First Things First

If you are reading this because you have a story idea that you haven’t started writing, and you are wondering whether publishing might be an option, this blog post is for you.

First, consider this. Writing should be a task of love.

  • Write because you have a story you are compelled to tell.
  • Write because of your love of writing. Write your story for your future self to read.
  • Write it for your family and friends.
  • Write it and have a few copies printed and bound, and it will be a family heirloom for generations.

Do not write if you will only feel happy or satisfied if the book is published, because the odds are slim. Both agents and publishers are often overwhelmed with manuscripts. For example, Tanglewood receives about 2,000 manuscripts a year, and out of those 2,000, we will pick 2-3 to publish.

Even if you are published, there are thousands of children’s books published every year, but not nearly enough bookstore shelf space to handle more than a small fraction of what is published. Having a book published is not a road to riches – few books will provide income past the original advance.

But if you are determined to write, below you’ll find some sound advice.


Understand your audience.

The first step in any writing project is to know your audience. In children’s books, age is the most important category. Learn the features of books in the main categories, which are picture books (3-7), early readers (5-7), middle readers (8-12), and young adult (12-18). Some YA books are labeled 14+ due to more mature content. The characters, plot, and language level should be suitable for the age range intended. You cannot decide you want to write for everyone – you will end up writing for no one. You can learn a lot about these categories in books on writing, recommended below.

Read and read and read and read, particularly in the genre and age range for whom you intend to write.

Here’s why:

  • Reading makes you a better writer instinctively, particularly if you are reading great writers.
  • Reading gives you a chance to study what makes a book enjoyable for you. If you read something you love, think about the plot, the pace, how the characters were developed and what made them feel like real people. Notice how description was used, how a writer followed the “show don’t tell” rule. Writing isn’t just an impulse; there are real skills to be learned.
  • Reading helps you notice how good writers intertwine plot and character development from the beginning. One of the most common problems with manuscripts I receive is that the writer tries to begin the book with a lot of background information before starting the story. It doesn’t work.
  • Reading allows for you to do market research. If you do plan to pursue publishing, you need to know the market, so it’s essential that you are well read in the genre and age of your audience. Is your book repeating something that has already been done? Originality is good. It’s okay to have a book similar to others if there is something that makes yours stand apart. Don’t jump on a trend. Writing and publishing are lengthy processes, taking several years, and by the time the book is published, the trend will have passed.
  • Reading is a form of craft research, especially when you focus on books about writing. On Writing by Stephen King is a great book for writing in general. I also recommend The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by a highly respected editor, Cheryl Klein. Last but not least is Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by publishing professional Lisa Rojany Buccieri, with a lot of solid information (including some from me) on both writing and publishing for children. Read all three – they all offer something a little different but important and are themselves very readable.
Take a creative writing class, both for practice and objective feedback from someone with expertise.

There is a theory that to master anything, you need to spend 10,000 hours doing it. A class will provide structure and hopefully give you some writing work habits.

Join a writing group in which members will provide both positive and negative feedback.

If you don’t want to hear negative feedback, or if negative feedback is very distressing to you (maybe the story is personal and there is sensitivity on your part), you shouldn’t pursue publishing. From the editor to the reviewer, people will be both critiquing and criticizing your work.


Looping around to the beginning – write for the love of writing and write the story you feel compelled to tell from your head and your heart. Writing anything is an achievement; although immensely gratifying, it is hard work.

At the least, the story you write will be a little bit of you that you capture and leave behind, a cherished possession by you and your family for a very long time. At the best, if you have followed the advice above and strengthened your writing skills, you might find your way to a publishing deal for your story.

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