10 Myths about Writing Children’s Books

Writing books for children, right?  There really are 10 myths about writing children’s books.  Okay, you got Middle Grade, Juvenile, and Chapter Books, take your pick.  I like Young Readers.  These categories are basically the same and have the best readers.  Okay, so what qualifies me to do this?  My juvenile/middle grade eBooks have garnered good reviews due to my writers group, and are well-edited because of my exhaustive attention to detail.  They are getting good reviews on line even though Amazon has arbitrarily dleted many, thing they are phony.  If you care to look at my writing samples you’ll find them at Smashwords and Kindle and most all the other eBook sites.  Book or eBook, doesn’t matter.  It’s only a format.  Mine will all be in paperback in 2014.   I write about children, not for children, and that’s a big difference.  I pull no punches. A writer I know writes syrupy sweet stories for the YA genre.  Teens now read all sorts of rough stuff and social issues.

Myth #1 – It’s easy to write a kid’s book.  For me it is.  It’s easy for anyone to write a piece of unreadable garbage.  Everyone wants to be a writer, but no one wants to put in the necessary work, lots of work.  As a writer get used to taking criticism, too.  The genre requires smaller word counts and pages per book, but the same character development, sharp dialogue, imaging, tension, etc., as in an adult story but in a smaller framework.

Myth #2 I’ve raised my kids, I’m a parent/teacher therefore qualified to write for kids.  Sure, I changed a flat tire last week so now I’m capable of swapping out my engine.  Your story, above all else is the vital ingredient.  After that, it’s how you put your story together.

Myth #3 – Writing for kids is a good way to get rich quick.  Unless you wrote a great book and a publisher decided to divert some of Jeff Kinney’s marketing budget to your book–good luck. Publisher’s and agents are closing doors tighter because eBook competition has cut into their sales.  Selling a children’s eBook first of all, has no marketing budget.  You’ve got to Tweet, Facebook, blog, and pass out business cards and try to get attention via a news release.  It’s not easy.  Keep your day job.  I know authors who self-publish and sit at tables at community art and craft shows, festivals, farmer’s markets, flea markets, etc, but they have a hard copy book.  I wonder how it would go if I set up a table and sold my Smashwords discount coupon code to readers?

Myth #4 – Get an illustrator for my picture book manuscript.  It’s tough slog getting a traditional publisher to read your book.  Remember, this is just step one.  Now you’ve thrown in illustrations that may or may not sink your work. Don’t give them any excuse to toss your work into the garbage. Illustrations will attract attention, a first look.  Are your illustrations good ones? You don’t know or aren’t sure?  They better be great.  Will they turn readers away? I hate the Mona Lisa, others love her.  That’s art for you.  One interesting tech advancement are eReaders that will display color. Formatting text for eBooks can be a frustrating process.  What an image may do once it’s processed is anyone’s guess.  I’d study this to death before jumping in.

Myth #5 – I should make my story rhyme.  It’s difficult enough creating an engaging story and now you’re going to try and make it rhyme, too?  Go into a bookstore or browse on-line sites and see what’s there.  Rhyming is cutesy stuff for the tots.

Myth #6 – Children’s writing shouldn’t use difficult words.  Yes and no.  Depending on the age group you’re writing for you should adjust somewhat.  Don’t ever use cutesy words.  You can always throw in a three or four syllable words here and there in younger readers, but don’t make a habit of it.  Running for a dictionary interrupts reading. I think kids are better readers today because they are on the internet which is another reading area.  Don’t ‘dumb down’ your writing.  Be careful using slang as what’s ‘rad’ today’ may be ‘phat’ tomorrow.

Myth #7 – You should have a moral or teach a lesson.   Forget it.  Kids already get crapped on from all angles.  Books are their escape.  Generally, any story you write will have its own morals/life lessons/ advice by default.  You can put in some of it, but you’ve got to do it subtly and cleverly.

Myth #8 – A children’s story can’t have serious, weighty, or controversial subject matter.  Yes, they can.  Kids are playing video games where they see death and blood and gore and mayhem.  TV and movies have their share as well.  Blatant sexuality is in music videos and on websites they surf.   But wait, there’s more: death and dying, physical illness and dementia, alternative lifestyles, dystopian worlds, divorce, trannie stuff, and drug use, are already out there in books.  Many children are dealing with some of this subject matter .  When you write about it they may see another way to cope with their issues.  I read a YA/Tween book which had so much swearing and crudity I nearly wrote the publisher.  The only way this book got published was because the author was an Indian ‘reflecting Northern realities’ and the Canadian literati was trying to encourage Indians to write books.  It was so bad; the worst piece of crap I’ve ever read.  Also, there was no story, just teens hanging out sniffing gasoline, doing drugs, and beating each other up.

Myth #9 – When in trouble get an adult to bail out my main character.  My favorite and worth a rant.  Your character must succeed or fail on their own efforts. Having adults in the story is almost unavoidable, perhaps to provide advice, or drive a car, or look like an idiot.  In Archie’s Gold, I have Lyle Raintree, an Indian ex-con, giving advice to Archie about where the feared Boogie lives, but Lyle doesn’t lead him any further.  When your character has a problem, conflict, or obstacle, young readers can connect with it.  They realize they too, can work out their real-life problems. This only works out if you write reality stories like I do.  You can’t use a magic wand in real life to dispel issues.  It’s too easy for characters in fantasy to get out of their situations with devices, spells, superpowers, wands, and talking creatures.  I tried writing a story with a talking creature and I ended up killing it off because it became so annoying.  It did however; taste quite good; like chicken, sort of.

Myth #10 –  Children will read almost anything.  Not really.  The market now is saturated with fantasy.  This puts me in the background because I write true grit and reality, a style trampled by that bandwagon.  My characters get in trouble and have to resolve it on their own. I read samples of my stories to grade 4 and 5 kids and was worried they’d find it boring.  I was surprised they didn’t.  What surprised me was most of them had iPads.  As a writer in the MG/chap. books/juvenile genre an author has to compete against rock videos, TV, video games, etc. so many things that are sensory and exciting, for a brief time anyhow.  Children’s attention spans have definitely been reduced and crave the immediate thrill.  Adult readers tend to tolerate a slow beginning to develop a plot.  For the children’s genre you’ve got to jump in feet first–right now.  Kill the beast in the first 5 pages.

Over and above everything, write an engaging book for children.  The classic children’s stories endure because of characters and story.  I don’t write books for children, I write books about children.  Therefore, adults like them, too.