Sunday, January 9, 2011

Credit Management

I have two questions related to an article I read recently. The article, which can be found at, suggested that new children's book writers spend time getting published in "magazines, e-zines, websites, community parenting publications..." in order to build credits that will "speak to my professionalism". Let me illuminate my background a bit before detailing my questions.

My writing experience thus far comes from my profession as a full-time Youth Director. I have written an article for our church newsletter every month for the last four and a half years. I also write and deliver sermons four to five times a year. I have consistently received rave reviews over my writing, have often heard that people forward my articles/sermons on to others and have been told countless times that I am able to make complicated theological matters understandable (and enjoyable!) to the very young. I often write in allegories or use everyday objects or situations to explain difficult concepts. It is my community's passionate reaction to my writing style accompanied by my love of learning and children's literature which has prompted me to research the idea of writing books for children.

That background having been established, my two questions are as follows: One, would my writing experience thus far equate to the credit building that the article mentioned above recommends? And two, if it does not, how does one write children's stories for magazines, e-zines, newsletters etc. effectively without even an illustrator?
1. No. It's better than "my grandchildren love my stories," but not a lot better. A magazine editor has to find material that is not just better than the average free sermon-- she has to find material that people want to PAY for. That's what your credentials are supposed to bring across: a history of creating work that people will pay for, on the deadlines of the people who publish such work.

2. Well, how would you write a children's story for a book without an illustrator? If you do not know the answer to this question, I would strongly suggest that you do not know how to write a picture book yet. Please find your local SCBWI and take some classes.


Anonymous said...

I know a number of people who are skillful writers of adult nonfiction, who do specialized writing as part of a job. This is a different set of skills from being able to write a captivating story for young children. You also need to know the market, what's already been published, and how the business works. Read a few books on writing for children and explore Harold Underdown's website (and read the articles). That will get you started.

Heidi said...

Good advice. So many people have the itch to write, but don't know where to start. I would also suggest attending a regular round-table critique group. Your local library might have one or know of one, or you can look for writer's groups at meetup dot com.
The articles and interviews that can be found in the Chilren's Writers and Illustrators Market are also an excellent source of information and advice. You should be able to find a copy at the library.
The more you read, the more you'll learn!
God luck.

Anonymous said...

Another reason to pursue freelance writing or illustration work, besides "building credits" or a resume - is to learn what it takes to be an actual working professional in those areas. The more professional freelance work you do, the less steep your learning curve once you land a book contract. And believe me, the book curve is steep even when you have lots of experience under your belt in related media areas. Even though many people do things in their communities, churches and schools that involve writing or illustrating, even if on schedule or for an audience - doing what it takes to go out and do paid writing and illustrating work will take your skillset to another level.

Robyn Bavati said...

I personally believe that the recommendation to new children's book writers to first publish in magazines, e-zines, websites, etc. is overrated because a) if they write a standout book, their prior experience just won't matter, and b) the kind of material required by magazines etc. isn't quite the same as that which will do well as a book. Just as writing romance isn't quite the right preparation for writing crime, writing for magazines and e-zines isn't qite the right preparation for writing books. My advice - if it's books you want to write and publish, just go ahead. WRITE BOOKS.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Actually, as someone with children's magazine writing credits who has NOT yet managed to sell a novel, and who knows lots of people who sell novels who haven't had credits, I have to say:

As a 'getting a foot in the door' tool, credits are overrated. And writing good short stories does NOT translate automatically to writing a good novel. Writing credits are not a silver bullet that suddenly makes the pain and sweat of hunting for agents turn to fields of flowers and butterflies.....

HOWEVER, if you have a great short story idea, write it as a short story. Learn the difference between a poem, a picture book, a short story, a novella and a novel. Submit your work to the appropriate markets. Realize that a good short story will not work as a PB, and that a novel is more than a string of short stories.

Also, Magazine acceptances CAN provide a small influx of cash and a large influx of self-esteem. BUT the time you spend on short stories and poems is time you're not spending on your novel. So, if your writing time is limited, going after magazines may actually DECREASE your odds of selling a novel. Writing publishable stories is time consuming, even when the stories themselves are under 800 words!

So, if you want to write for magazines, write for magazines. But don't use the credits as a step on the "sell my novel" ladder. That's not efficient or particularly helpful.

Instead, write an awesome novel that will draw readers in and make them request fulls. Noone is going to request a full of a crummy novel, even if you have good magazine credits.

Abra said...

Duotrope, Duotrope, Duotrope.

Anonymous said...

Why it can be good to get real work experience in related areas of the commercial arts:

Over the years, I have known several different writers / artists who blew possible opportunities to be published because they didn't handle initial acquisition inquiries professionally or realistically. Yes, this was after book publishers expressed interest in their work. What happened? They were basically smart and talented people [they had obviously been able to make it that far in the process!], but none understood the simple basics of actually working in the commercial arts. Their mistakes were a combination of lack of experience and not educating themselves about book field basics. They each inadvertently responded in ways that made them look unprofessional, ungrounded or possibly high maintenance and they each never heard back. Cringe material. I don't think it is totally necessary, but if you have professional commercial experience it will surely help you relate in ways that don't inadvertently sound alarms.

Rose Green said...

I have always sort of wondered about that advice. I think if you do have magazine credits, that's er, to your credit. But I rarely read short stories of any kind, read very few magazines, and truthfully, am not as interested in a story that's over in less than 8000 words. (Unless it's a picture book--different thing entirely.) I do read hundreds of MG and YA novels, though. They just seem like such very, very different ways of telling a story that I have a hard time believing the idea that you HAVE to write for magazines before you're allowed to "progress" to novels. To me they're related processes that can pleasantly complement each other--not advancement levels.

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