Anna Questerly shares her insights to help you be a successful writer for a youth audience. She has created some wonderful tales for young readers so she knows whereof she speaks. Anna has been a guest on Romance Righter, so she's one of my blogging pros. Welcome, Anna!
It’s a lot of fun writing for kids. I love their whole-hearted hugs during book signings and school visits, opening the sweetest handwritten fan mail—ever, and I have a bulletin board covered with colorful drawings of my stories I’ve received from my young readers.
For those of you who want to give it a go and gather your own hugs, here are three things I know about writing for this younger market. Fortunately, the first two, I knew before I started The Minstrel’s Tale Trilogy. After writing and rewriting those three novels and dozens of fairy tales, I finally learned the last lesson. While this knowledge came too late for The Minstrel’s Tale, I can, at least, save you some trouble.
First, and probably the most important thing, is to have the right mindset for your target audience. I don’t just write for kids; I write for smart kids. Knowing my readers are intelligent and already love to read, keeps me from ‘dumbing down’ my vocabulary or my concepts. (Of course, if you use unfamiliar words, you try to make the meaning clear in context, just as you would for adults.) Since every writing book warns against writing down to kids, this seems to be one of the biggest mistakes new writers make in writing for children. By changing my mindset from the start, this was never a problem for me. Plus, an additional benefit is that adults enjoy my books too.
Second, the mechanics of story-telling are the same as for adult writing. Story structure, character development, dialogue, and narrative, all of the devices we use when we write for grown-ups come into play in writing for kids. There are no short cuts simply because your readers are younger.
As you can see, so far, other than adjusting for content, there’s really no difference writing for kids versus adults. Ah, but there is—the lesson I learned too late.
Once I finished rewriting and editing my trilogy, I began to send out query letters to agents and publishers who specialized in books for children. I was beyond excited to get three requests for the full manuscript right away. Then, I was devastated when I received their gracious rejection letters.
The gist of the rejections: “This isn’t a children’s book.”
Fortunately, I was able to have a conversation with one of the publishers. This isn’t exactly how it went, but it’s close enough.
“What?! Of course it’s for kids—it’s half-filled with fairy tales!” I argued.
“Nope. A children’s book must have a protagonist the same age or a bit older than the target reader. Your main character is a forty-year-old minstrel. Therefore, not a children’s book,” he informed me.
“But what about Snow White, Cinderella, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hobbit?”
He shrugged. “Those are classics. Feel free to submit your next manuscript, but this isn’t for us. Have a nice day, now.”
Later, I fumed to my friends. “What a ridiculous box! Who made that silly rule and why was I never told about it? It wasn’t in any of the books I’d read on writing for kids. No one mentioned it in the writing workshops I’d taken. Stupid rule!”
I considered rewriting it with a younger main character, but decided to self-publish instead. After all, an entire 5th grade class beta read the first book, and they loved it. I’m glad I did. I like my minstrel, Amos, and the kids do to, too. But the next book I write for kids will have a younger protagonist. Lesson learned.
As a matter of fact, my most recent book, Pangaea: a Utopian Fantasy, was written for the new adult market, and I made sure my main character was exactly twenty-years-old.
The essence of this lesson is to know the confines of your genre. If you’re going to submit to the big publishers, you’d better stay in your box. If you decide to break out of the it, you’ll probably need to self-publish. Isn’t it great that’s an affordable option now?
I hope these tips help you with your next book. Good luck and keep on writin’!
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.