Jeanette Winterson on writing for children

I came across this quote by Jeanette Winterson in an article she wrote called “Why I became a children’s author.”  Although written in 2009, it is as true today as it was three years ago.

It’s not just a story we’re offering them, it’s the tools they need to tell their own stories, to tell to themselves, without too much cliché, and with some complexity. Once you understand yourself as a story you are in the process of telling, instead of a fact in a story told by others, you understand that you can change your own story. That is power.

  

AS Byatt gives the nod to Terry Pratchett

Children’s book writers take heart.  The queen of Literary fiction and Booker Prize winner,  AS Byatt has a surprise favorite writer.  And guess what?  It’s a children’s author!  According to The Guardian,  at the

Edinburgh international book festival AS Byatt has declared Terry Pratchett her hero, for having “caused more people to read books than anyone else – because he tells them something they want to know, that they can laugh at, and because he writes really good English”.

Indeed, the author of Possession and, most recently, the Man Booker-shortlisted The Children’s Book, suggested that a free distribution of Pratchett to all 12-year-olds would “have a very good effect” on getting young people to read.

So, when someone asks when you’re going to write a “real book,” you can just roll your eyes and dismiss them knowing full well that kids who read are more likely to become adults who read, and they are one of the most important audiences a writer can have.

Getting Out of the Slush Pile

Recently, I’ve had several emails from writers desperate to get published.  Sadly, I find most of the writers who contact me know little about the business of writing for children…and it really is a business.  You might as well know that now people.  No one is going to publish you because you’ve written a story that your children love, or one that your students adored.  No one is going to publish a story because it teaches children an important lesson.  Publishers want stories that they can sell, stories with a fresh take on a universal subject, stories that are stand head and shoulders above the usual.  Those stories may have a lesson imbedded in them, but the lesson serves the story, not the other way around.  The first thing I ask these writers is “When was the last time you read a children’s book?  Many refer to classic stories from their childhood.  Most haven’t a clue what is going on in children’s publishing today.  I immediately send them to the library and local bookstore to read award winning books, I encourage them to join or form critique groups to really work on their writing skills, and I send them to Harold Underdown, an editor, and the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Children’s Books.  In addition to the book, Underdown has lots of material on the web that can help wanna-be’s.  Check out Getting Out of the Slush Pile.

 So if you’re one of those writers, do us both a favor, and get your butt down to the bookstore, and to the library, start a critique group and start looking at your work critically…and check out Harold Underdown’s site…There are no shortcuts.  You just have to put in the hard work.  You have to revise your story until it is  perfect.  You have to become the best writer you can be. But, I  guarantee that you won’t regret it, and who knows, you might even find you’ll work your way out of the slushpile.