Please note: I have edited this post since it was first published on 6 March 2013).
Every so often, a children’s writer/poet emails me for my advice. Yikes!
I admit that I have many teaching years under my belt (like many writers). This experience includes primary and kindergarten teaching (including ESL groups), and 17 years in TAFE Queensland (8-9 years teaching/lecturing in Business Communication subjects, and 9+ years in ESL/Language/Literacy programs). I have written many a letter and edited many more Managing Directors’ letters whilst a secretary/private secretary/administration officer in industry (many, many moons ago). My article writing endeavours include writing (and editing the editor’s articles) for a community magazine and compiling a regular newsletter when I was secretary for a canoe club. I have completed a few writing courses (both long and short) with the hope of improving my skills as a children’s picture book writer, poet and article writer. And I have had work published.
But when I receive an email asking for advice on children’s book writing I question my ability to assist, yet feel a sense of ‘maybe I can help’. I know basic grammar and do have an eye for spotting recalcitrant commas and punctuation marks. But beyond that, I don’t feel confident ‘assessing’ a fellow writer’s manuscript. My ‘fear’ is that I don’t want to steer another writer in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong! – I feel very humble and grateful that someone has asked for my advice, but I also know there are a lot more seasoned children’s book writers out there.
And readers of this blog will know that I hardly ever give my own writing tips as there are many writers’ blogs that give fabulous information and tips. However, after replying to a number of emails requesting some assistance, I thought I’d share the names of people in the children’s book industry who have helped me. I know these experts will give you wonderful advice if you need it. And they offer their services at very reasonable rates. There are of course many other writers and manuscript assessors who give great information and if you are a ‘newbie’ children’s book writer, I would recommend speaking to other writers for their recommendations.
The following recommendations/suggestions are just the ‘services/resources’ I have used – just somewhere to get you started. Please note that although these experts live in Australia, their services are available to writers everywhere through their e-courses, virtual workshops, e-books, published books and assessment services via email, etc. I have included recommendations under subheadings, plus some tips.
Improving your rhyming skills:
Rhyming well is actually very hard to do. Many publishers don’t or won’t accept rhyming text as they don’t believe that many writers do it well. Rhyming text is more than just getting the words at the end of lines to rhyme. It is also a matter of meter, word stresses and getting the flow right. It takes time and practice to get it right, but it can be learnt.
Learn the rules. However, once you know the rules, they can be broken (I believe) if it suits the text and deemed appropriate.
My suggestions for learning about rhyme and rhythm:
E-book: Rhyme Like the experts – How to make your writing sing. By Jackie Hosking. Cost $10.00 AU -Order from her site: http://www.jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com This can be easily downloaded; very easy reading – clear to understand. Purchase link is on right hand side bar of her site. Jackie also critiques poetry, particularly rhyming poetry. She is an excellent poet and assessor, and offers very reasonable rates. And she really will make your poetry sing!
Assessments sent via emails. More details on her site.
Sally has also written a book on writing metrical verse. Includes great exercises. Details below.
Writing Metrical Verse -
$6.25 USD download
$8.02 USD paperback
Sally is a very talented and prolific children’s writer, and has years of writing and assessment experience. Sally assesses rhyme and prose. Again at reasonable prices.
I have used both Sally and Jackie to critique mss (Jackie for rhyming verse and Sally for prose) and both have given invaluable advice.
Improving your story:
If you have written a story in rhyme, try writing it in prose. It may sound better.
Many writers who ask for my advice send me a story in rhyme. Most of the time these stories don’t seem to gel as the writers seem more intent on finding rhyming words than making the story come to life. And sometimes writers put too much unnecessary information in their stories. This is where illustrations are so important. The illustrations should not only be wonderful but used to complement and add to the story. (Please note: I am not an assessor, and always encourage writers to seek professional advice.)
Another issue I find is that most ‘first time’ writers don’t seem to edit their work. They finish a story and think that is it. What they have finished is really their first draft.
You may need to do a number of rewrites. Writing the perfect children’s picture book is not easy. I have literally done 100 rewrites on just one verse of a children’s story in rhyme. After endless hours of editing, it is recommended to put your manuscript away for a while and look again with fresh eyes. Some writers recommend ‘hiding’ your ms for at least six weeks, others will recommend six months. Here you need patience. Many ‘first- time’ writers are just rearing to go and just want to send their work to a publisher as soon as they think their story is finished.
When you ‘revisit’ your manuscript with fresh eyes and rework your text as best you can, I’d then recommend using the services of a children’s book assessor. If you are a little impatient and don’t want to bury your ms in a drawer for a while, send your ms to an assessor first – not a publisher. Try not to be precious about your work. You may not always agree with an assessor’s opinions but be open to suggestions. An assessor can help point out issues in your story that you just didn’t see.
My suggestions for writing courses and manuscript assessors:
Sally also offers a Virtual Writing Course, and her services are very affordable. She has published a number of books to assist writers. More details on her website.
Dr Virginia Lowe http://www.createakidsbook.com.au
Dr Virginia Lowe also offers an assessing service as well as a children’s book writing course. I received funding from a Regional Arts Development Grant Queensland (RADF) to complete Dr Lowe’s Createakidsbook e-course. I learnt so much from this course. I completed both the illustrating and writing a children’s book components. Also I would recommend researching grants (local and national) that are available for writers/artists.
More info at.
Anyway, hope this helps as a start.
Please note that I have only recommended resources that I have used.
And if you wish to recommend any editing services you have used or writing for children/YA courses you have undertaken, please do so in the comment section for other writers to refer to.
Wishing you all the best.