Thursday, June 18, 2009

From the desktop of a newbie children’s writer

Well, I finally went to my first children’s author talk. About time! I’ve been part of a writing critique group for over a year and writing children’s stories for about three years. Of course, in order to get me there the talk had to be in my hometown (Charlottesville, VA), literally a five-minute drive away, and it helped that the author was also from here – Fran Slayton. Her first book, When the Whistle Blows, was just released.

Fran spoke about her “Cinderella” publishing story and gave an overview of children’s publishing, complete with handouts.

Cinderella’s, I mean Fran’s, publishing story is quite unusual. In a nutshell, she got invited to the ball complete with expensive gown. She applied for and won a scholarship to the Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop (a pricey one!). This week-long conference for children’s writers and illustrators is held each summer at the Chautauqua Institute, in southwestern New York. This is where she found her prince charming of an editor (Patti Gauch) who coached her along the writing process. The book jacket fit because she is a great writer with a great story.

After telling her publishing story, she talked about the publishing business, bringing up the usual points – if an editor likes your story they take it to the acquisition group and so on. But she also pointed out a few other things I had not yet heard. For example, a publishing company invests about $50,000 in you upfront. This is the cost of all the employees needed to get your book ready to print and then to print it – editors, marketing personnel, illustrators, cost of paper, etc. (No wonder they are so choosy!) She’s been an astute learner of the field of publishing.

Her handouts included a “to do list” for aspiring children’s writers and one on tips for improving your craft. Below I have culled some of her best advice that I found of interest:

1. Participate in children’s writers discussion boards.
- (You must be a member)
- Verla Kay discussion board
2. Get a professional critique of your work. The best way to accomplish this is to attend a conference.
3. Join a mentorship program.
- Nevada SCBWI Mentorship program
4. Subscribe to writers’ magazines:
- Writer Magazine
- Writer’s Digest
- Children’s Writer Newsletter
5. Books on writing to read.
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown
6. Buy yourself a copy of this year’s edition of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market.


Michelle said...

Thanks for going and representing the Slushbusters! Also, for sharing Fran's suggestions with us and the rest of the blog readers.

Tess said...

How coincidental....I went to the Highlights retreat last year and mentored under Patti Gauch. She gave some great direction and I did land an agent w/in the year. It was a really wonderful retreat, although pricey.

Great post, thanks!

Sarah said...

Great notes, Joan. Thanks! I'm sorry I missed it.

C said...

Thanks Joan! Maybe we can go to Chatauqua together some day.