Adventures in Children's Literature
Even before the gigantic publishing success of author J.K. Rowling,
children's books have been a popular market. Yet Harry Potter has brought
a new sense of seriousness to children's literature -- and perhaps better
opportunities for authors and illustrators. Even after the publication of
the last book in the series, this effect continues.
"Children's literature has always been popular, but in the United States
we have the most prolific children's book industry in the world," says Charles
Temple, author of four children's books.
"Nearly 5,000 new titles are published every year, and 50,000 children's
books are in print," he says.
Why the Growth?
The success of Harry Potter "forces people to take children's literature
more seriously, now that they can see the potential in the concrete terms
of sales figures," says Cora Lee. She works with a children's book center.
"I like to think of Harry Potter as a good starting point for 'new' readers.
There's no limit to what a reader can find, once hooked on finding a good
Another reason children's books have become increasingly popular is that
parents -- perhaps more than any generation before -- understand the vital
role reading plays in their child's development, says Dave Cutler. He is
a freelance illustrator and author who recently published his first children's
"Educators rightly encourage parents to read to their children from very
early childhood," says Temple, who is also an education professor.
"Reading to children helps them learn language, and also gives them a leg
up on learning to read later on. Reading aloud to children is consistently
shown to give a significant boost to their language, their general knowledge
and their predisposition to read themselves. You just can't overemphasize
Getting Into the Market
"There are still plenty of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts,
but this number gets a little smaller all the time," says Alice Pope. She
is the editor of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. "And publishers
get more and more manuscripts in their slush piles all the time."
So what are publishers looking for?
"They are looking for quality writing -- for stories with compelling characters,
for stories full of humor and adventure as well," says Stephen Mooser. He
is president of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
He is also the author of more than 60 children's books.
"Children's books need to draw kids in right away," says children's writer
Kathryn Lay. "For the younger children, it's the excitement of illustration
and text that rolls off the tongue, begging to be read again and again. For
older kids, it's a great story and characters and dialog, just as with adults."
One children's authors organization says only one or two first-time authors
are published each year.
"I think publishing is a very difficult field and it's hard to figure out
what anyone is looking for at any given time," says Tom Mason. He has co-written
about 20 children's books and more than 130 episodes for children's television.
"If a publisher says they're looking for books about 'cheese,' by the time
you write one, they'll be looking for books about 'not cheese.' By the time
a book is written, edited and published, a period of least a year or two has
passed and that makes it difficult to predict trends in popular cultures or
audience tastes. Everything just changes rapidly."
Mason suggests studying the types of books each publisher releases. But
don't forget why you got into the field.
"You should write what you want, what interests you -- write the kind of
book you'd like to read," Mason says. "Worry about the market later."
Write. That's the best advice successful writers consistently give to aspiring
"Quit talking about it and start writing," Mason says. "We run into lots
of people who talk about how they want to write but then they don't sit down
in front of the computer and do the heavy lifting. We write every day."
Read in the genre you hope to write in. "Become familiar with what's out
there and what particular publishing houses are doing," says Noreen Violetta.
She works with the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
"Don't forget the many kid's magazines out there either. They are a good
place to begin to submit manuscripts or illustration samples to."
And learn to accept rejection - you'll run into it a lot. "Sadly, rejection
is part of the job," says Dan Danko. He is Mason's co-author.
"Whether you're writing for books, TV or movies, you'll encounter more
people who say 'no' more often than 'yes,'" he says.
"For this reason, it's important to know why you want to be a writer. If
it's to get rich and have your name on the big screen, go to law school. You'll
be happier in the end. But if it's to fulfill a desire to create and do what
you love, then always hold on to that, no matter what anyone may tell you."
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
A professional organization for children's writers
Research the various markets
Children's Literature Web Guide
Offers a wealth of resources
The Institute of Children's Literature
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