Author Ellen Jackson

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You’ve reached my FAQ page. For your convenience, I’ve provided general answers to questions I'm often asked:

1. Where do you get your ideas?

If I had a quarter for every time someone has asked me where I get my ideas I'd have--let me see--$1.75.

The real answer is: I don’t know. My ideas are a by-product of my life, my childhood, the books I’ve read, my hopes and fears–everything that’s gone into making me who I am. If you’re really asking me how you can get ideas–the answer is that ideas come more readily to people who notice them and write them down. After I published my first book, I was afraid I’d never have another idea again. But I kept writing, and the ideas kept coming. If you want to have ideas–read, write, pay attention. They will come.

2. I have just written a manuscript for children, how can I get published?

I have no idea how you can get published. Half the time, I have no idea how I can get published.

Children’s publishing is a competitive business. Some children’s publishers get as many as 5,000 manuscripts a month–most of them unsolicited. If you really want to get published, learn what these publishers are looking for. Read articles about the children’s book business. One good source of articles is Harold Underdown’s site.

Then join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Go to conferences or sign up for an online manuscript critique group. Read some of the wonderful books written for beginning children’s writers, such as Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham.

Visit your library and get a copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and read the articles in the front of the listings. While you’re at the library, check out children’s books similar to the kind you want to write. Do you want to write picture books? Study picture books. Do you want to write nonfiction for middle-grade students (8 to 11)? Study nonfiction books in that category. Writing for kids is like playing the piano–you have to learn the notes before you can play with the symphony. Learn the notes.

3. Will you recommend a publisher/​editor?

I seldom do this for several reasons.

I don't know any editor well enough to be able to guess what he or she might like. All I can do is give you a name, and these names are available from many other sources. For example, if you join SCBWI, you can order The Book which lists the names of the editors at each of the major publishing houses.

Besides, if you think that my recommendation will give your manuscript some kind of special consideration–believe me, it won’t. I have no special connections that will influence an editor, or even get your manuscript read faster than anyone else’s.

4. I’ve just written a manuscript. Will you read it and give me your opinion?

My opinion is not that relevant. I don’t keep up with every hiccup of the marketplace. You need to show your manuscript to an experienced, working editor or agent and get her opinion. I've also been advised by an agent that there are legal considerations. Therefore I can't read any manuscript that hasn't already been accepted by a publisher.

There's help for new writers on this website. I hope it's useful. My best suggestion is that you take advantage of all the resources here and on the web. Several sites for children's writers have a manuscript exchange thread.

5. Will you write a few words of inspiration/​wisdom about children’s books/​your career/​the importance of reading for children/​parents/​teachers?

I'll do this if I feel truly inspired, but, basically, I want my readers to focus on my books, not on me. Although I love to read, I don't have any special wisdom to share on this topic. You're welcome to use quotes from me taken from this site.

6. I’m doing a paper/​project/​thesis on one of your books. Will you answer some questions for me?

I almost always answer questions from children. But because I receive so many requests of this kind, I can't agree to a lengthy interview. However, if you have a short question that I can answer in a few brief sentences, I'll try to help you. Again, please feel free to use this site as a resource.

7. Will you send me some of your books for this or that worthy cause?

I get many requests for free books--often several a day. While I do give my books away from time to time, I like to know something about the cause and have some personal familiarity with the person who’s doing the asking.

Many people don’t realize that (except for a few author’s copies that are usually given away for publicity purposes) authors pay for their own books just like everyone else. Most of my books cost about $18. If you add postage (nowadays about $7 plus $3.98 for a mailer), you're asking for a $30 donation. If you ask for "a few books" this can quickly add up to more than $50.

Like most authors, I don't have an unlimited supply of books to give away. When I do have extras, they go to people in my community. While I wish I could give everyone a free book, I can't, if I still expect to eat.

8. Will you collaborate with me on a project? I have a great idea and would like you to help me write it.

Ideas are as common as grass. All the art and skill is in the realization of the idea. If you have an interesting idea, try to write it up yourself. Whether you publish your finished piece or not, you’ll learn a great deal in the process.

9. Will you donate a story/​poem/​nonfiction article to my magazine/​journal/​newsletter?

I sometimes do this when paying work isn't taking up all my time.

10. Will you autograph a book for me?

I'd be delighted to autograph a bookplate and send it to you. Please send the request to my publisher and include a self-addressed stamped envelope. I’ll send the bookplate to you as soon as I receive your request.