So you want to write a children’s book.

I was recently asked to write a blog post for Conversaton Lab and I chose to write about my experience of getting published.

So you want to write a children’s book?

No doubt you’ve heard the saying, everyone has a story in them. When it comes to writing for children truer words have never been spoken! But there are two rather big misconceptions that prevail when people think about writing for the children’s market. One, that it’s easy to write for children and two, that you as the writer need to supply the illustrations. Neither is true.

Publishing is a highly competitive industry. An industry driven by very clever and usually very nice people we call publishers. They like to choose their own writers and illustrators because they know what sells and they’re putting their money behind it. This doesn’t mean that your brilliant idea is never going to see the light of day, it just means that you might need to put in a bit more effort and do a bit of research and not spend your time worrying about who’s going to illustrate your book. Your publisher, when you get one, will have that covered.

In my own experience getting published was a joyous and exciting affair. I studied illustration at postgraduate level and was lucky enough to become involved in the Cape Town children’s writers and illustrators group through my lecturer, Paddy Bouma. This group gave me the opportunity to listen to and interact with real life, tax paying children’s authors and illustrators and was absolutely invaluable. Thanks to a work in progress session I had, I was given the advice to approach Bloomsbury Children’s Books by the award winning South African author and illustrator, Niki Daley. Niki had worked with Sarah Odedina, the then children’s book editor, from Bloomsbury and knew that they were looking for fresh new work.

With this gem under my hat I went home and prepared the package to be sent to Bloomsbury. A few colour copies of double page spreads, a dummy book and the text were all packaged up and ready to be sent off but I realized that Ms Odedina’s desk wasn’t going to just be waiting for my precious package and I decided to paint a small picture of my main character on the envelope. This small decision resulted in a very big outcome, my envelope was pulled out of the slush pile full of other hopefuls and it was opened!!! The rest as they say is history! Well actually no, it isn’t because then the next stage begins!

The next stage involves working as a team with very talented editors and art directors to turn your idea into a fully-fledged book that will sit along side your childhood favorites in the bookshop. This is not the time to be precious about your ideas but rather to take the advice and feedback given to you by industry professionals. This collaborative process ensures that your book will be the best it can be. Don’t see it as a threat but rather as a process, a very positive process that should be enjoyed. After all, most of us work alone and there’s nothing like a little bit of social interaction with people who love books as much as you do to motivate and inspire!

So my advice if you want to give getting your work published a go is work on your idea until you can work no more. Show it to people who may be able to help you make it better. Read it to passing children and then start looking for a home for your book. Do your research and find a publisher that suits your style of book. Make sure you give your book the best chance by addressing your envelope to a specific person. Pack up your precious cargo and make a wish and you never know, maybe there’ll be the best email waiting for you in your inbox a few weeks or months later.

Every writer and illustrator has their own story about how they did it, this is mine and I hope it gives you a small insight into how you turn an idea into a book.

If you want to know more, lots more, then get the latest copy of The Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook. It comes out yearly and it’s a must have. Everyone you meet along the way will tell you this. It’s true. Listen to them and get the book! And, good luck!