Fifteen Great Resources For Aspiring Children’s Authors

great resources for aspiring children's writers

I have dedicated much of the last seven years to my third child, my passion for all things children’s book. It’s a wonderful world out there, should you venture between the pages of a children’s book, or into the warm embrace of the children’s book community. You’d be hard pressed to find a more supportive and encouraging community than the children’s book world.

I thought I would share a few great resources I have come across, which both incite a love of children’s books, and help you pursue your own career as a children’s author or illustrator in a fun and practical way.

1. All The Wonders podcast

In the words of All the Wonders podcast host: ‘I love this soooo much.’ I have listened to at least one interview a day, since discovering this wonderful podcast. This is easy listening if ever there was. Librarian Matthew Winner interviews authors, illustrators, literary agents and others who make books happen. I love how he brings the focus back to the children the books are intended for. What do kids like? Why? The conversations are so warm and passionate. The book creators explore what it means to make a story, how they made it, who they collaborated with, and where ideas come from. Almost every podcast inspires a new idea for me. But also, listeners learn how the publishing industry works, and exactly what it means to make a book.

Listen here.

2. Children’s Book Society of Writers & Illustrators SCWBI

Undoubtedly, if you have investigated a career as a children’s book creator, you have been directed to SCBWI. The society has chapters all over the world. When moving to Europe, I connected with the Netherlands branch, and immediately found a network of friends. SCBWI has led to job opportunities, and I did a personal showcase with SCBWI at the Bologna Book Fair.

A SCBWI meeting epitomises the warmth and support of the children’s book industry. Members are continuously reaching out to one another, critiquing each other’s work, and helping each other forge a career.

Agents and publishers are well connected with SCBWI and attend SCBWI conferences and events. Our branch hosts regular Agent Days, so writers and illustrators have the opportunity to sit in with a reputable agent, and have their work critiqued. This is a great way for agents and publishers to access your work, as well as helping you develop your story craft.

3. The Australian Writers’ Centre AWC

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers a range of online and face-to-face courses. I haven’t done the children’s book course yet myself, but have friends who have, and highly recommend it. I know at least two authors who have done this course, and have gone on to be published. The course is relatively short, and you can do it at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.

I listen also to the Australian Writers’ Centre podcast: So You Want To Be A Writer, which is ninety minutes every week of tips and advice about publishing, as well as great interviews with successful authors.

4. Your local writers centre and community writers groups

Many communities, such as the Northern Rivers community, have their own writers centre, or writers group. When I moved to the Northern Rivers, I connected with the Bangalow Writers Group, and the monthly meetings gave me an incentive to create work. The Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre not only organises an annual festival, but runs courses throughout the year, and sends out a great monthly publication with tips, advice and interviews.

5. Buzz Words

Produced fortnightly by Di Bates, the Buzz Words newsletter contains industry news, opportunities, awards, grants, tips, advice, and interviews.

6. Pass It On

Pass It On is another great resource for children’s writers. Jackie Hosking puts together weekly information about the children’s book industry, including news, awards, grants and other opportunities.

7. Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly is an American publication, which sends daily and weekly notifications about industry news, such as deals brokered, and new book releases. Get a feel for what’s happening in the US market.

8. Your local bookshop

For aspiring authors, your bookseller is your best friend. The bookseller will not only help promote your book when it is published. They can also tell you all about what’s selling, and why, what their customers like, and what kids like. They’ll tell you all about the different publishers, and who publishers what. Spending time in your local bookstore will spark imagination and ideas. Even in the Netherlands, where I don’t speak the local language, I love hanging out in the bookshop, as the illustrations alone give me a continual stream of sparks.

Many booksellers host events, such as author talks and workshops. The Little Bookroom, Melbourne, The Children’s Bookshop, Sydney and Where The Wild Things Are in Brisbane do this wonderfully for children. Hearing an author talk can be the most inspiring thing, as you learn about their process, and about the realities of creating a book. Many are also very entertaining! (Think Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.)

Booksellers often have an online branch and send out frequent newsletters, so this is also another great way to find out about new releases, trends and events.

9. Your local library

Like your bookseller, your librarian is an expert in all things bookish. Librarians have daily contact with readers. If you are as lucky as I am to have a great children’s section in your library, with librarians passionate about children’s books, spend as much time as you can, absorbing the atmosphere, checking out new books, talking to the librarians, and attending library events. I do much of my work in libraries, and sometimes overhear author talks while I work. Can’t get much more inspired than that! Talk to your librarian about new releases, and about what books or series are popular with children. Maybe they can help you understand what makes a great story.

10. Story Box Library

I try and avoid having my kids online, or using screens. But I took out a subscription to Story Box Library, mainly so I can access wonderful Australian children’s stories any time, any place. Books are read by warm and entertaining people, often celebrities, and are animated. Story Box Library keep subscribers informed about the latest news and events in the Australian children’s book world.

11. Ask Tania

I first met Tania McCartney at the CBCA Conference, and we then connected on Facebook. Tania has a great blog, and frequently shares tips and advice for authors/illustrators. Check out her Ask Tania series. Tania answers anything about publishing, like how to get started, how to become a professional author and submitting manuscripts.

12. Girl and Duck

Jen Storer is a reputable Australian children’s author, who also shares weekly tips and advice about publishing. Subscribe to Jen’s Girl and Duck newsletter to be notified about new videos.

13. Robert McKee: Story

I know it’s a bit left field to include a screen writing guidebook in this list, but Robert McKee is the guru of story, and this can be applied to every genre and format. Learn from the best about character, plot development, and story structure.

14. Social media

I’m pretty sure that without social media, I wouldn’t have a career as a children’s author. It was through blogging and Facebook that I made my initial connection with a publisher, and since then, many more connections have grown.

I have connected with readers, publishers, marketers, book reviewers, and in particular, with other authors and illustrators. I haven’t met many of the children book creators in person yet, but we follow each others’ successes, and challenges.

SCBWI and the CBCA have children’s book groups on Facebook. Other relevant Facebook groups include Sub It Club, Great Story Book and KidLit411.

Many authors and illustrators are very active on Twitter. You can follow the #KidLit feed, or #PBPitch. Following the hashtag of children’s book events, like the Bologna Book Fair is a great way to connect with other book creators.

Illustrators are rife on Instagram! I think this is the main reason I use Instagram. I love trawling through the beautiful illustrations, and watching children’s books in the making.

15. Children

Spending time with children is the best resource for your children’s book writing and illustrating, because children are your audience! Absorbing their chatter triggers ideas. It also gives you access to a child’s voice, and the kind of things they like. Reading aloud to children helps develop your writers’ voice, and allows you to gauge how children interact with the ideas and vocabulary. I run workshops in preschools and primary schools, which gives me a little revenue, but also keeps me connected with children I’m not necessarily related to. And sometimes, the kids have ideas I really want to steal for my own books! I never do so without asking…

What are your tips and resources for children’s authors? Feel free to share your children’s book related post below! 

Children’s Book Tuesday :: The Wonder Years

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It’s 9.30pm. I’m working. Husband is reading. Our youngest is fast asleep. From the next room, come the fast and furious mutters of a child not yet asleep. The intonation rises and falls. There are accents and a range of voices. There is possibly accompanying actions. Soon, the noises will cease.

Tomorrow, when I wake at 7.30am, I will hear them again. The mutters. The voices. The dramatic intonation.

This is my six-year-old ‘Talking Harry’. And no, it isn’t illness. Though possibly it could be leaning towards obsessive. Talking Harry begins early, and carries on through the day. Harry was talked all through Venice. He’s talked while dressing. She disappears into her room, or to the end of the play park to Talk Harry many many times a day.

Thankfully, she isn’t in formal school yet. She has extra months to dream and talk her stories in fast and furious whispers.

Reading Harry Potter each night to her, I too am drawn into the intricate and incredibly believable world J.K. Rowling has created. But like most, I know it’s not real.

For my daughter though, wizards exist, and she is definitely going to Hogwarts when she is eleven {sorry, Mum}. She is Scarlett Webb, one of Harry’s best friends, and her characteristics and actions alternate slightly as we read various passages and come across new characters.

She’s at the magical and wonderful point where real is fantasy and fantasy is real and you can so convincingly become lost in the middle.

At her age, I was also lost in my magical {real} world, at the end of our paddock in Inverell. I’d sit in the old olive tree, talking to my friends – the fairy, the family of bears, the magpie. We’d talk about the mean old king who controlled village finances, who lived one tree up. Why do I remember this so clearly? Because it was so real. And I spent so much time there.

I recently listened to this wonderful podcast from children’s author Mac Barnett, about how a good book will open a secret door to another world. He talks about the wonderful crossover between reality and fiction, and about how much humans love that space. We know it’s not real, yet we like going there, over and over. Children get to that space so much easier and faster than adults.

He mentions lots of scenarios. But I had to keep listening to Neko’s phone messages for his pet whale.

When kids buy a copy of Mac’s book, Billy Twitters and the Blue Whale Problem, they get a coupon to order their own whale. Heaps of kids write in, with various degrees of skepticism. In reply, they get a letter from a legal firm in Norway, explaining that unfortunately, due to issues with customs, their whale has been held up, but they can leave a message for their whale if they call a particular phone number. Many of these children, who are either curious or have completely bought into the fiction {or both}, call the number and leave a message.

Neko leaves message after message for his blue whale. His messages are so delightful and genuine, it makes me completely certain writing for children is what I need to be doing. Neko believes in his whale. For years. In the same way that Elka believes in Scarlett Webb and Harry.

In our family, we talk a lot about science, maths, philosophy, religion. My kids ask all sorts of questions, and we seek to answer them as honestly as possible. But the credibility of the wizard world is never put to question. It is sacred, and no further explanation is necessary.

Like Neko, I held onto my fantasy world for many years. Although I still believe in some things, to some extent, those truly magical wonder years had a definite point of demise, when I finally accepted that Santa wasn’t real. I had been holding onto my hope for months, long after I’d realised it was Mum’s handwriting on Santa’s cards; long after I wrote to Santa, asking for an elf as proof of existence, and received a little teddy instead.

At last, logic and credibility won out. I asked Dad in the car on the way to school, ‘Dad, tell me straight. Is Santa real or not real?’

‘He’s as real as you want him to be,’ he’d said.

And I cried into my school bag, as my attachment to all things fictional started to ebb away. {Dad had to follow me into class, because I’d forgotten my lunch money in my despair.}

It’s possible my six-year-old will only have one vivid memory of living in Europe for a year, and that is Harry Potter. But gee, will she remember that. She’ll remember the way she imagines Hogwarts. She’ll smell the corridors. She’ll remember how she feels as she intercepts Voldemort to protect Harry.

Because these are the wonder years.

Link your children’s book posts below for Children’s Book Tuesday! I will leave this link open, so feel free to link up later if you don’t have anything ready right now. Any and all posts about children’s books are welcome.

Children Book Tuesday :: Writing by heart

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As some of you know, I have spent much of the last week sitting beside a lake, writing. Words flow in a steady stream. I pause for a moment to look up at the magical horizon, then back at my computer, lost in the story as it unfolds.

This is what I imagined it would be like to write a novel.

Like many lovers of books, I’ve had a quiet fantasy to at some point write a novel. Every novel I have read since I was a kid makes me feel like maybe I could do this too. But it was an airy fantasy. Because, as I have been finding out, writing a novel is far harder than it looks. It’s craft. It’s hard work. It requires knowledge.

I’ve studied writing at university, and have written many thousands of words since. Last year, it occurred to me that I really need to learn how to write a story. A novel-length story. I can write a 350 word picture book. I can write 150,000 word course books. But as far as I knew, I didn’t have the skills to write a full length novel.

My first step was to ask other professional writers: what courses have you done? What books have you read? Where did your knowledge come from? I read blog posts and websites. Some resources I have come across include Story, by the formidable Robert McKee, James Patterson’s masterclass,  Writing Irresistible Kidlit  by Mary Kole and The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. I also did a wonderful course through SCBWI Netherlands earlier in the year with Sarah Davies. Threads started to come together, and I began to understand the makings of a good story. The task of writing a novel began to feel less daunting.

Because I haven’t been doing a lot of paid work this year, I’ve had time to write. So armed with a little knowledge and time, I began. I had a few story ideas, so started to flesh them out. It seemed that writing by heart was my style, and I would write, and write and write, and suddenly had 10,000 or so words for a couple of stories.

But that’s where I’d get stuck. I began four different times. Four different stories. Each time, when the uphill bit began, and my story started to lose momentum, I fell into the temptation of a new prospect. A new character would come to mind, and a new plot would unravel, and I would leap from what I was doing into the next project. It became easy to start, but incredibly hard to keep going.

One of the popular theories in fiction writing, is that you are a pantser or a planner. Al Tait says you are a mapmaker or a discoverer. By all attempts, I thought I must be a pantser, i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants, and sees where the story takes them. The discovery is fun. Characters come to life, and an initial idea for a plot swells and twists, taking you in all sorts of directions.

In life, I am a pantser – someone who plays everything by ear. I wait and see where I end up. There is no official plan. No law degree, or linear education. I have done things because I like to, or am interested, or because a particular door opens at a particular time and it just feels right to step through. Mostly, this approach has worked. But there have been times, {like nowish}, where I find myself living in a tent, with no clear objective and direction. The world is my oyster, but geez, that’s a scary concept.

As is completing a novel, when you have absolutely no idea which direction you are heading.

Of course, when I explained the concept of pantser vs planner to my husband, he had to play the devil’s advocate.

‘I don’t buy it,’ he said. ‘No one will be one or the other. They will be a combination of both.’

I read about the Snowflake Method at some point in my self-education, and decided it wasn’t for me. I’m a pantser, after all. But maybe there was something there – something to help me.

When I write education and training course books, they come with an outline. I use the outline, and fill in the blanks. I work fast and well, and before I know it, I’m 100,000 words in. Because there is an outline.

When I thought about my life as a pantser, I had to think again. Yes, sure, I’ve followed random paths, and taken unexpected forks in the road. But then again, I do have clear goals and objectives. I know, and have known for a long time, that I want to be a professional author, and I know roughly what my objectives within that look like. I’m heading to certain plot points along the way. Plot points evolve as I move towards them, and goals shift, but that just makes life interesting.

Could it be I am not such a pantser after all?

I revisited the Snowflake Method, and applied it to one of my stuck manuscripts.

I couldn’t bring myself to do the whole scene by scene, Excel spreadsheet breakdown, so I did an abbreviated version. My steps were:

1. Write down a clear story hook; make sure it sings

2. Write down a clear plot summary, outlining the key arcs and finale of story

3. Get to know characters thoroughly, and outline a story synposis for each

4. Flesh out the story synopsis

5. Write.

In truth, the planning stage didn’t take long at all, because the idea was already there, and I had already taken three attempts to write the story.

When it came to writing character outlines, the story really took shape. I could start to see various subplots, and understand my characters’ motivations. I needed to see how this story would shape them.

While I started a scene by scene lowdown, I gave up when I got to the lakes of Austria. It was time to launch in, headfirst. And so the tick tick of my keyboard began.

On Saturday, not long after rewriting my story from the beginning with my new outline in mind, I sent myself a 30,000 word draft of an almost complete middle grade novel.

Of course, there is no way this is anywhere close to being complete in real terms. Now the really hard work begins, as I go back over it, refine the story, and probably rewrite every line.

Still – something a week ago which seemed impossible was suddenly possible.

So maybe, as usual, my husband is right. Writers, or at least me, aren’t one or the other. A bit of pantsing and a bit of planning can take you a long way when writing a novel, just as it can in life.

What are your thoughts on this?

Join in for Children’s Book Tuesday by linking your post below. Anything related to children’s books is welcome!

Children’s Book Tuesday :: Books to Travel With

Children's Books to Travel With

Here’s a thing. Once upon a time, we lived among a thousand children’s books. There were piles next to the bed, next to the daybed, in the day bed, and bursting from every bookcase and box we could find. There was always a new unread book to pick up, and read for the first time. There was always a book to read, which we hadn’t read in a long time.

But then you plan to move your family to the other side of the world for a year. A thousand kids’ books can’t come with you, as nice as that would be. But how then do you choose? We like variety. We love reading something new or forgotten. How could we choose books to sustain us for a whole year?

Here’s a few ideas:

Something small, but full of goodness

There are several beautiful small books, which are long, and juicy enough to the fill bedtime reading hour, but short enough to fit in your luggage. The key is finding well written books that you can read over and over again, like:

Violet Mackerel
Beatrix Potter
Lola’s Toy Box
The Cleo Stories

Something classic

I don’t really like re-reading adult novels,  but re-reading children’s classics never gets tiring. And if you can find the classic in small print, with a paperback cover, even better.

Books we brought with us include:

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Harry Potter
Pippi Longstocking
The Wizard of Oz
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Something that satisfies more than one age group

If you have more than one kid, bringing books that kill two birds, so to speak, will weigh less in your luggage. Both our three-year-old and our six-year-old daughter love:

Pippi Longstocking
Violet Mackerel
The Cleo Stories

and all picture books. Well, any book with illustration.

Something to listen to

I have always sworn by audio books. My daughter chewed through Charlie & The Chocolate Factory several times over when I used to have to take her baby sister to sleep. Audio books are great for plane rides and long trips. I either download them through iBooks on my phone or, if I have an internet connection, put them on YouTube without the visuals.

Audio books my eldest has listened to on this trip include:

James & The Giant Peach (YouTube)
Gangster Granny (iBooks)

and I have listened to The Fault In Our Stars (iBooks) and Artemis Fowl (iBooks). (Great for running too!)

Something to borrow

Of course, you don’t have to bring every book with you, in your luggage. There are lots of free libraries around the Netherlands. Mini ones, in front of people’s houses! But also public libraries. Our friend took out a membership for us, and every week or two, we select new picture books to read at night to keep life interesting.

And Dutch friends have very generously leant Dutch books to the girls while we are here.

Something to swap

I haven’t done this yet, but I like this idea…

If you meet other families on your travels, swap books with them! I don’t think I can bring myself to re-read some of our picture books again, having read them so often on this trip. Maybe I can find a bookish family to swap some books with, when we are camping.

Something local

My kids are learning Dutch. So buying or borrowing Dutch books while we are here is a great thing to do. Not only do I get to stagger through the books, while the kids patiently listen, I get to learn a little bit of Dutch too. Also, children’s books are a great little insight into the culture of the place you visit.

Books that are very synonymous with Dutch culture are:

Jip & Janneke
Pippi Longstocking
Ronia The Robber’s Daughter

Something good

Whatever you do, choose wisely! These books will be your companion on your travels, however long that may be. So they need to be good.

Personally, I hear anything by Zanni Louise is worth lugging around the world 😉

How do you choose books to take with you when you travel? Any other ideas?

Join me for Children’s Book Tuesday here by sharing your children’s book post in the link below. Or follow along on social media #ChildrensBookTuesday.

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