Author Ellen Jackson

Ten Tips For Authors

1. Assess Your Ability

Some native ability is essential if you want to write for children. This is critical. Did you do well in English classes? Can you write functional, grammatical sentences? If not, you may be a gifted storyteller, but you're probably not a writer.


2. Learn Your Craft

Choose concrete details to help a child picture a scene in his or her mind. For instance, "the meadow smelled sweet" might be replaced with "purple violets and wild mint scented the air." Do you know how to add conflict to keep your reader turning the page, how to make nonfiction fun and entertaining, and how to write dialogue? These are skills that can be learned. Learn them.


3. Write with Passion

Write about what's important to you, not what someone else thinks is important. All books, especially books for children, should be honest. Your writing should pass the "so what?" test. Children want to read something that will be of use to them in their own lives. Even humor serves this purpose. When writing fiction, think about the experiences you've had that have affected you. Write about these experiences, but don't preach.


4. Evaluate Dispassionately

Escort your ego to the door before you sit down to write. A wise friend once said, "If you write a line you'd die for, throw it out." Your blind spots will show up in your writing with dismaying frequency. This is true for everyone. If you've poured your heart out on paper, but the reader just doesn't "get it," have the courage to start over again. Don't blame your reader.


5. Be Willing to Revise, and Revise

I've never written a book that didn't require revision. In fact, some have required as many as seven or eight revisions. Don't fall in love with your first draft. Find someone who is both kind and helpful to critique your work. Judgments such as "confusing" or "boring" make the critic feel important but do nothing to help the writer. Remember that a good critic uses a scalpel not an ax to dissect a manuscript. He or she should be able to tell you what's wrong, why it's wrong, and how you can fix it.


6. Learn How To Market Yourself

Editors have to assess thousands of manuscripts each year, and they give about ninety seconds of attention to each. If you don't know the correct manuscript format, you'll immediately be labeled as an amateur. Buy a copy of WRITER'S MARKET or CHILDREN'S WRITERS' & ILLUSTRATORS' MARKET and study it. Keep abreast of developments in the publishing world. Much of this information is now on-line.


7. Expect Rejection and Deal with It

Getting published is a frustrating experience. Look at rejection letters as a source of information about the market and your work. If an editor writes a personal note, take it as a positive sign. Don't revise the manuscript on the advice of one editor--unless the advice makes sense to you and the editor is asking to see the manuscript again. If three editors make the same or similar comments, address the problem before sending the manuscript out again.


8. Develop Good Relationships with Editors

Editors have a stressful job. Remember, there are thousands of writers who want to be published. Why should an editor work with someone he or she doesn't like? Always be courteous and friendly, and think of ways to save your editor time and trouble. Don't pester someone who's obviously not interested in your work. Do show an interest in the editor as a human being.


9. Haunt the Book Stores

Notice what's selling. Examine the competition. Figure out why a particular book was published. Are the illustrations and cover outstanding? Is the writer particularly knowledgeable in his or her field? Is the writing lively? Who will buy the book? (Librarians and teachers account for almost half of all book purchases.) Could this book be sold in a foreign country?


10. Read, Read, Read

Develop an appreciation of language. Read the classics of children's literature. Analyze the books that don't quite make it and ask yourself--"If I were writing this book, what would I have done differently?" You must be a reader before you can be a writer.