Saturday, January 12, 2008

Writing the Children's Book... a point of pride

I recently found the blog, Editorial Anonymous, written by a children’s book editor. It’s a great blog, as you’ll note it’s suddenly appeared on my blogroll for editors and agents, and I’ve been having some fun reading through past entries that I missed.

I submit to you a link that the YA and children’s writers among us will find hysterical, or disturbing, or both... I have to give credit to Editor Anonymous, because I found the link on one of her blogs on how not to get published.

Strong Bad Writes a Children’s Book

While the little video is pretty amusing, I have to say it’s not altogether off of what *some* people, writer and otherwise, think it is to write children’s fiction... On another blog I made mention of the fact that so many of us start out with the statement, “I never intended to write children’s fiction. I always thought I’d write (insert more impressive genre here).”

I’ve actually said this, typed this, thought this... and yes, I am hanging my head in shame, but I’m not the only one who should. The more I read and studied children’s writing and publishing, the more I realized how truly asinine these statements were. And now that I’m here, a little way up the road on my writing learning curve, I realize exactly why it is that my novel, the one that most spoke to me, the one that most needed telling... the one whose characters invaded my head until I got them down on the page – and haven’t left yet, the filthy little buggers... This novel is the one I had to tell for a reason, and my audience is more important to me than the literary elite could be – they are kids, jaded and wide eyed and all stops in between. They are future readers and current dreamers. They are important, more so than any other audience might be to me at this point in my life – not because the writing is easier, let me tell you, it’s not... but because the idea that a ten or eleven year old will pick up my book and feel something, turn pages, take the story with them when the reading is done, and, hopefully, pick up another book shortly thereafter... well, that’s a thrilling thought. That ten year old might write a book report about my novel, and it’ll never appear in The New York Times, but it might be hung in a grammar school hallway with sticky tape, and that would be pretty good, too.

Point, point, oh, yeah, my point:

Middle grade might be my permanent writing calling. I wouldn’t have said so a year ago. I was chomping at the bit to get this one out of my system and get back to adult fiction... with my simmering plot that’s been waiting in my journal since before the journey of Raskin’s Wings even began... and then something changed. In me, around me, or maybe I just heard my muse a little clearer... because suddenly this thing became THE book, not the one to get out of the way, but the one to savor and hone and bring to the best form possible so that at the end of the day, when submissions go out, I know it’s a book I’d want to watch my kids enjoy... and then the ideas, the plots the characters that readily drop into my mind to work on in the future... they changed, too... two series grew out of nothing for, of all things, early chapter books... because they did... maybe it’s because I’m engrossed in my kids’ reading, and notice what I find lacking or what they would enjoy more of... maybe it’s because I skipped children’s literature as a child, and I’m so enjoying it now... maybe it’s just the type of writing that really does suit me. I don’t really know... I know what the next novel is, though... middle grade historical.... how the heck did that happen?

That’s my journey from there to here. I didn’t set out to write children’s because I thought it would be easier... I can’t believe people actually do this, but they apparently do... that’s a whole other ball of wax, too... I don’t know why anyone would want to write a book that was looking for something easy to do.... you guys are mostly writers that stop in here, do you find this terribly easy?

Will I always write middle grade or various age ranges in children’s... the truth is, I don’t know. Maybe I will get that backburner plot out eventually... Maybe I won’t... But if I do get back to adult fiction at some point, it will not be because I want to be a real writer... I’m pretty impressed by children’s authors – right now I’m just hoping to build a career among them.


inherwritemind1 said...

Hi Merry,

You said: On another blog I made mention of the fact that so many of us start out with the statement, “I never intended to write children’s fiction. I always thought I’d write (insert more impressive genre here).”

Can you direct me to that post?

I'm writing a novel whose protag is about to turn 18. I never "intended " this book to be YA -- the story is not a typical one. However, it could end up being YA. What do I know?

It's not that I am adjusting my expectations "downward" but if my book really is YA I will have to adjust my thinking somehow.

I respect writers of YA and other children's literature because I know how darned hard it is to write it well. Perhaps it is even more important to write well if your readers are children.


Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Tena,

I don't think that post will help you much with this question... it was one on BookEnds discussing writing Romance... the comment was just a correlation between children's writers and romance writers both being considered less than real writers...

Just turning 18 could be a protag for YA but it doesn't have to be... It could be adult as well, depending, I think on the plot and story line...

When I started my novel, I had never studied any children's writing or children's publishing - the best thing I did was take some time to study that specifically. I think if you take some time to study the YA market, you'll figure out pretty quick whether it's YA or not.

inherwritemind1 said...

I think if you take some time to study the YA market, you'll figure out pretty quick whether it's YA or not.

Great advice. Thanks so much for reply, Merry.

Mary Witzl said...

When I first started writing, I never really thought about what age group I would write for: it was always my intention to write for all ages. This is probably stupid, but to date I have written one MG novel, one YA novel, and one novel for adults. I love trying to get the tone right for all of them. I have my kids read the kids' books and comment on the characters and whether they ring true. They are tough to please and have given me some shrewd feedback about language and kid politics. There are certain things they can't advise me on, but I enjoy hearing their opinions anyway.

Anyone who thinks that writing books for kids is easy stuff is welcome to try it. I always tell people that while writing for kids may be easy, publishing stuff for them is hellishly hard. Kids are a tough audience and will drop anything that sounds false, labored or preachy. Agents and editors who handle kids' books can spot that sort of thing with astonishing acuity.

Demon Hunter said...

I suggest writing what you love. Neil Gaiman writes across the board. Children's, adult, etc. Real writers are people who write-period! :*) Good luck! :*)

Ello said...

My new WIP is YA or possibly MG - don't really know. But it is a story I have been working on for years but only recently realized it was for a younger audience. I love children's authors. It is my preferred reading sometimes. And it is alot better than alot of adult writers.

Jerseygirl89 said...

Most nights before bed, Ironflower demands that I tell her a story. She chooses familiar characters (usually Shrek and Fiona) and then expects a brand-new plot. EVERY NIGHT. If I'm off my game and I try to "teach" too much in the story, or I shamelessly crib a fairy tale she knows, she demands a book too. If I'm on, she goes to bed with just one story.

I always thought I'd try children's fiction someday, but now I am seriously scared of it. Children are TOUGH to please. You (and everyone else working on literature for younger people) have my utmost respect.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Actually, the children's writers and agents I've been reading tend to say that it's okay to write in different age brackets - or at least it's not frowned on the way writing in different adult genres is.

My daughter's been reading some of my chapters lately, she's really just gotten to the age for this sort of thing, but I think it's great that she's interested. I think I may have passed on the writer gene there, God help her... she's more prolific than me, too, she's ten and she's filled two large binders with stories and illustrations... remind me some time to relay some of my daughter's odd comedy stylings in blog form... it's not bad, for a kid.

Hi Demon Hunter,

I agree with you - real writers do write. I think sometimes, especially prior to publishing, we psych ourselves into worrying over whether we're real writers... if we just keep on grinding, though, we'll get a lot farther than second guessing ourselves by what others have to say... besides, I've seen brilliant writers in about every genre, I don't differentiate talent by the amount of winding prose or sales... each have their pros and cons and it all depends on the story the author's trying to get out there.

Hi Ello,

That YA middle grade line can be hard to distinguish... middle graders have the capacity to take on some very intense subject matter so it becomes hard to tell... Most YA I've been seeing has a bit more violence and sex - middle grade generally stears clear of sex and drugs unless there's a very clear message that both are bad... the hard part about that is trying to preach the moral without the audience rolling their eyes...

In my authors to watch blogroll are two writers I met at kidcrit on compuserve (a great message board for anyone working on YA or childrens). Marsha Skrypuch and Anita Daher are both multi pubed middle grade authors from Canada... We had a discussion at the boards once and Marsha said that the most wonderful and most misunderstood thing about writing for children is in the research... She said that the standards for writing for children is actually higher than writing for adults, and that accuracy is paramount to both the writer and the publisher... because a good children's author knows that when they use their fiction to pique a child's imagination, that may springboard the child into further reading and research... so if you're writing historical fiction about, say the civil war, it might make the child interested in studying a certain battle or part of history... if your character is a seamstress it might make the child interested in learning to sew...

Adults take in these kinds of descriptions as a way to bring the characters into focus, but children are often introduced to things through fiction that they haven't seen or experienced before...

I'm not paraphrasing correctly, but the basic premise was that there's a very big responsibility toward accuracy in children's fiction that you don't always see in adult fiction.

Merry Monteleone said...


You are brave! I wouldn't try to make up one on the spot like that - I usually read with the kids rather than tell stories.

Maybe you should write some of them down and see if they're any good in written form... I bet you've got a few good ones, after coming up with a new plot each night.

The Anti-Wife said...

You are a real writer. It doesn't matter what genre you write, you have something important to say and we all appreciate it.

Merry Monteleone said...


Thank you, you just made my day! By the way, I could definitely say the same for you!

Ello said...

Merry, you are so sweet to defend me! I felt so good!
Thanks Bud!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Ello,

Don't mention it - I know people are (usually) trying to be helpful, or maybe insightful, but I think they sometimes get way off topic...

Besides, I really do think your pitch sounds great. When mine went up, even after I got a great crit and you and Josephine and a few other wonderful bloggers sent me comment 'woo,hoo's!' a few anonymous posters left little snide comments toward the end, about how they thought the pitches weren't great and there were far more deserving pitches that she overlooked or something... I don't know if it bugged me because mine was in there, or because it was anon, or because it was just mean spirited... I dislike mean spirited blogging in the writing realm. It's a hard enough profession to break into, without being nasty to people having as hard of a time as you are for the most part.

Josephine Damian said...

Merry, Stuart Kaminsky told us how important it is for a writer to be versatile. Nothing wrong with your trying your hand at something different.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Josephine,

You know, I totally agree with you. Some of my favorite writers have written brilliant books in genres outside their usual writing - my favorite book by Baldacci was one of those... If you haven't read, Wish You Well, I highly recommend it.

I've been writing short stories to get out some of my more adult/literary meanderings... I might keep with that or one might build into a full fledged novel, either way I think you have to be proud of what you're writing.

Thanks for stopping in, Josephine. I've been following your series on why you stopped reading, too, it's very good.