Hello, I’m Crystal Whimsey. Welcome to my new series, Writing For Children. Each Thursday I will share with you a bit of my journey from blank page to published book. We’ll cover some of a the basic bones of storytelling and writing for children. We’ll talk about illustrations, how to find an illustrator and what you need to know before you talk with one. I’ll share some unique ideas for marketing and I’ll tell you what worked and what didn’t. Okay, so let’s get started.
My book, The Fairy’s Tea, is a thirty-six page picture book with fifteen full color illustrations. That count includes the title page, copyright page, dedication, and a two page discussion section for parents and teachers so the actual number of story pages is thirty and the word count is about 500.
I did not set out to write a picture book and in fact I had no idea of writing a book at all. It was early June and the” Princesses” age five through ten, were being honored at a tea held for the Queen’s Court, a part of our city’s local summer festival. I had been asked to tell a story as part of the entertainment and that was where it all began…
The “Princess Tea” is something the princesses look forward to each year with great anticipation. It was quite an honor to be asked to participate. I thought about how awful a child would feel if she were to be left out of the gala and that was the seed from which the story grew. I employed a little twist at the end, set it all to rhyme and with that the story was complete.
I typed it up on some pretty paper I had bought at Office Max. Then I set it with streaming ribbons with a copy for each of the princesses. Boy, oh boy! If I live to be a hundred I will never feel more appreciated than I felt with the princesses that day. I did indeed have my fifteen minutes of fame, thank you Andy Warhol.
Happy ever after? Well, not quite. You would think from that point the rest would be easy peasy but, the real work had barely begun. Friends and acquaintances encouraged me to turn my story into a book and I have to admit that I was pretty much flattered into it. But where would I start? Didn’t I need pictures? Should I copyright it? I really just wanted to do the book for my friends and family so I knew I would self publish it. That opened up a whole new can of worms…
I want you to know that what you don’t know can hurt you, it can have a ripple effect that will waste time, waste money, and cause enormous frustration. I won’t let that happen to you. but we are not there yet. Before we get into Art work, layout, trim size, bleed and so forth let’s spend just a little time going over some of the basics. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse. The Standard Categories are Picture Book, Early Reader, Chapter Book, Middle reader and Young Adult.
Picture books can be broken down further into the following; Board or baby book, they can take a licking, literally and remain intact, Wordless picture book (self-explanatory), Novelty picture book with pull tabs, pop-ups and things to touch or squeeze, and Concept picture book which focuses on one specific idea or notion such as counting and ABCs. If you are doing a picture book you are joining a very competitive field.
Board books are usually 16 pages with colorful illustrations and maybe a small amount of text.Children learn to read pictures first with wordless picture books or books in which there is only one or two words per picture as in “Moo, Baa, La La by Sandra Boynton.
The average Picture book is 24 to 36 pages with a count of 200 to 1500 words. The illustrations are expected to help convey the story. Beatrix potter’s Peter Rabbit Series of 1902 was one of the earliest of this form. Bye the way, she self published her books and enjoyed great success.
Early readers are on average 32 to 64 pages. They are for those beginning to develop their reader skills, typically kindergarten through second. Although they are still heavily illustrated the illustrations are not expected to convey but to enhance the story.
Chapter books are slightly more advanced with far fewer illustrations and an average of 48 to 80 pages. The text is smaller and there is less white space. The plot is simple and the story is divided into several small chapters. Overall it has a more grown up look.
Middle grade books are a stepping off point. Illustrations are at a minimum; say one per chapter and the chapters are significantly longer. They really have a grown up look. Not as long as the Young Adult Book, the word count is between 20,000 and 50,000.
The final category is the Young Adult Book which is written with the twelve to twenty year old in mind but often has appeal for a much larger range of readers. The Hunger Games, Twilight Series and Jaguar Sun are good examples of this category.
Last week we talked about conflict and the part it plays in turning character and plot into a story. Your imagination has been working overtime and your story is now focused, active and engaging. If this doesn’t describe you then I suggest you spend some time at your local bookstore looking through some of the books in your chosen category. You want your vocabulary to be modern but age appropriate. You want your story to move with lively action and snappy dialogue that holds their attention yet has an easy rhythm and smooth pace. You can find children’s magazines; Cricket, Jack and Jill, and Highlights and High Five at the library. These magazines will provide you with loads of information from the kids who read them like topics that are hot and what they want to read more of. It may trigger a new niche or an idea for making an old topic new and fresh.
Go online and read reviews, listen to online interviews with successful children’s authors. Jacketflap is an excellent resource for authors, illustrators, and publishers. Go have a look, and you can join for free. www.jacketflap.com
Ask your librarian what the kids are asking for most often these days. Librarian and author, Beverly Cleary wrote Ramona the Pest in response to what she heard the children asking for over and over but couldn’t find. Drop in for a listen at Storytime for some real entertainment. That right there is your audience. You may be asked to read your book to them one of these days. You will find the library to be a priceless source of inspiration. the people at my local library provided me with a ton of support before, during, and after the process of putting my book together. They were in fact hands on with the formatting and uploading of my book, generous with their time and resoures. Get to know the people at your local library, they just might be your greatest ally.
I don’t want to overwhelm you. Go explore, have some fun, do some brainstorming, then come back next week and we’ll look at book layouts, talk about illustrations and touch on a couple of aspects of marketing that you need to know in advance of formatting your book. Comments? Questions?