“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.
“Six years ago, families surpassed schools and libraries as purchasers of children’s books — and that was before the Harry Potter phenomenon really caught hold.”
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 story.”
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 book.
“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 its importance.”
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 authors.
“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
Read the latest writer’s news