them to their children or grandchildren, they don’t associate the skills needed to write them with the ones they already have.

Books written for children are special, but not in the way you think. They require as much knowledge of our language as you already have and the steps to producing a children’s book are similar to what you would use to produce a book for adults. Just because a children’s book has fewer words doesn’t mean that it takes less planning and forethought. And don't fall victim to the misconception that writing for kids is a stepping stone to getting published in adult fiction because the writing is shorter and simpler.

The fact is that it’s not easy to publish children’s books. The more you learn about the field and the business of children's publishing, the better equipped you’ll be to achieve success. This is what you should be doing when writing for adults.

But before you start studying how children’s books are published, it’s a good idea to become familiar with their categories. Generally, children’s books fall into six major categories—picture book (toddler to grade 4), easy reader ( kindergarten to grade 3), young chapter book (grades 2 to 4), middle grade novels(grades 3 to 7), young adult novels (grades 8 to 12)., and nonfiction. Publishers base each of them, except nonfiction, on grades in school and also on age. So it’s logical that the more familiar you are with children in the age group of the category in which your book will be placed, the better.

The categories of children’s books are only meant as a guide. Many of today’s books fall somewhere between one category and another.

A generation ago, children's stories were much more idealistic. Main characters almost exclusively came from white, middle-class suburban families. Stories often contained lessons. And the moral was always clear.

In addition to being "politically correct, today's children's stories are more about fun.
In order to get them to read a book, you have to entertain them.

There’s no magic trick. Finding success in the children's market is like any other genre. It takes persistence, patience, plenty of revising, and a true appreciation of children's literature.

Opportunities are limitless. For every idea there’s a potential market, including short stories, chapter books, articles, picture books and poetry. Topics can be serious, funny, factual or pure fantasy. And there's a market for just about any topic, writing style, and genre.

Before you get into children’s writing, ask yourself the following: Do you enjoy browsing the library shelves in the kids' department? Do you find yourself flipping through picture books when you visit bookstores? Do you still like to read kids' books? If you answered yes to each of these questions, then you’re going in the right direction.

Next Week: How to Get Started in Children’s Writing.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Writing Your Way Out of a Slump

The writing business can have its ups and downs. If you’ve been successful at any time in your writing career, you know the rush you get when things are going your way. But what about the times when there’s little or no work or when you just feel empty? How do you get yourself going again or at least maintain some sort of status quo?

Too many writers only look forward to the next article or story. And if you’ve been writing books, the next book. But sometimes you put so much energy into moving forward that your mind just stops and says, “Wait a minute. I need a break.” This especially happens after working on a long book project where the writing adrenaline has been pumping hard for weeks or months.

To get yourself back on track after taking a break or when your motivational power is at its lowest ebb, try looking back. Whether you know it or not, you’ve amassed an incredible amount of information as well as product inventory. What about all those articles or short stories you’ve got in your files that have been published once. And don’t forget the ones you sent out numerous times only to be rejected each time.  Recycling that information or those pieces in your files may just be the answer.

The simplest form of recycling is to sell reprints. This is easy money. All you have to do is find new markets for pieces you have laying around. It used to be that these had to be secondary markets, but in today’s hodge-podge publishing world, you can sell anything to anyone as long as the piece has been idle for some time. In fact, you may want to freshen up a piece before sending it out or in the case of an article, slant it to a different readership. Doing so makes the piece a whole new product.

Another way of recycling is to rewrite a piece completely. This could even be done to a short story that you gave up on a while back. Since you haven’t really looked at it in a while, you may see why it didn’t sell in the first place. You may even consider writing other stories along the same lines to produce a series based on the same theme.

Redoing an article is somewhat different. Articles can be updated, even ones written 30 years ago, as long as the topic is still relevant. Or perhaps the topic is even more relevant today than when you first wrote it. Take the subject of solar energy. Solar technology is finally at a point that average homeowners are asking about it and seeking special grants and financing to get it installed. When you first wrote about it, it may have been just coming to the public’s attention and was super expensive, which limited the publishing potential for your article.

If you write non-fiction, look to trade publications. While they don’t pay as much as consumer publications, they usually need more articles. You can turn articles you’ve written into marketable pieces once again.

As with Mastercard, master the possibilities. Take parts of articles and combine them into new ones. Or expand sidebars you once wrote into shorter full articles. Editors love shorter pieces, so they have a better chance of getting published.

And while you’re searching through your inventory, you may run across an idea for another book which eventually will put you back in the running. Whatever you do to get yourself out of a writing slump, keep it short. Don’t get involved in lengthy projects. Work with what you have. You’ll be amazed at what develops.